One major part of keeping my monthly budget down is meal planning. Having a plan, even a loose plan, is a great way to save money on groceries for several reasons. If you are new to meal planning, start small. Once you the hang of meal planning you can plan for the whole month and even do some freezer cooking to save time as well. Here are 7 reasons why you should start meal planning and how to get started!
7 Reasons to Start Meal Planning on a Budget
I consider mealing planning fun, while others may not. I like getting creative with my menus while stretching my budget. I also have needed to meal plan just to make it through the week. Give me a small budget and I can come up with meals that will satisfy and be relatively healthy. Meal planning on a budget helps me get as much food for my family as possible with a little bit of money.
1. Saves Time. Lack of meal planning always has me spending time thinking of something to make. Then spending time seeing if I have everything I need for the meal. Then if I don’t, I have to either spend time thinking of another meal or spend time and money shopping. Spending some time planning out my meals all at once and shopping all at once (except for fresh produce) saves so much time.
2. The Whole Family Can Be Involved. My husband and I sit down and talk about what each person would like on the menu for the week or month. Kids are more likely to eat meals they have helped planned and prepare. I like sharing the meal planning responsibility.
3. A Healthy Diet is Easier. When you have every meal planned out, including snacks, reaching for unhealthy food is less likely to happen.
4. Shop Seasonally. Getting in a dinner meal rut is very easy. When you menu plan you can incorporate seasonal flavors and meals very easily. It adds variety to the menu and allows you to save money since fruits and vegetables are usually cheaper when they are in their peak season.
5. Shopping Using Ads. Along with shopping seasonally, you can meal plan using ads. If there is an awesome deal on chicken, then I know that I am going to be making some chicken recipes to save money. I combine this with freezer cooking and I am set for a month a lot of times, especially when my favorite meal ingredients go on sale!
6. Experiment with New Dishes. One of the things I love about meal planning is that I feel more creative. I mean when you have the same meals printed out in front you, you can see that your dining experience is getting boring. I like going on Pinterest and seeing what frugal (or not so frugal, since I am saving so much money) meals I can try.
7. Can Coordinate with Schedule. If you know you have lots of activities, then making a crockpot meal would be better than grilling. At my house, I have lots of meals where I am the only one home, no need to make a huge meal, just a small one.
How to Start Meal Planning on a Budget
1. Stock Your Pantry. Having a well-stocked pantry of basics that you got at cheap prices either by couponing or shopping at a budget-friendly store like Aldi’s or Save-a-Lot allows you more flexibility and saves you money. Pantry essentials can vary from family to family but I will share my most common ones, I will do an expanded post on everything for your pantry soon. Some of my pantry essentials include (this list does not include my Baking Pantry Essentials):
- Pasta – I always keep at least 2 pasta varieties stocked, usually macaroni and spaghetti.
- Beans – different varieties, canned and dried
- Oils – Vegetable and Olive Oil
- Vinegar – I just use Balsamic, Apple Cider, and White
- Broth – Vegetable (sometimes I have my own in the freezer)
- Canned Tomatoes
- Tomato Paste
2. Start small. Try planning a week of dinners using your favorite grocery store’s weekly ad. Have your calendar available so you know what events and activities are scheduled that would cause meals to be different than normal. Using your store ad, family favorites, and some new ideas from Pinterest, plan the seven dinners for the week.
3. Make Your Shopping List. Look the recipe and meals that you are making and make a list of the ingredients you don’t have already in your pantry or fridge.
4. Collect Coupons. Check Coupons.com for any coupons you may need. Don’t forget to load digital coupons as well if your local grocery store has them!
5. Plan out More Meals. Once you get the hang of the just planning out the dinners then add in the other meals and snacks.
6. Carry Out Your Plan. Now, this is sometimes the hardest part. You have your plan and bought the groceries. Now it is time to schedule a prep time if you are doing freezer cooking. Another problem I sometimes face is wanting to change the meals, but if you do that after making the plan and buying the groceries you aren’t really saving any money since you have unneeded items sitting in your pantry, fridge, and freezer. That money could have been saved or used elsewhere especially if you are living paycheck to paycheck. Which until recently I was doing.
It is that easy. If you want to add some meal prepping, that is something you can do as well. One small thing I like to do even if I can’t prepare all my meals is to at least have the veggies cut up and divided for all the meals.
I have a Free Printable Meal Planner for you that includes a shopping list.
Do you meal plan? Why or why not? Let me know in the comments.