Frugal Living

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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