Meal planning is a difficult, annoying, and time-consuming project in and of itself. Whether you want to do it to stay in control of finances or health is your choice. Meal planning on a tight budget can be even more challenging.
Oftentimes, people seek meal plans for one reason or another, only to quit shortly after starting.
Like most things in life, you need to put in the effort to get results.
Unfortunately, anything involving groceries and foods means you need to have really good restraint.
- Little to no impulse buying.
- Staying on track with meals.
- Staying within the allotted grocery budget.
- Make sure the family's dietary needs are met.
- Allergies need to be considered, as well as the picky toddlers or husbands you have sitting at the table every night.
Here are 10 Meal Planning Tips that will help you achieve some success.
One of the hardest things about meal planning and grocery shopping is being "brand loyal."
This is always great to know you have a trustworthy product to give you desired tasty results, but sometimes loyalty can cost you.
Most big-name companies produce the lesser brand names in the same factory, with the same ingredients... they just slap the product with a new label and carry on their way.
- Kirkland Signature batteries are made by Duracell.
- Kirkland Signature coffee is roasted by Starbucks.
- Peanut Pan Peanut Butter is the same as Walmarts Creamy Peanut Butter.
- (This one saves us a TON because it's my husband's favorite).
- Many Trader Joes Organic foods are made by Annie's, and the list can continue on and on.
By being more open to off-brand items, you can save money and still get quality items.
If you have a picky eater in your house that is very brand loyal, consider putting the off-brand products in the name-brand boxes.
If they can still tell the difference, maybe find a compromise so that some items can stay name brand, but those other products can be the off-brand ones. Figure out what your family is okay with changing and keep a few of the extra loyal products.
For us, we remain loyal to the General Mills Cinnamon Toast Crunch and Ritz Crackers because we couldn't find a cheaper product that was still comparable in quality and taste.
Buying fresh strawberries for $6 a container for Christmas dessert is NOT an example of shopping seasonally.
You can get that same container for $1 in the spring.
If strawberries are really needed, opt for frozen ones- SO MUCH CHEAPER.
Fall has great squash and vegetables available.
Every season has its own "thing" that's on sale.
By planning meals around what's fresh and in season, you can save money and eat healthier.
Adding more whole foods from the current season into your diet is a great way to eat healthily.
While fresh fruits and veggies are more obvious when finding their seasons, other foods like cereal, frozen waffles, and Lunchables have their own seasons.
In January, you'll see healthy foods thanks to New Years' Resolutions and junk foods and chips towards the latter half of the month thanks to Football.
Then we have chocolates and seafood for Valentine's day, followed by frozen foods in March. Summer has BBQ foods like hot dogs and charcoal, and then there are back-to-school sales on sandwich-making products.
This continues monthly and repeats yearly like clockwork, which is why couponers buy so much at one time, to last them until the next sales cycle.
Markdowns are Hidden Gems
Don't turn up your nose at the Manager Markdown areas of the store. You'd be surprised at some of the "gems" you'd find marked 50%-75% off the current sale sticker.
Be open to new foods, and look in those markdown areas of the store.
You may have written down that you wanted meatloaf on the 15th, but find 2 pounds of ground turkey for half the price of ground beef. BUY THE TURKEY! Use that instead of the ground beef, and you just made your dinner cheaper and healthier.
Sometimes, we just need an easy solution to finding out what's on the menu.
I always keep an eye out for markdown stickers. I don't always buy the items marked down, but if I know it's a good deal and I know my family will use it, then it's going in my cart.
Don't Make Meat the Star of the Plate
You'll find that meals where the central focus is a lump of meat are usually the ones that are more expensive. For example, meals where you have a roast, steaks, whole roasted chicken, etc. The meat could easily be the most expensive part of the meal.
Stretching your meats in meals helps to spread your budget, but so does lessening the amount of meat used as well as hiding meat in other dishes instead of serving it as the star of the plate.
This means more casseroles, meat sauce spaghetti, pot pies, soups, etc., and less steak and potatoes.
The idea of eating meat with starch and veggie is very outdated, and you truly don't need a large cut of meat on the plate either. Protein can be obtained in any number of ways, and this tip alone could easily help save your budget and make meal planning a little easier.
Not only that, but it helps add more diversity to the meal plan so that it doesn't feel too repetitive and overwhelming.
[Related: How to Save Money by Stretching Meat]
An amazing tip that I have is to keep a detailed log of meals that your family loves.
Four ways to keep track:
- Recipe cards in a recipe card holder box.
- Have recipes printed on a sheet of paper and placed inside a sheet protector. Using 3 rings, place them on a paper towel holder. Now you have a flip-through menu on your counter, and it's convenient.
- 3-ring binder. Using a similar method to the one suggested above, but use a 3-ring binder instead. Now you can carry it anywhere and place it on a bookshelf, so it's off the counter. Great if you have limited counter space.
- Upload to your computer and keep digital a copy in a file folder. Takes up much less space, and if you make your meal plans on the computer, it could prove to be easier if you can copy/paste meals.
Theme The Week
Giving every day of the week a different dinner theme can really help with meal planning.
Looking at a blank calendar and deciding that you want breakfast for dinner Fridays now makes the task less daunting.
- You only have 4 or 5 Fridays per month.
- Think of 4 or 5 breakfasts that your family loves.
- Pancakes, waffles, French toast, egg
McMuffins, breakfast casserole. Add in meat, fruit, eggs,and maybe some juice. Those days just practically wrote themself.
And in no time flat, you can have an entire month of food planned out!
Most people I speak to about meal planning have found their biggest issue to be leftovers.
They don't like them. They won't get eaten. And now it's wasting time, money, and space in the fridge. So now what?
Recycle them. Turn them into something else. Spaghetti, when mixed with egg, cheese, and breadcrumbs, can be baked in a pie tin and turned into spaghetti pie.
Leftover meats can be turned into any number of meals. So on and so forth.
Be creative and invent your own new recipes. Try using up small odds and ends in your home for a small-batch
Or search the internet for ideas on what to do with leftover "insert meal here." This searching thing is how I learned folks use leftover meatloaf in chili.
Making more food than you need on purpose and then freezing half of it for a rainy day is a GREAT way to stretch a dime and sets you up for success.
Some great meals with leftovers include:
- Creamy Leftover Turkey Wild Rice Soup-- made with leftover turkey
- Cornbread Tamale Pie-- made with leftover chili
- Creamy Turkey Dumpling Soup-- made with leftover turkey
- Easy Hashbrown Casserole-- can be made with any number of leftover meats
Double Your Meals
When you prep dinner, if possible, make two. Cook one now and save the other for a future meal. Freeze until needed, and the work is that much easier.
You can't anticipate the future.
How you feel from day to day. What surprises might come up. They are all random, and things can happen at the drop of a hat.
Having freezer meals ready to go means that day you get a migraine and can't leave bed- you and your family can still be fed.
The day your car dies coming home, you're still a few days from payday with no idea what's for dinner- you have dinner in the freezer.
I hope this post helps you to make your meal planning easier!
Still need some help?
What are some of your favorite meal planning tips and tricks?