Meal Planning 101: Save Time and Money

This post may contain affiliate links which help me keep the site running. All opinions and recommendations are 100% mine. I never recommend something I haven't tried and used myself.

This post may contain affiliate links. I never recommend anything I have not tried myself. All opinions are 100% mine.

 

I have previously talked about meal planning before as a means to lowering food costs. And since that time, I’ve had a few people reach out to inquire about it more. So, I thought I would dedicate a whole post to meal planning and include a few recipes to get anyone who’s interested, started.

 

Like Anything, Meal Planning has its Pros and Cons.

Pros:

  1. Meal planning eliminates the 5:00 panic of what to make for dinner. When you have a plan, your proteins can be thawed out and ready to go when you walk in the door from work. No more unsafe thawing practices or defrosting chicken in the microwave and trying to cut off the dried-up edges—you know the nasty parts that start to cook before the center is no longer frozen solid! Yuck!
  2. It saves time by not rushing out to the store for missing ingredients.
  3. Meal planning saves money by reducing food waste because you’re checking your fridge and pantry for ingredients to use up before making your plan. It also decreases the last-minute takeout orders or pizza deliveries because you don’t know what else to have for dinner.
  4. It generally improves your nutrition as you’re not resorting to prepared or frozen convenience foods (or here again, takeout) just to get something on the table.

Cons:

  1. Meal planning does require some time and effort on the front end. You’ll need to set aside a block of time each week to plan out your meals, but as you get used to it, you’ll require less time.

 

Set Aside a Time to Make Your Plan

On Sunday night after dinner is over and the kitchen is clean, I write up my meal plan for the coming week. I stick to planning dinners only, as my kids have plenty of choices for helping themselves to breakfast and lunch on their own (or with my help). For breakfast, I always have a few boxes of cereal, some oatmeal, frozen pancakes and waffles, eggs and bread for toast on hand. For lunch, they can have a cold cut sandwich or PB & J, chicken nuggets, mac ‘n cheese, or scrounge through the leftovers. So, when it comes to dinner, the saying in our house goes, “you get what you get, and you don’t get upset.”

When I start my draft, I generally try to include a meatless night, 2 chicken, 2 beef, 1 pork or seafood, and a leftover night. I first check my fridge for any ingredients that need used up so they don’t go to waste. Things like salad greens and other fresh produce, cheese, leftover stock or broth, tomato sauce/paste, etc. Then I check the pantry for the same thing—any canned or boxed goods nearing their expiration dates? Potatoes starting to grow eyes or garlic that’s about to sprout? I find a way to work it into that week’s plan.

 

Consult Those Sales Ads

I also pull out the sales circular for my local store and check out any deals. If ground beef is on sale, for instance, I add it to my shopping list and place a ground beef meal on my meal plan. Salisbury steak is a family favorite. It’s easy to prepare, made easier because my children don’t like onions or fresh mushrooms. I substitute onion and garlic powder for their fresh counterparts which saves prep time by eliminating all the slicing and dicing and appeases the kids. Canned mushrooms also cut down on prep and voila, I have a homemade meal on the table in less than 30 minutes.

 

Related: How I Feed My Family on $125 a Week

 

Here’s my recipe if you’d like to add it to your plan (you can hover your mouse over the image and click the Pin It button to save this post and the recipes for later!):

 

meal planning salisbury steak

 

Write the Plan for All to See

After I go through the sales flyers and the fridge and pantry, I write out my 6 meals (I usually have a leftover night in my plan) for the week. I make sure I don’t have 2 chicken meals or 2 beef meals back to back to ensure variety. I also make sure that I don’t try to make a roast on an evening that we have to be somewhere at an early hour. Consulting a large wall calendar of everyone’s activities or having your smartphone calendar nearby as a reminder is helpful during the process.

