“I want to meal plan, but I never know what meals to make…” is the roadblock you face when people tell you how easy meal planning is. Everyone tells you how much money meal planning will save you, but anytime you’ve tried you end up spending more money on groceries than before you started meal planning. Here are some tips for how to meal plan on a budget.
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You know those moments when you’re standing in front of a fully-stocked fridge with absolutely NO idea what to make for dinner?
Your husband’s going to be home from work any minute, your kids are tugging at your shirt telling you that they’re withering away because they’re so hungry…
…and you’re exhausted.
You’ve been pouring yourself out all day to cater to OTHER people and the last thing you want to do is make a healthy, homemade meal for your family.
But you know it’s the right thing to do, so you muster up enough strength to gather ingredients out of the fridge and make a simple meal.
(But, if we’re being completely honest, most days you just grab a ready-made meal out of the freezer, pop it in the oven, and call it good.)
Have you ever been in that situation?
If you’ve ever felt like that – like you have no energy to make dinner at the end of the day, if the thought of trying to think of something to feed your family stresses you out, if you spend far too much money on groceries but you’re only buying the food your family needs, then meal planning is the answer for you.
Meal planning answers just about any question you could have:
- Want to save money? Meal plan.
- Want to spend less time cooking? Meal plan.
- Want to have more spare time? Meal plan.
- Want to make healthy, homecooked meals every night? Meal plan.
- Want to make fast meals? Meal plan.
…you get the point.
Though it might be hard to see now, when you really stop to think about it, making meals plays into every aspect of your life:
You spend so much time trying to think of something to make for dinner each day that by the time you’ve decided on a meal and actually get around to making it, you and your family are exhausted, hungry, and getting angry with one another.
You become short with your kids, you close yourself off towards your husband because you’re drained, you stay up later than you should and become overtired because dinner got pushed later, which meant you cleaned up later, got the kids ready for bed later, and so on.
You wake up irritable the next morning because last night was such a disaster, you quickly run to the grocery store to grab ingredients for tonight’s dinner because there’s no way you’re going through what you went through last night again.
By the time you get to the checkout at the store you’ve racked up a bill of $75 when you really only needed a couple ingredients that shouldn’t have cost you more than $15…
…and then the whole cycle starts over again day after day.
And you’re stuck wondering why the same thing happens every day – why can’t you just get ahead for once and have dinner ready and on the table for when your husband gets home from work?
Why couldn’t you have prepped dinner in the afternoon so that all you had to do at suppertime was head it up in the oven?
Why couldn’t you have only bought the food you really needed at the grocery store so you don’t end up throwing so much food away at the end of the week?
Why can’t you figure out how to spend less money on groceries while still feeding your family healthy meals?
First things first. Cut yourself some slack. You are a BUSY woman – there simply aren’t enough hours in the day to do allthethings.
You’re doing all you can, so before you get yourself in a tizzy, realize that what you’ve been doing is OKAY.
No, you don’t want to continue to do it (our goal is to slash that grocery bill, so you certainly don’t want to continue buying food you don’t need), but the fact that you have been doing it in the past is okay. You just haven’t learned the proper way to meal plan on a budget, and I’m here to help you with that.
How to meal plan on a budget
You’ve gotten to the point where you’re realizing the amount of money you spend on groceries each and every month is outrageous. How can ONE family go through so.much.food?
Before, you assumed it was completely normal to spend $1,000 a month on groceries, but over the years your bank account has been suffering and you’ve been looking for places to cut costs.
And that’s when you learned that spending $1,000 on groceries every month isn’t okay. While it may be the “norm” for some people, it doesn’t have to be for you (even if you’re feeding a large family).
Meal planning will save you loads of time, but what about money?
If you are a SMART meal planner, you can save yourself hundreds of dollars a month on groceries, but, if you simply do up a quick meal plan without giving much thought to the meals, you can very quickly go over-budget.
When it comes to meal planning on a budget, there are a few different things you can do to keep costs down.
1. Find cheap ingredients
For example, some cheap foods are:
- Potatoes/Sweet potatoes
- Squash (during the fall)
These are all very affordable sides that you can add to almost any meal.
2. Find cheap main dishes
Next, you’re going to want to find some main dishes that are affordable to make – you could do this by looking for dishes that include small amounts of meat to make it stretch.
If you don’t know where to start when looking for cheap meal ideas, Budget Bytes has some wonderful recipes for people on a budget.
3. Make a recipe index
After you’ve gathered some main and side dish ideas that are cheap, write the recipes down and place them all in a recipe binder to create your very own recipe index.
This way when you’re in a pinch, or creating your meal plan, you can flip through your recipe index and find a meal that you know your family likes and that is inexpensive to make.
4. Plan meals according to sales
Before you create your meal plan, flip through your local grocery store flyers to see which items are on sale. If ground beef is on sale this week, plan to incorporate ground beef into several different meals this week.
If chicken is on sale, make some meals with chicken.
(However, if you don’t get flyers delivered to your mailbox, you can use the website Flipp to look at all the flyers online.)
