Meal Planning on a Budget

Meal planning is as simple as choosing which meals to prepare for the upcoming week. Learn how to make a meal plan so you can save money!

Meal Planning on a Budget

Eating at home is definitely a healthier option, plus it saves money, too. Meal planning is a great way to help when it comes to eating at home. All it takes is a little bit of planning and work.

Planning meals a head of time helps you stay on budget and helps avoid throwing so much food away. I don’t know about you, but I hate wasting food. Meal planning is very easy to do; just take inventory of what you have, plan meals around your stock, and shop for other needs using the grocery store ads.

Why Should I Create a Meal Plan?

Meal planning keeps money in your pocket, helps avoid food waste, and saves your sanity! Here’s how:

Meal planning saves time.

Fridays are usually the days I create a meal plan for the next week since Saturday is my grocery shopping day. It takes me about 30 minutes to sit down and plan out a menu. By putting in this time on one day of the week, you will save tons of time throughout the week. When it’s time to make dinner, you already have everything you need and you’re not wasting time trying to figure out what you’re going to fix!

Meal planning saves money.

If you’re organized before you get to the grocery store, more than likely you are not going to buy unnecessary foods. Make a list before you leave home and stick to it when you get there. This way you will get full use of the foods you do buy and avoid throwing anything away.

Being frugal with your grocery budget keeps money in your pocket each month. The money you save can go towards your other financial goals.

Meal Planning on a Budget

How to: Meal Planning on a Budget

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Take inventory

Before you sit down to make your shopping list, take an inventory of what you already have in your kitchen. Using what you already have will save you a lot of money. There is probably a lot more in your cabinets, freezer, and refrigerator than you think.

Plan meals from your inventory

Plan some meals from the stuff you already have. Most likely you purchased some things in the past that you never got around to using. Or maybe you stocked up when there was a great sale going on, like I do.

For example, I always have a ton of pasta sitting in my cabinet waiting to be used. I stock up when it’s on sale and usually get it for less than a dollar. Pasta tends to last a long time, so it’s a great staple to keep around. When making a menu for the week, I know I have pasta on hand, so I will just add to my grocery list whatever else is needed to make a meal using pasta.

Plan meals around sales

If your cupboard is bare and you must go shopping, check store flyers for what’s on sale. Challenge yourself to only shop for foods that are on sale. Once you’ve got a good idea of what’s on sale, plan recipes based on these items.

At my local grocery store the best markdowns are put out early Saturday mornings. I am able to stock up on meat for cheap because of these markdowns.


Creating a Meal Plan

Grab a pen and paper!

I have 2 notebooks for creating a meal plan – one for writing out the menu and one for making my grocery list. I keep a notebook for meal planning because sometimes I just cannot figure out what I want to make for dinner one night. When that happens I can look back through my notebook at other dinner ideas and use one of those. That saves me a lot of time.

Now that you have a list of what you already have in your inventory, it’s time to create some dinner ideas. This would look a little something like this:

  • Monday: spaghetti with side salad and garlic break
  • Tuesday: Taco Tuesday!
  • Wednesday: baked ziti with side salad
  • Thursday: Hot dogs with french fries and cucumber slices
  • Friday: Pigs in a Blanket with mac and cheese and green pepper slices
  • Saturday: Baked Potatoes with chili and cheese and side salad

After creating your meal plan, create your grocery list. I usually create my list as I go so that I do not accidentally forget to include anything.

Meal Chaining

Meal chaining is just simply using ingredients from one meal for the next meal. If you notice in my meal plan above, I have spaghetti one night and baked ziti another night. I buy a big jar of spaghetti sauce when I go grocery shopping and only use half the jar when I have spaghetti and use the other half for the baked ziti. I also buy salad in a bag to save time and use this up within the week with separate meals.

Another example of meal chaining in that list is the hot dogs. Since there are only 3 of us I can serve 3 hot dogs one night and use the leftover hot dogs for pigs in a blanket. I serve chili with the hot dogs and then have the leftover chili for the baked potatoes. Sarah at Garden Full of Dreams has a great article on meal chaining. She saves a lot of money with her meal chaining tips!

