Wow, can you believe that the month of July is almost over? The lazy day’s of Summer sure goes by fast. It’s already time for back to school planning and I want to get a head start on mine.
I don’t know about you but a huge part of my back to school planning system is meal planning.
I usually do meal planning all year long but I can get a little relaxed with it during the summer because of all of those impromptu BBQ’s and spontaneous picnics in the park.
However, I have a teen daughter that is intensely involved in several school activities, including band and robotics. If you have a child in band or any sport then you feel my pain. This means she is constantly on the go …which means I’m constantly on the go.
If I don’t have a definitive plan of action for our school weeks then I’m setting myself up for frazzled-town (a place I don’t enjoy visiting).
Meal planning is a HUGE part of maintaining my sanity (and my pocketbook:).
Things To Consider
So here are a few things you should know about how I meal plan. Keep in mind, however, that your meal planning may look differently, as there is no completely right or wrong way to do meal planning. We must do what works for our individual and unique families.
I meal plan on a weekly basis because I grocery shop on a weekly basis. We live in a small cottage-style home with limited pantry and storage space. Planning our meals weekly help me to have what I need on-hand without trying to figure out where I’m going to keep everything.
In addition, I have a monthly budget that I like to stick to for food expenses. I budget $500 monthly for my family of 4 (sometimes 5 if my eldest son stops by or stays at home for a few days). On average I spend about $125 per week on groceries, but I like to stay under that amount when I can.
I don’t normally use coupons but I do like to use my Ibotta app when shopping as a fun way to earn cash back on items I’m going to purchase anyway. You can learn more about the Ibotta app and why I use it here.
I have several very picky eaters so I try to stick with tried and true favorites. However, I’m an adventurous eater and like to add new recipes into the mix every so often. Therefore, I create our menu by basically rotating menu items that my family enjoys and will add one new recipe per week.
Well, now that you know a few foundational tidbits about my meal planning routine, let me share with you a few benefits of meal planning. Just in case you’re not completely sold on the idea;)
Ways Meal Planning Benefits My Family
- Meal planning allows me to take inventory of what I already have on hand and utilize foods before they expire.
- Meal planning saves my family money and allows me to stick to my established budget.
- I always know what’s for dinner
- I always know that I have all of the ingredients necessary to complete my recipe (not many things are more frustrating than getting ready to prepare a meal only to discover that you don’t have everything you need)
- It saves me invaluable time. I don’t have to wander around the market trying to remember what I need.
- It helps me to weed out unnecessary food items and recipes that my family does not enjoy. Hence, helping me to save money.
- It gets dinner on the table in a timely fashion, which makes us all happy!
Tools To Assist With Meal Planning
1. You will need some sort of a calendar.
I’ve always used my personal planner to do my meal planning. I recently switched from a generic (although very pretty) planner that I picked up at Office Depot. To the Happy Planner. I’m LOVING it so far! I write out our menu in the monthly view squares so that I know what I’m making and what I have made, at a glance.
2. Some sort of pen or marker. I like to make sure that the pen I use in my Happy Planner doesn’t bleed through so I use the Pilot Precise V5 extra fine tip as well as the colored Paper Mate InkJoy ballpoint tips (in pink of course).
3. Also, having an easy and portable shopping list will come in handy. Besides my monthly calendar within my personal planner, I use a simple Meal Planning sheet that I created. You can snag it if you like above, just click on the image.
4. You’ll also need sales ads whether you grab them from online or in your weekly paper or mail insert.
5. Lastly, you’ll need some recipes.
How To Create A Budget-Friendly Meal Plan
Let me start off by saying that many times your grocer’s website is an often over-looked valuable resource. Check out your favorite grocer’s website to identify their weekly ad, the departments, and many times you can also find some great recipes there as well.
First, things first, budget-friendly meal planning starts off with a budget. Determine your budget whether you shop for the month, bi-weekly, or weekly. How much do you intend to spend on groceries?
Next, you’ll want to get a hold of your weekly ads from your favorite marketplace. I’m old-school so I like having the actual ad in my hand so I can go through it and circle the items that I’m interested in purchasing.
As you go through your ads, you are looking for sale items. You may want to compare the sale items of several marketplaces. For example, I live in Texas so I enjoy shopping at HEB, Sam’s and Walmart for most of my groceries. If chicken is on sale at HEB, I may take a look at Walmart to see if they have a better deal on it.
I’m careful to look at the amount of chicken as it relates to the cost. Something may look like a better deal when in reality, you’re getting a lot less of the item.
After scanning your marketplace ad, and finding the sale items that you’d like to purchase, then it’s time to create your menu.
Let’s just say that you found chicken, turkey meat, country-style ribs, and kielbasa’s on sale this week. Then you know that you want to search for recipes that include these items.
If you’re a vegetarian then the same principle applies.
You can use some tried and true recipes or look through some of the cookbooks that you may have laying around or (my personal favorite) check out Pinterest for some recipe ideas.
There are SO many recipes online these day’s that you won’t be hard-pressed to find something your family will love, even if you don’t own a single cookbook.
Next, you may want to print off the recipes that you’ve found online. This will help you to keep track of what your family enjoys (or not). I like to keep all of my recipes that I find online in my Homemaking Binder under my Meal Planning tab.
After you have identified all of the recipes that you’d like to add to your menu, then you can begin writing down all of the ingredients that you’ll need to make them.
Create your list of items based on where they are located in the market. You may want to list them as Produce, Deli, Bakery, Pantry, Frozen Foods, Beverages, Dairy, Etc.
Here’s how I do that.
I write down EVERY SINGLE INGREDIENT! I can’t tell you how many times I have thought that I wrote down the items that I needed, only to find out when I went to prepare my recipe, I didn’t have something. Urggh!
After I write down every single ingredient, then I shop my house first!
I go through my pantry, refrigerator, and freezer to see if I have the ingredients on my list. If I have the ingredients then I can mark it off my grocery list. If I’m low, I may keep it on my list (depending on how low). And of course, I don’t have an item, it stays on my list to purchase.
What if you already have the sale item from the marketplace ad?
Excellent question. You can choose to purchase it anyway, this is how I’m able to keep my costs low. Especially with meats. I have a chest-style freezer where I keep meats I find on sale and will use those first in new recipes.
Now that you have your sale items identified, your menu planned out, and your grocery list is written out and edited, you are ready to head out to the market!
Tips For Grocery Shopping
- Go early! I live in a small college town, so if I wait too late in the day, the market is over-run by hungry college students and tired professionals. Go in the morning when there are fewer people and less traffic to contend with.
- Choose a specific day for grocery shopping. I like to go on Friday’s early in the morning. It’s a work and school day so folks are less likely to be at the market. And honestly, because many older people like to go the market early for the same reason’s I do, it’s just a friendlier experience.
- Everyone knows how important this tip is, but it is always worth mentioning again. Eat before you go to the market. Even if it’s a quick muffin and coffee or juice. This will help you stick to the game plan.
- Speaking of game plan, stick to your list. The whole point of the list you created is to get what’s on it which saves you time and money.
- Shop by the department. I like to start in my produce section, then to meats and/or deli, then to dairy, drinks, pantry, bakery, and then frozen foods. This is where having an idea of your marketplace layout comes in handy.
However, your shopping plan doesn’t have to rely on that.
For instance, in my favorite marketplace, frozen foods are in the middle of the store, but I wait until I’m done getting everything else so that my ice cream doesn’t melt in this blistering Texas heat.
Well, I truly hope that this has been helpful to you and your family. Please let me know in the comment section if you have any additional tips or suggestions for budget-friendly meal planning.
Blessings, and Happy Homemaking!