Are you wondering how to plan meals when you’re on a budget? Meal planning can be stressful if you don’t have a good system in place. I know first hand how stressful it is. I spent years winging it and going to the store multiple times a week and wasting lots of money
And let’s face it, meal planning is the most exciting thing to do, am I right? But it is so important when you’re on a budget. Food is expensive so planning meals out can be a great way to save big money and help you reach your financial goals.
Benefits Of Meal Planning
- Saves Time– By planning ahead, I can batch cook or make freezer meals. For example, I’ll make a pot roast on Sunday and then plan for BBQ sandwiches on another day of the week using the leftover meat. So I’ll get two meals by planning ahead and I only have to cook once!
- Saves Money– I used to spend so much money on groceries because I’d buy something and then half the ingredients would go bad because I didn’t have a plan to use up the remaining ingredients. Now I don’t waste as much food which saves us a lot of money.
- Eat Healthier- you’re more likely to eat healthy if you have a plan in place.
- Helps You Use Up Leftovers– no more wasting food. Therefore no more wasting money!
- Less Stress At Meal Times– ever sat there and wondered, what am I going to feed my family today? It’s stressful to come up with something on the spot, planning makes it so you know exactly what you’re going to make.
How To Meal Plan
There are many ways to plan meals and different seasons in life can change how you plan your meals out. I’ve come up with a system that helps make meal planning SO much easier.
We like to plan our meals around themes. Each night is a different theme. So, for example, Tuesday night is Taco Tuesday, Thursday is seafood night, etc. When I know what the theme is I can quickly figure out what to put on the menu.
To show you how I easily use themes to meal plan, I’ve broken it down for you in this step-by-step guide.
Decide On A Weekly, Bi-Weekly or Monthly Menu
The first thing I do is choose a menu. If I don’t have a lot of planning time I’ll typically use a weekly plan. When I have a little more time, I’ll do a bi-weekly menu or monthly menu.
I like to have a variety of menu options available so that I can make it fit my current season in life.
Next I “shop” our current inventory.
Having an Inventory for your pantry, fridge, and freezer items makes meal planning so much easier. Inventories help you plan, save money, and come up with meal ideas.
For example, if I know that I have an excess of breakfast foods then I might plan a breakfast for supper night or if I have a lot of chicken in the freezer that needs to be used up, I’ll plan a chicken night.
Checking what I have on hand helps to make sure that I don’t waste food!
Check Seasonal Guide
Checking a seasonal guide to see what is in season helps us save money and eat fresh! This is a helpful sheet to have when we plan our meals.
Come Up With Themes
Once I’ve decided which menu I’ll use and I’ve checked my inventory, I decide on a theme for each night of the week. I like to change it up depending on what season it is. For example; summer will have a grill night, winter a soup night, etc.
Check Family Favorites Sheet
We keep a list of what our family likes so I can make sure to add meals that we all enjoy. It’s nice to have a list of foods that I know the kids will actually eat so we can cut down on waste. Plus it makes it easier to fill out our menu so it’s a win-win!
Recipes To Try
If we have extra time, I’ll check our Recipes To Try sheet and see if there is something new that we can try. When we find certain recipes that look good, we add them to this sheet.
After I have done the above, I create our menu. Checking what we have on hand, our favorite meals, recipes we want to try and having our theme picked out makes this step so much easier!
Having a shopping list that divides what I need by section is a big help to me. There have been many times that I will have to go back to the other side of the store because I forgot something, this list helps me save time.
Other Helpful Food Budget Tips
Having a budget tracker helps make sure I am staying on budget. A budget tracker also allows me to check my progress. I’ve been working on trimming our grocery budget so this helps me keep track of how that’s going and helps guide me in the right direction.
Price trackers help you save money by tracking the price of an item that you regularly buy so you can find the lowest price. That way you’ll know if you’ve found a really good deal which will help you decide if you should stock up or not.
How To Store Your Food
Knowing how to store fruits & veggies and fridge/freezer shelf life helps you keep your food fresh longer and reduce spoiling and waste.
I like to save the menus I create for future use to make meal planning even quicker. If you have a menu that you’re family enjoyed, why not save it and use it in the future. Reusing menus makes life so much easier!
Meal Planning Tips
- Check For Sales– See if anything on your grocery list can be substituted with something that is on sale.
- Stretch Proteins– treat proteins as if they’re a supporting role in your meal. Using less meat can stretch a pound of meat into two meals. For example, cut the amount of beef in your chili for one meal and use the other half for a casserole. You can also stretch proteins further by adding a filler with your meat dishes like lentils, beans, rice, oats, etc.
- Avoid Recipes With Special Ingredients– while these meals may be fun to make and taste good, those ingredients can really add up and take a big cut out of your budget.
- Make A Plan For Leftovers– we like to eat leftovers for lunch whenever possible but you could also plan a leftover night on your menu. That way you don’t have to cook one night and you will use up all your leftovers!
- Batch Cooking– this is a great way to save time in the kitchen. Cooking once and eating twice is a great way to save money too. You’ll be less likely to eat out because you already have food ready to eat. It’s like fast food but without the expense!
- Check Out Rakuten– Rakuten is a shopping app that helps you earn cashback on your purchases.
Having a system for my meal planning has really helped me. I’m more efficient, I’m saving money and I’m wasting less food. Because I have a system, I have less stress and I have a meal plan ready in no time.
(Check out this post on how to eat healthy and save money)
Right now my meal planning system is on sale!! Check it out here….
Do you have a meal planning strategy that has helped you?