If there is one budget category that can quickly get out of control for me, it is GROCERIES. And if there is one strategy that can help me take back control our grocery spending, it’s meal planning.
If I don’t plan our meals and my shopping list, I spend too much money and make too many extra stops to the grocery store during the week.
I need to reduce our bill, without making everyone in my family miserable, but still have wiggle room for the occasional extras that make us happy, like a special treat of wild caught salmon or Kalamata olives–kalamata olives make me giddy.
3 Reasons Why You Should Plan Your Meals:
1. Meal Planning Saves Time.
I spend about 30 minutes each Sunday to plan my menu and make a grocery list. That 30 minutes makes my grocery trip go much smoother, reduces any extra trips to the store during the week, and with a pre-planned menu, dinner hour is spent preparing the meal, not wondering, “what are we having for dinner?”.
2. Meal Planning Saves Your Sanity.
When I don’t plan our meals, I’m pulling my hair out at dinner hour trying to figure out what ingredients I have on hand or what will replace the frozen chicken that I did not take out to thaw. When I do plan our meals, I pull frozen meat from the freezer the night before my planned meal and I’m not stressed over the inevitable question around 4 o’clock in the afternoon, “mommy, what’s for dinner?”.
3. Meal Planning Saves Money.
With less trips to the store and a pre-planned list, I am hopefully eliminating any impulse and redundant purchases. I also revolve my menu around what is on sale, so I’m spending less on our meals.
Ready to meal plan? Let’s get started!
11 Simple Tips for Easier Meal Planning:
1. Pick a meal planning day that works best for you.
I plan my menu on Sunday afternoons when I have the new week’s grocery flyer in front of me.
2. Plan your menu around the weekly sales flyers.
I do most of my shopping at Giant of PA, but I also check the sales at Weis Markets and I like to see what Aldi has on sale in their weekly flyer. If whole chickens are on sale for .79/pound, my menu that week will revolve around a roasted chicken, and Chicken Noodle Soup or Chicken and Black Bean Quesadillas or Pulled Chicken BBQ Sandwiches. If pork tenderloins are on sale, my menu will include Roasted Garlic & Herb Pork Tenderloin and I’ll use the leftovers on another night for tacos.
When your kitchen is organized, you avoid buying duplicates and it is easier to cross reference what is on sale, the ingredients needed for recipes, and what you have on hand.
4. Develop a system for your menu and shopping list.
I keep it simple by using a pen and notebook paper. My menu goes on the left side of the paper and my shopping list goes on the right side. A clipboard will hold the paper and your coupons in place, but I also use a spiral notebook with a binder clip. There are also apps available, but I like paper.
5. Get the family involved.
Ask your family for suggestions. Every week when I ask my family what they would like to eat, I will hear “I want pasta” from my kids and “let’s grill” from my husband. I do try to appease everyone and it makes meal time a little more enjoyable.
6. Refer to your family’s activity calendar.
What is going on in the week ahead? Will everyone be home for dinner that week? Is there swim team practice, mid-week church activities or a late night at the office? On those hectic nights, quick and easy meals will be needed. Maybe even a crock-pot meal. Are you going to somewhere that would require you to make and take a dish? Is it your child’s turn to take a snack to Scouts? I make those notes on my clip board and then fill in meals accordingly.
7. Plan for Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner, Snacks, and Beverages.
On hectic mornings, life is so much easier when breakfast is planned and there are ingredients on hand. My husband tries to come home several times a week for lunch and my 2nd grader packs her lunch at least 3 times a week, so I need to make sure there is food for lunch.
8. Plan for All Seven Days.
I’ve been lazy in the past and just planned for the work week and ignored the fact that we do need to eat on the weekends. We might eat out one night, but if I don’t plan the other six days, then it becomes more than one night out and we end up over budget in our ‘dining out’ category too.
9. Create a Master List of your family’s favorite recipes.
I created a master list (see photo below) of my family’s favorite, easy and healthy meals to use as a reference tool. If I see a good sale on ground turkey or chicken breasts, I’ll look at my list for dinner ideas. This saves me time during meal planning. In the past, I stored my actual recipes in a binder, but now I have many of our favorites on my blog or I have them bookmarked.
10. Avoid Boredom.
Try at least one new recipe a week–maybe on a day that isn’t hectic. For those hectic days, refer to your Master recipe list for easy suggestions.
11. Have an Odd Ingredient On Hand?
Do you have an ingredient, but are stumped as to what to do with it? Check websites such as CookingLight.com or Allrecipes.com where you can enter a particular ingredient and the site will recommend recipes for you. This is how I found Turkey Sausage, Arugula and Sun-Dried Tomato Pasta and Roasted Tilapia with Tomatoes and Olives, and they have become two of our my family’s favorite meals. And of course, don’t forget to check the Food Tab at Family Balance Sheet for meal ideas too.
For me, meal planning is the strategy that saves me the most money on groceries. By planning our meals around what I have on hand, what is on sale at the grocery store, and what my family likes to eat, I have been able to reduce our grocery bill to a number that I am comfortable with for our budget. But that one week where I don’t meal plan is the week that I’ll blow my budget. Menu planning takes a little time and effort, but the rewards are a reduced grocery bill, no worries at night about ‘what’s for dinner’, and hopefully a less stressed cook in the kitchen.
Do you plan your meals? Do you have any meal planning strategies to share? Let us know in the comments.