I have a framed template that hangs in the breakfast room of my kitchen that displays the meal plan for the week. I use a dry-erase marker to write out what we’re having and then erase it every Sunday and start over.

meal plan display

 

Start a Meal Planning Binder

I have a second step that makes meal planning even easier these days. After I write the plan on the display template, I write it on a paper template that I have printed out. Then I three hole punch it and place it in a binder. This way, I can remember what I made in previous weeks and don’t duplicate any meals too frequently. It also has the benefit of being a completed plan that I can pull up in a few weeks and reuse—no more reinventing the wheel! The work is already done, so why redo it?! Here’s the template I use in a downloadable and printable PDF, pretty and practical!

 

Meal Planning Template PDF

 

And if you get to know your grocery stores cycle of sales, then you can pull the meal plan that corresponds with the sale and know you’re getting the best deal. For instance, my local grocery store puts ground chuck on sale once every four weeks. Week one of my meal plan may include the Salisbury steaks and tacos. Then I can pull that week’s meal plan back out for week four because I know chuck will be on sale again and I can make those items cheaply. Once you get a rotation of meals going, meal planning takes very little time and effort.

 

Don’t Forget the Coupons!

I double check my ingredients against the recipes and add anything I don’t have to my shopping list. I check my clipped coupons as well as MyPoints.com and print any coupons that they have available that I can use. If you have a MyPoints account, you’ll earn 10 points for each coupon you print and redeem. As an FYI, they’re the same coupons you can print from coupons.com so you won’t be able to print from both websites from the same IP address. If you don’t have an account, head on over and sign up. The account is free and you can even score a $10 bonus on your first purchase of $20 or more within 30 days of becoming a member.

 

Related: Best Grocery Apps

 

Mix It Up

Don’t get so comfortable rotating your plans that you forget to try new things. Getting bored and eating the same things over and over again will quickly wreck your enthusiasm for meal planning. Seek out new recipes on Pinterest, your favorite blogs, or take recommendations from friends on Facebook. “Variety is the spice of meal planning,” or something like that! In that spirit, here’s another very quick and simple recipe.

 

meal planning chicken

 

Flexibility is Key

Your meal plan is not a hard and fast contract between you and the family. If you come down with the flu or your kid surprises you by needing 12 dozen cookies for the bake sale tomorrow, you’re probably not going to stick with the meal plan. It’s perfectly okay to throw a frozen pizza in or ask your spouse to grab a rotisserie chicken on the way home so you can take the night off.

 

Meal planning will take a little time and practice, but stick with it. It has really helped us get our food spending under control and have some extra money to put towards our savings goals. If you’d like some more easy and inexpensive recipes, you can sign up on my email list to the right on the home page, and you’ll be sent a link to download one of my 7-day meal plans to get you started.

So, do you think you can start meal planning or do you already? I’d love to hear your tips or favorite recipes in the comments!

 

About The Author

Amy Davis

This post may contain affiliate links which help me keep the site running. All opinions and recommendations are 100% mine. I never recommend something I haven't tried and used myself.

I’m a former therapist turned stay-at-home mom sharing my tips and strategies to achieving freedom from debt. When I’m not blogging, cooking, cleaning or otherwise catering to the needs of my 4 little persons, you’ll find me binge watching Billions. #goals

4 COMMENTS

  1. K.P @ Hungry Being | 16th May 17

    This isn’t talked about enough. I meal planned for 2 weeks and it was great. I saved money and also lost weight. I got too lazy and didn’t have enough recipes, but those are all excuses. I’ll take this as a call to action to do better and finish out the month strong.

    • Amy Davis | 16th May 17

      I’ve been doing this for about a year now after putting it off for ages. I thought it would be too hard and at times it wasn’t easy. But it’s been worth the effort and much easier now that I can recycle my meal plans! You got this! ??

  2. Michelle Kuchta | 16th May 17

    Great advice Amy! I noticed in the last 2 months as we try to eat more at home I was spending too much at the grocery store.I’m beginning to collect ideas for meal planning so, your tips for following store sales and coupons is a great help! I never thought to follow that in order to save more!

    • Amy Davis | 16th May 17

      I hope you see some savings! It has not only helped us save money but has improved our nutrition since most things are homemade. I rarely rely on convenience foods anymore though my kids still need their Mrs. T’s pierogies and Stouffer’s mac ‘n cheese every once in a while! 😉

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