Look up any article on saving money, and you’ll almost certainly see experts recommend meal planning. Sitting down and mapping out your meals for the entire week not only allows you to shop economically by maximizing your ingredients, but also makes it less likely you’ll spend money on takeout, fast food or restaurant meals, as you’ve already got your food planned out. 

But the advantages don’t stop there: In addition to saving money, meal planning ensures you eat healthier (see the takeout note above), is better for the environment thanks to minimal waste, and far less stressful, as you don’t have to think about what to make the family as the clock strikes dinnertime. 

If you’re new to meal planning, here are a few simple tips and tricks to get you started. Like anything, it takes practice. But once you get going, you’ll likely see the savings add up. 

Stock up on staples.

Dig through your pantry, shelves and cupboards and take note of what you already have on hand. Staples such as cooking oils, stock, canned goods and dried beans, rice and legumes are essential ingredients in a wide range of dishes. Stock up on these items when they’re on sale and you’ll always have them ready to add to a wide range of dishes and recipes. 

Check your calendar.

As you map out your meals, be sure to look at the week ahead. If Tuesday involves a quick dinner before running out to activities, it’s probably not the time to roast a whole chicken. Consider not only when you’re eating at home, but how much time you’ll have to create and enjoy the meal to determine the most effective and efficient menu. 

Take a start-of-the-week inventory. 

When you make your meal plan, start by looking inside your refrigerator and cupboards to see what you can put to good use. For example, if you have some leftover tomato paste, a few scallions, some lettuce or other remaining ingredients, be sure to incorporate them into upcoming lunches and dinners. Shopping your own kitchen is a great way to cut down costs and eliminate food waste. 

Do as much as you can ahead of time.

Doing what you can ahead of time ensures that weekday lunches and weeknight dinners are a breeze. If you have time over the weekend, devote an hour or so to meal prep. Make sauces, marinate meats, or even make entire meals that can be refrigerated or frozen for a few days (think lasagna, enchiladas, casseroles, and other dishes) and popped in the oven right before dinner. That way, your family is still eating nourishing, from-scratch foods without extra weekday stress.  

Factor in a night for leftovers.

When you cook at home for several nights in a row, you’ll almost inevitably have leftovers. Ensure at least one of your meals factors in using up these dishes. Or, pull them all out and let family members dig into a smorgasbord. While leftovers don’t usually conjure up excitement, they’re a great way to cut costs, eliminate food waste and give yourself a cooking break. 

Post your meal plan somewhere in your kitchen. 

Having a visual aide makes it more likely that you’ll follow through with your meal plan — instead of wondering, “What was I going to make again?” Keep your weekly outline on hand or post it in your kitchen so you always know what’s on the menu. Bonus: when your family can see it, they’ll get excited, too. 

Save your recipes. 

Whether you’re putting them into an electronic file or writing them down on notecards, when your family likes a dish, make sure to save it. It will help during any droughts of inspiration, and ensure that you have a crop of simple dishes on your hands that — most importantly — your family loves.