Meal planning is a great strategy to avoid buying too much food. It can help you stay organized, and it will make sure that you never have food you don't need in your pantry.
Step 1: Create a calendar
Write out what you have going on each day of the week. Will you have lots of time to cook, or will you need a quick and easy dish before a big event? This will help you choose what recipes to cook each day. If you already have a weekly or monthly calendar, this step will be a lot easier.
Step 2: Organize your recipes
Gather all your favorite family recipes, and put them in one place. There are some great digital planner apps out there, so you can choose to enter all your recipes into a family website for easy access, or go old-fashioned and write each one down on a notecard. Either works great!
Step 3: Pick a day to meal-plan and start planning
Choose a day to plan meals for the whole week, or even the whole month if you really want to be proactive. Then, when that day approaches, take out your recipe box and get cracking! Check your pantry and see what perishable ingredients you could use in a dish this week, so they don't go bad before you can use them. Pick the right recipe for each day, and add some variety to your regular meals. For example, don't have 4 meals that use chicken one after another. If you have a lot of one meat or ingredient, I suggest adding different meals in between days to break up the monotony. If you also want to go out to eat on a few days or use up some leftovers, don't forget to account for that, as well.
Step 4: Shopping
When planning, make sure to think about how when you'll go shopping for ingredients. As you plan meals for the week, keep track of what ingredients each meal calls for, and keep a list. Before you go shopping, and this is very important, check the list with what you already have in your pantry. That way, you can avoid buying something you already have on hand, letting you avoid wasting food and spending unnecessary money. Additionally, try and schedule meals using fragile ingredients or raw meats early in the week, so they don't go bad before you can use them.
Step 5: Improvisation
But, as your week goes on, complications will arise. Maybe you find out you'll have less time to cook then originally planned, the grocery store's out of a certain ingredient that day, or maybe you just don't feel like cooking. But fear not! You can still bend your schedule to accommodate new events without additional waste. It's as easy as bumping everything back a few days, or rearranging the order of some meals to suit your schedule. Just make sure to prepare meals with fresh ingredients as soon as possible, so they don't go bad before you use them. Keep all this in mind, and you won't have to worry about buying too much food or finding a last-minute dinner ever again!