I have steadily been reducing our grocery budget since October. I used to hover around $500 a month for our family of 4. In January, I was able to get it down to $290 by going on a Spending Diet and participating in the online Eat From The Pantry Challenge.
But $400 seems to be where I have settled at right now. I’m okay with this number because it still allows me to cook the way I like (mostly from scratch) and provide my family with healthy, whole foods.
One of the biggest ways I have been able to save money on groceries is by planning our meals. It 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.
Ten Strategies for Easier Meal Planning:
- Pick a day that works best for you to be your meal planning day. Mine is usually on Sunday afternoon when I have the grocery flyer(s) in front of me. I personally try to keep my large weekly grocery shopping to one store unless there are some irresistible loss-leaders elsewhere. My eye is always looking for great sales on our staples like chicken, turkey, fruits, vegetables, bread, laundry detergent, and toilet paper.
- Keep your pantry, freezer and refrigerator organized so that you can cross reference what is on sale, the ingredients needed for a recipe and what you have on hand.
- Find a blank calendar or notepad and designate it as your meal planning calendar. I use a free calendar that I received in the mail back in December.
- Get the family involved. Ask THEM for suggestions. Every week when I ask my 4 yo, I inevitably hear, “I want pasta”. I make one pasta dish every week for my little sweet pea.
- On your designated planning day, pull out the family activity calendar. What is going on in the week ahead? Will everyone be home for dinner that week? Is there soccer 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 a pot-luck that week or somewhere else that would require you to make and take a dish? I make those notes on my meal calendar and then fill in the blanks for the meals where we are home.
- Plan for breakfast, lunch and dinner. On hectic mornings, life is so much easier when breakfast is planned and there are ingredients on hand. Also, my husband tries his best to come home several times a week for lunch, so I need to make sure there will be food for him.
- 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 usually 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 that category.
- Create a family recipe binder. My binder is a very important part of my kitchen. It is full of recipes from magazines, friends, and online that I have collected over the years. Some people keep their recipes on the computer, but I don’t have a convenient spot to keep my laptop when I am cooking, so I keep my favorite recipes in a binder. The first page in the binder is a master list of my family’s favorite, quick fix, healthy meals. It is a quick reference tool, but I don’t list all of the recipes in my binder, just the family favorites that are a regular part of our meal rotation. When I look in the freezer and see several packages of ground turkey, I then look on our list under Turkey for recipes.
9. Avoid boredom by trying 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.
10. For new recipes, use websites such as CookingLight.com, myrecipes.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, Arugula and Sun-Dried Tomato Pasta, one our my family’s favorite meals.
For me, meal planning is the strategy where I save 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 by about $100 a month.
Do you plan your meals? How often do you plan? Weekly, Bi-Weekly, Monthly? Let us know in the comments.
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