5. Use coupons when you shop
You may be able to trim even more money off your grocery bill by stacking coupons on top of items that are already on sale, to get an even lower price.
You can find coupons in newspapers, some stores will have coupons posted on the wall when you walk into the store, and you can search online for coupons.
6. Plan at least one “cheap” meal a week
While the goal is to make every meal cheap, these meals can be even cheaper. Cheap meals could be meatless meals, or you could make breakfast for supper, or any other cheaper alternative to a normal meal.
Doing something as simple as planning one meatless meal a week will lower your grocery bill substantially over the months.
7. Make twice as much as you need
Once a week, make a double recipe for dinner and freeze the second meal – this way you will slowly start to create a stash of freezer meals that are the perfect option to pull out and heat up on nights when you don’t have time to make a meal.
8. Shop with a grocery list
As a rule of thumb, never ever EVER go shopping without a list.
You are far more likely to get to the checkout with a higher bill when you shop without a list versus shopping with a grocery list.
When you shop WITH a list, you’re able to go to the specific areas of the store that you need, and boycott the aisles that you don’t need to go into altogether.
Whereas when you have no list, you will walk up and down every aisle in the store because you’re not completely sure what you need, so you walk up and down the aisles; thus, putting more items into your cart (that you really didn’t need).
When you combine all of the above tips, you’ll be able to drastically lower your grocery budget month after month – the only catch is, meal planning requires time.
You have to be able to sit down and find recipes that are cheap to make, search the flyers for ingredients that are on sale, and plan which days of the week you’ll be having certain meals.
On top of that, you will have to read through each recipe and create a grocery list of the items you don’t have at home for each meal.
While this is an extremely effective way to save money, you do need to have enough time to dedicate to the whole process to be able to make it worth it.
Here’s what you can do to get all the benefits of meal planning without having to put in the time.
If you want all the benefits of meal planning – less stress at dinnertime because you know what you’re making today, tomorrow, and for the rest of the week, a drastically lower grocery bill, and only making ONE shopping trip per week – but don’t have time to actually meal plan, you can purchase a meal planning service that does all the work for you (they’ll even create your grocery list) while allowing you to reap all the benefits of meal planning.
Before my life got too busy, I did manual meal planning for years – because I had time to do it.
But now? Finding that much time each week just isn’t possible…
…so I have resorted to an easier strategy that still lets me save hundreds of dollars on groceries every month as well as knowing what I’m making for dinner every single night. This is what I started doing and I don’t plan on going back to manual meal planning any time soon (or ever).
I’ve had countless moms reach out to me telling me they want to save money on groceries, so they try meal planning, but they just get stuck. They don’t know how to start, and if they do figure that out, they end up following their meal plan for maybe one night, then reverting to their old ways.
And I get it.
Despite what people tell you, meal planning IS hard work.
It requires dedication and a lot of time, and for most people, that’s simply not an option.
If that sounds like you, you want to spend less money on groceries every month, you want to eliminate “meal-time-stress”, and you want to free up some time in your day, then this meal planning service is for you.
I have tried MANY different meal planning services over the years, and this one is the ONLY one I recommend to busy parents because it just works so well.
With the click of a button, you can have your whole week (or month)’s meal plan and grocery list in your hands and be on your way to the grocery store.
It’s that easy.
“How is this meal plan any different from the next meal plan?”
If you’re skeptical… I get it.
I was too at first. I didn’t think it was all people cracked it up to be.
But it is. (But I know you don’t just want to take my word for it, so that’s why they offer a 30-day money-back guarantee, where if the meal plan truly doesn’t help you save money and doesn’t make your life easier, you can get a refund.)
If you find yourself wondering, “What should I make for dinner tonight?” while you stand in front of a full fridge with no idea what to make, then these meal plans are for you.
You know that situation when you’ve worked ALL DAY LONG and you still have to go home and make a healthy, fulfilling dinner for your family? When really… that’s the LAST thing you want to be doing.
You would much rather curl up in your PJs and throw that TV dinner in the microwave instead of having to spend time figuring out what ingredients you have at home, then what meal to make with those ingredients, then spend time making it… and THEN clean up the mess afterward.
Well, that situation will never happen again when you use these pre-made meal plans. (They’re my answer to the question, “how to meal plan when you’re busy”.)
Seriously all you have to do now is look at tonight’s meal, quickly whip it up (because you already have all the ingredients at home), and less than 20 minutes later you can have your entire family gathered around the table eating a healthy (yes – healthy) home-cooked dinner.
I could talk on and on about these meal plans because they’ve changed my life – they’ve allowed me so much more freedom since I don’t have to spend hours each week planning meals, finding ingredients, and making a grocery list.
And I know they can do the same for you.
However, if a meal planning service isn’t what you’re looking for, and you’re simply just looking for how to meal plan on a budget by yourself, then follow the steps laid out above in this post and you’ll be well on your way to slashing your grocery bill in half.
I’d love to hear some of your must-do meal planning tips that make meal planning easier (and that help you stick to your meal plan after you’ve made it).