Avoid Waste with Meal Planning

Meal Planning to avoid food waste
via: UC Davis

Organizing your refrigerator is a great way to avoid waste when it comes to food. Create a system that works best for you for storing your food. When foods keep getting shoved to the back, we don’t see them and then they will not get used.

Another great way to avoid waste is to freeze your food. There are plenty of recipes out there for freezer meals. You can make extra of your favorite meal and freeze it to have later.

Make full use of your leftovers! Eat leftovers from last night’s dinner the next day for lunch or create an entirely different meal from your leftovers. You can also freeze leftovers to have for another dinner.

Meal Planning Tips

  • Stock up: Keep your cabinets stocked with long-lasting staples, such as pasta, canned beans, canned tomatoes and sauces, and canned broth. Stock up on bags of frozen vegetables, too, as these make a quick and easy side dish.
  • Keep a list of favorite meals: Like I mentioned above, I write my weekly meal planning in a notebook so I can have quick access to meals I’ve made in the past. I know which ones we loved and which ones we didn’t.
  • Have themed nights: Assign a theme to the nights of the week to simplify your planning process. For example, I have a Taco Tuesday. Tacos do not have to be the same every week. Mix it up and have soft tacos one week and crunchy the next. Then have fish tacos, taco salads, chicken tacos, or whatever kind of tacos you want! Some more ideas for themes are: Pizza Fridays, Meatless Monday, Crockpot Thursday.
  • Prep ahead: Take the time to wash and chop veggies for meals ahead of time and store in he refrigerator to save time.

Do you create meal plans for your family? I’d love to know your meal planning tips and ideas!

Want more money-saving tips? Check out these great posts:
7 Things You Shouldn’t Buy When You Are Broke
Get Paid to Shop with Cash Back Apps
How to Make Money Cleaning Your Home
20 Unique Ways to Save Money

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Meal planning on a budget

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76 thoughts on “Meal Planning on a Budget”

    1. I can’t argue with you on that. I have done that in the past, but it stressed me out so bad that I keep up with it now. πŸ˜€

    1. Thank you! I know the feeling. It seems like the prices of all the foods go way up every year. πŸ™

  1. My daughter is good at meal planning but I tend to go to the store and buy whatever with no plans. Taking inventory is a great idea! Because so many times I get to the store and can’t remember what I already have at home. Thanks Michelle!

    1. I used to do that before challenging myself to stick to a budget. And I would be in the store for an hour just trying to figure out what I’m getting. πŸ˜€ Thank you for sharing! πŸ™‚

  2. Well, it’s just me, so it’s a little easier. I pick my favourite veggies, and then I just make my favourite stir fry vegetables and add them to different things (along with tofu). LIke to coconut curry and noodles to burritos (with crockpot beans) to rice and liquid aminos. Because I’m on food stamps, the local farmers’ market (and stores that carry local New Mexican produce) have double up food stamps for vegetables and fruits. Which is awesome and really helps the food stamps go a long way!

    1. That’s great that your farmers’ market does that! That’s very helpful. πŸ™‚ Making stir fry vegetables sounds really good!

  3. We try to meal plan too, but then someone always changes their mind halfway through the week! It can be frustrating! Also: I’ll come over for pigs-in-a-blanket and mac n’ cheese night!

    1. I can relate to that! Usually I’m the one saying “I really don’t want to make that tonight.” LOL! Come on over!! πŸ˜€

    1. Thank you! I tend to get behind on taking inventory sometimes and buy the same things I already have. πŸ˜€

    1. I usually stock up on meat when I can and freeze it so I have something for dinner any time. πŸ™‚ It makes it so much less stressful.

  4. Meal planning is such a great idea. Sometimes it works for us but not at other times only because I tend to eat a bit differently than my husband at times. But I do love when we’re both on the same page… Life is much easier. Thanks for the wonderful advice, Michelle. I especially like how the meals flow from one day into the next.

    1. Thank you! I can understand how that is. My husband is usually fine with anything, but I do have to fix separate for my daughter sometimes. πŸ™‚

  5. I applaud your article to help people think about planning meals, however, think beyond this.
    People in apartments usually have no space to stock up on needed items, and what does one do when there is a family of four or more with totally different tastes?

