How to Save on Groceries: Meal Planning

Well, we left off last week with a little bit of homework: make a monthly budget for groceries. If you were surprised at how much you’ve been spending on groceries, it’s okay. Through this series we will learn how to reduce that monthly amount. Some of you may even cut it in half! Now that you have a number to work with, let’s talk about practical ways we can lower that number. The first place to start is meal planning.

Meal planning sounds scary. When I say “meal planning,” what comes to mind? Does it sound a little scary? Time consuming? What if I said that meal planning could save you tons of time and money? Not only could it save you, it will. How often each week are you running to the grocery store to grab ingredients for dinner? How often do you give up on dinner because you didn’t have time to cook/plan and grab fast food or take out? With a little planning, you could save numerous trips to the store and take the stress out of meal time.

What is meal planning? Meal planning is simply sitting down at the beginning of the week/every other week/month (depends on how often you would like to go shopping) with your calendar and recipes and making a plan. In our family, I know that I have a set amount of cash for the month. When it’s gone, it’s gone. We divide the cash in half, and refill our money envelops on the 1st and 15th each month, so I plan on two main grocery trips per month (each time the envelops are refilled). I sit down with our family calendar (so I know when a family member will be gone and can plan accordingly) and recipes and a notepad. I plan every meal (three meals a day for two weeks…even plan nights for eating out or eating leftovers…it’s better to plan than not to plan). I make the grocery list from the recipes I planned. Then I go through the list to see what I already have on hand and cross that off the list. Then, I’m ready to shop!

What if our plans change? A meal plan should be flexible! If you planned to cook spaghetti tonight, and your husband calls and asks if the family can go to the in-laws to eat dinner, go! Put your spaghetti in the freezer and save it for another time (that’s one less meal that you have to plan in the future).

Do I really have to plan every single meal? Yes. Planning everything ensures that all of the ingredients for every meal are purchased. Even if you plan to have cereal every single morning for two weeks, if you plan for it, you know it will be there and won’t run out. I plan cereal for breakfast on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays every single week.

Can you give me an example? Yep. I love examples. Here’s our meal plan for this week…

  • Monday: B- cereal and fruit, L-PB&J, D- @parents because husband was working
  • Tuesday: B- bagels and fruit, L- Salad/chicken nuggets, D- date night out
  • Wednesday: B- cereal and fruit, L- PB&J, D- Burrito bowls with chips and salsa
  • Thursday: B- bagels and fruit, L- out, D- I have bookclub, so the family is eating frozen pizza while I’m gone.
  • Friday: B- cereal and fruit, L- deli sandwich, D- out
  • Saturday: B- pancakes, L- salad/chicken nuggets, D- Swedish Meatballs and veggies
  • Sunday: B- bagels and fruit, L- leftovers, D- Grilled pork chops and baked potatoes

Are there any tools that can simplify the process? Yes! I have used two tools that I particularly love. The first one is called Emeals. I discovered Emeals after I have my second daughter and was in the newborn-no-sleep-phase. Emeals made meal planning so easy. Basically, you pick one of their numerous plans (i.e. family plan for Aldi/Kroger/Wal-Mart or plan for 2 people) and they generate a meal plan and grocery list for you every week. The plans are super affordable (around $5/month) and it will save you so much time and money. The recipes are very family friendly (for those of you that cater to picky eaters). I used Emeals for about a year, and then missed some of my favorite recipes that I hadn’t made in a while. So I switched to Plan to Eat. To use Plan to Eat (also $5/month), you load in all of your favorite recipes, or clip them from websites (so convenient!), and simply drag them into your meal plan (calendar). Plan to Eat automatically generates your grocery list. You can visit these sites to learn more about them, but I have used them both and they are both fantastic and well worth the $5/month.

Convinced yet? Do you think that meal planning could save you a little time, money and sanity? Please, leave comments with any questions you may have! For next week, try meal planning! See how you like it. I’ll meet you back here next week to talk about more ways to save on groceries.


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