Meal planning hacks that save time and money

It's no secret that meal planning will save you money and it will save you time and energy. But it's boring. I think it's really, really, really boring. But today I'm going to give you some tips on making the process faster and smoother.

1. Keep a list of what is in your pantry.

Just get a piece of notebook paper, tape it to the inside of your pantry and do an inventory. When you take something out and use it, cross it off. And every few weeks, just make a new list. That way, you're not  buying duplicates, you're not wasting food and you're using things before the Best By date.

2. Make a menu your family loves! 

Have a list of 10 or 20 meals that your family likes, that you're really good at making, and that don't require a lot of time and effort on your part.
You can do this the old-fashioned way with pen and paper, you can have a little cookbook that you print out and put together, you can have a Pinterest board, whatever you want to do. Just have 10-20 meals that you know your family is going to enjoy and that you can cook without even thinking. Bonus if all of these include 5 ingredients or less

3. Check that list twice!  

My next tip is you to cross-reference what you have in your pantry with what is on sale.

Now I shop at the same store every week -- Publix. I know when things are going on sale, what the sale cycle is. So I will pull up the sales fire on my phone or on my computer, I will see what's on sale, and I'll just do a quick meal planning in my mind based on what I have and what's on sale.
For example, last week was Italiano week. I had pasta sauce in my cabinet, their fresh pasta was "buy one get one," so I was able to combine what's on sale with what I had for a couple of meals.

4. Make once, eat twice.

Just double your recipe. It doesn't cost as much as you would think to double recipes. It doesn't cost double to double a recipe, especially if you're making something like a chicken pot pie and you just double the vegetables. That will make it go further. Or when you're making a lasagna and you bulk up the sauce a little bit. That way you can make things go further. You can make two meals and you stick one in the freezer. I do this all the time.

5. Have an emergency meal.

You're tired, it's Thursday, your baby's sick, your other kid has an ear infection, you're just completely wrung out, you've had so much to do, and you haven't had time to cook. But, girl, you got chicken pot pie in the freezer. You pull that thing out and dinner is done.
Have some things ready to go as emergency meals. And, you know what, they don't have to be anything fancy -- a frozen pizza or some hot dogs. Pair it with a green salad and a fruit salad, and you're good to go.

6. Theme nights.

Now these aren't elaborate theme nights where everyone dresses up and you watch a movie. (Oh, that sounds pretty awesome!) These are things like Meatless Monday, Taco Tuesday, Leftovers Wednesday (yes, Leftovers Wednesday. Not everything has to be in alliteration.)
Have some theme nights in place and eat variations of the same thing; now, I don't mean the same thing -- variations of the same thing. So on Meatless Monday, you might make my black bean and rice casserole. Or you might have lentil tacos.
 But you just have an idea of what's going on each night of the week. So it kind of puts meal planning on autopilot.

7. My next tip is to bulk your meals.

Cook one main dish and then try to make as many meals out of that main dish as possible. For example, somebody gave us a smoked pork shoulder after Jesse was born, to make sandwiches out of.

I pulled that thing out of the freezer last week and shredded it up to make sandwiches. And then we had sandwiches one night, we had pizza with it another night, we had tacos, Jason made egg rolls. We were able to get a week's worth of meals out of this one main dish. 
You can do that with chicken, you can do that with your Sunday roast, whatever it is. Cook once and see how many meals you can get out of that main dish.

8. Know your sales cycle and shop on the last day.

I know that my sales cycle runs from Wednesday to Tuesday. So it starts on Wednesday, it runs a full week to that next Tuesday. If I go on Tuesday, not only am I going to get the sales, but I will also get manager's specials. Those are some things that might not have performed as well as they would have liked, so there are additional markdowns. Keep that in mind when shopping.

What about you? What meal planning hacks do you use to save money?