The Key to Saving Money on Food: Meal Planning 101

Wish you could spend less money on food every month? Groceries and eating out combined is one of the largest variable aspects of our budget. I don’t think we are the only ones. That’s why figuring out how to spend less in this category is so important to me. If spending less on food is important to you, the blog post “50 Tried & True Ways to Spend Less on Groceries” is also a great place to start.  

However, I refer so much to meal planning in that post that it really deserves to be elaborated on since it is it’s own beast.  

What is Meal Planning? 

Meal planning is simply when you plan out what your meals are going to be for a certain amount of time. Meal planning is not to be confused with meal prepping, which is where you prepare your meals in batches. Meal prepping is doing all of your cooking for the week on a Sunday afternoon. While meal prepping is a great way to save time & sometimes money, that is not what we are talking about here. 

Why Meal Planning is the Key to Saving Money on Food

  1. Meal planning helps you buy only what you need from the grocery store. 
  2. Figuring out what you are going to cook every day can be the hardest part of cooking. Meal planning takes out the guesswork and stress of having to come up with something every day at the last minute. 
  3. Meal planning helps you choose meals you actually want to eat! When you don’t have a plan, you might end up eating a meal that isn’t very appetizing but it’s the only thing you could come up with. 
  4. Actually wanting the meals you’re going to make at home will save you from ordering take out or going out to eat 99% of the time.
  5. Cutting out the main reason you go out to eat/ order take out impulsively is the key to spending less money on food. 

How to Meal Plan 

  1. We try to make a meal plan for every week. If you go longer than that, it’s hard to incorporate fresh ingredients in each meal because they will have gone bad. So, I suggest that a week is the sweet spot for using fresh ingredients. If you’re planning to meal-prep and freeze your meals until you need them, feel free to plan for two weeks or more at a time.  
  2. Make a list for your week that includes a space for you to fill in breakfasts, lunches, dinners, snacks and even desserts. Breakfast is the most flexible for us since we typically have enough variety to get through the week without having to determine each day’s breakfast. Dinners are often the least flexible since we plan which ones we’ll eat earlier in the week based on the freshness of the ingredients. 
  3. Before you look at buying new ingredients, see what meals you can make from what you already have in your fridge & pantry. Make as many meals from that to put on your list. This will cut down on the amount you need to buy. It’s easy to forget about what you already have or the meals you could make by only buying one extra ingredient. 
  4. Let your local grocery store ads and coupons have an impact on your meal plan. Are they running a good sale on ground beef? Add a couple ground beef recipes to your meal plan this week. A sale on a certain fruit? How can you incorporate it into your meal plan this week? 
  5. Pick out recipes to fill in the blanks for the week. Save them on Pinterest, bookmark them in your internet browser or cookbook and make sure to write down the ingredients that you don’t have. 
  6. Once your recipes are picked, make your grocery list based entirely on your completed meal plan. Try not to add other items that aren’t on your meal plan. 

Now, you have a list with everything you’re going to need for the week. No more wondering what to buy or overbuying at the store!

Pro Tricks That Help You Save More When Meal Planning

  1. The meats you choose matter. Your meat selections are typically the most expensive part of your grocery list. If you’re trying to save money, make sure you’re using inexpensive meats more often. Chicken thighs/legs, manager special meats, etc. Also, consider going meatless more often. 
  2. Organize your grocery list by store section and the order that you shop each section. This is a small tip that has helped me a TON. When I wrote down everything we needed out of order, I would be doubling back to sections a lot. I wasted a lot of time and doing this with a toddler is especially frustrating. 
  3. When you’re buying ingredients for a recipe that aren’t typical items in your house, try to incorporate them into other recipes for that week. This is especially important when the recipe you’re using doesn’t call for the whole amount of that ingredient. Find another way to use the rest before it goes bad. For example, when we buy fresh herbs, we’ll often pick another meal that calls for those same herbs so we can use them before they are rotten. This isn’t as necessary with dried herbs or ingredients that won’t spoil. 
  4. On that note, choosing simple and inexpensive ingredients for most of your meals will make a difference in saving you money. If you make every meal with a special $7 ingredient like wine or something, that will make your grocery bill higher then if you choose simple ingredients.  
  5. Build up a bank of your family’s favorite recipes. We have an index card recipe box where I write down recipes for our favorite meals that we like. This helps us meal plan faster and have a place to store those meals that we love but would forget about. Over time you can build this up. 

There you have it! These tips should help you avoid impulsively going out to eat because you’ll look forward to the meals you have planned! If you need more tips on how to save money specifically when grocery shopping, check out this post. Happy meal planning! 

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2 thoughts on “The Key to Saving Money on Food: Meal Planning 101

  1. So helpful! Thank you for sharing your process! I’m great at planning basic meals but there isn’t much excitement in the menu. I’m going to make an attempt to look up 1-2 fun/ delicious recipes to use this week and then stick to it. I think the hardest thing is working all day and then coming home and cooking (we love the crock pot for this). The more prep/planning the easier dinner goes.

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