Meal planning is a great way to save time and money while providing nourishing meals for your family. Imagine having everything you need on hand right when you need it! Gathering around the table together is one of the best ways to connect as a family and also to offer hospitality. Meal planning can be a major help in making this happen.
Why meal plan?
I’m not sure a week of my life has gone by since being married that I didn’t have a written meal plan. Meal planning saves us sooo much time and money. The weekly or biweekly or monthly planning time (I’ve done all of these) is 100% a worthwhile investment.
Having healthy, homemade meals and sit-down, family dinners are both priorities at our house. Meal planning makes these possible on a regular basis.
Daily life SO much easier when you have a plan. There’s no wondering what to make. No searching through the cupboards to see if we have all the ingredients for dinner tonight. No throwing two babies in the car to make the hour-long round-trip trek to the grocery store unplanned. And very few trips to our small-town grocery store where everything is twice the price (and is still a 30–40-minute round trip!).
How much money can meal planning save you?
I also find that meal planning saves me a ton of money. This is due to a few reasons, I suppose.
First, I find that the less I go to the store, the more money I save. When you can’t (or won’t) just pop in to the store easily, you find that you have to use what’s in the cupboard.
Secondly, more planning means more groceries at Aldi rather than the way more expensive ingredients at the small, local store.
Third, there are so many opportunities in planning to make the best use of the ingredients, plan around your schedule, and eat more home-cooked meals.
How much money can meal planning save you? It depends, of course. Just packing leftovers for Garrett’s lunch each day saves us about $50 per week. One family dinner at our favorite restaurant (Chipotle) costs $25 or more. A similar dinner at home would cost $10 or less. For our family, eating all of our dinners at home rather than even an inexpensive meal out saves us over $100 per week (a conservative estimate!). And this is just dinners!
How to meal plan
My meal-planning strategy changes depending on the season of life, but most of the methods stay the same. When I have a baby and it’s harder to go to the store, I’ll go only twice a month or less. In other seasons, it’s been easier to go every week. It just depends. The common factor is always planning. Here are some of the tips and methods that I find work best!
Decide how many meals you’ll need
Have an idea in your head about how long it will be before you want to go to the store again. Are you trying to buy groceries for a week, or for a month? Get out a list and mark down the number of meals you’ll need to plan in order to make it to the next trip.
Focus on one meal per day
Just because you want healthy, homemade meals doesn’t mean that you have to actually COOK three times a day. If you don’t have loads of extra time on your hands, pick one meal per day to focus on. We’ve always focused on dinner. Lunch is leftovers from the previous day. Breakfast is generally something easy like eggs, oatmeal, granola, muesli, or our favorite healthy pancakes that we mixed up the night before.
Look at your calendar
What’s coming up on your calendar? If you have plans to go out or eat a meal somewhere else, take this into account and plan one meal less. If you’re going to be making food for an event or for other people, make sure to think ahead and write down the groceries you will need. If you know you’re going to have a busy day or won’t be home until dinnertime, be sure to plan a crockpot meal or something super easy.
Keep a collection
I know there are a lot of different methods out there for remembering favorite recipes. Pinterest and other internet recipes are great for ideas, but I cannot survive without writing my favorite recipes down and keeping them all together in a recipe box. I just find that I need to have everything in one place when I’m planning rather than checking Pinterest, my online bookmarks, physical cookbooks, and notes scribbled in my phone. Figure out what works best for you so that you can easily and quickly access your recipe options when you’re planning!
Think about what you need to use up
Save money by using. It. up. Nothing goes to waste. As you plan, start with the fridge and see what needs to be used up before it goes bad. Extra vegetables? Pizza sauce that’s already opened? Too many breadsticks from last night’s spaghetti? Start with these ingredients and plan meals around what you already have before it goes to waste.
During the summer and fall months, I also do a ton of planning around what’s in the garden. Eat in-season. Whether you have an overload of peppers or zucchini or your dad keeps offering you bowls of cherry tomatoes, don’t be afraid to plan multiple meals that include whatever’s abundant.
Shop the sales
When I sit down to plan, I like to pull up the store’s weekly ad to see what’s on sale. Don’t get sidetracked with items that you don’t actually buy on a regular basis. That method won’t save you any money. I basically just look at the produce page of the ad. If peppers are on sale, we’re probably having fajitas!
Add some variety
If you’re feeling overwhelmed by the options, start by thinking of the different types of meals and choose from each category. A night for soup, a night for pasta, a night for chicken, venison, and vegetarian, some Mexican, a pizza…you get the idea.
After you plan for your meals, don’t forget to think about the staples you will need. Go through the fridge and cupboards and take stock of your supply of things like milk, coffee, fruit, and anything else you eat regularly.
Tips for making a meal plan that saves time and money
- Decide how many meals you’ll need
- Focus on one meal per day
- Look at your calendar
- Keep a recipe box or other collection
- Think about what you need to use up
- Shop the sales
- Add some variety to your menu
- Think about your staples
It gets easier!
I love that meal planning is so adaptable. My methods change, my meals change, but I’m always stumbling upon new time- and money-saving hacks and collecting more repeatable recipes that work well for our family. The more you do it, the easier it gets!
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