    Husband: meat and potatoes (esp. steak) & drinks diet soda exclusively
    Wife: wants low cal. healthy meals like Spicy Asian and Soups. Favorite drink: hot tea or
    flavored water/100% fruit juice (Non-GMO)
    Son: wants hamburgers, tacos, and pizza . . . the more cheese the better and hyper thirsty
    for soda or juice.
    Daughter: Pasta, pasta, pasta with lots of basil and pesto. Likes Lattes or juices. Loves dark

    Welcome to what used to be my world. ^_^ Kids grown, I am now divorces, and finally get to eat what I want (which is actually the least expensive of the four of us.

    Your next assignment, if you should agree to accept it, Michelle . . . lol. Consider obstacles for large families and call for possible solutions.

    I will offer one right off: Medically speaking, Americans consume far more meat than needed. A person can eat healthy and stay healthy (unless medically contraindicated) on
    3 ounces of meat per day. Meat is a complete Protein. When you cut back from the 1/2 lb we usually eat each day, and eat more fresh vegetables with some rice or pasta or whole grain roll . . . we will stay full longer, and be healthier. Think of 1/2 plate of fresh Produce prepared however (canned is high in sodium usually and over processed), 1/4 plat or 3 oz of meat or Fish, or beans/legumes/nuts, and then 1/4 plat of pasta, rice, whole grain roll, etc.

    This is a well balanced Supper with iced tea, flavored water, or low cal. milk

    Food Producers has too long influenced what America eats; it is time to listen to the medical news and stay healthier.

    1. I understand exactly what you mean because we were a family of 5 living in a very small 3 bedroom house at one point. I know very well the struggles of no room to stock up, which is why meal chaining is so helpful for times like that. As long as you have everyone eating the same things. We follow the Dash Diet in our home now, which is a much healthier option. Thank you so much for sharing! πŸ™‚

    1. πŸ˜€ I am. Just been very busy with renovating the house and finishing up homeschool! Thought I needed a little break. πŸ™‚ I hope you’re doing well!

  6. I really need to get into the habit of meal planning – I’ll save so much money! Thank you for sharing xxx

  7. Knowingly and unknowingly we all waste food either cooked or uncooked. I love what you say …Take Inventory of what you have and plan your meal. A healthy eating will avoid lifestyle disease like BP, Diabetes etc. I would add
    1. Consume Greens from your inventory first as they go bad first.
    2. Don’t cook a lot as if you waste those… the oil it’s made along with other stuff goes wasted and takes a lot for Mother Nature to overcomes!

    1. Thank you for adding those. I agree to eat the greens first since they go bad quicker. I never realized the second one you mentioned, but it makes a lot of sense. Thank you!

  8. Thanks for linking to me! I love meal planning because it saves me so much money if I shop with a set list of sale items. Whenever I go to the store without a list, I always overbuy stuff and end up with random things in my freezer that don’t get used quickly enough. Great tips!

  9. First of all love. Love this post
    I meal plan for at least 4 days. I like the idea of using friday to plan for the week. I have a hectic schedule so i have to shop when i have a window of opportunity

  10. Awesome post Michelle! Very useful and practical information. Funny you should write about this now because we have just been discussing doing more meal planning and grocery budgeting. We are buying the same things we always have at the store but our grocery bill has doubled in the last 6 months. Groceries have gone sky high! It really puts a damper on the financial planning, yikes!

    I love your advice and will be implementing many of your suggestions. Thanks so much! β™₯ You always write the most helpful articles. I enjoy reading your work very much. πŸ™‚

    1. I agree!! I hate going to the grocery store just to spend all my money. Thank you so much for your kind words!! I’m so glad I can help others. πŸ˜€

  11. I am right with you Michelle on that one. Indeed meal planning does save you money. I have seen my mother she always used meal planning technique to save money and now I am doing the same. I love all your tips and tricks, a very well presented article. Thank you for sharing.

  12. Meal planning is so effective! I love meal planning. I find that frozen food is so helpful. It is also so easy to meal plan for snacks to, like fruit! love this post!

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