How to Become a Meal Planning Master

Today I’m going to fill you all in on one of the main ways I help our family to save a TON of money each month. You’ve probably heard it before and maybe you even already do this, but one of the best ways to reduce spending on food is MEAL PLANNING! If you are not familiar with meal planning or if you have thought about giving it a go but are so overwhelmed by the idea, this post is for you! I am going to give you free step-by-step instructions for creating your own meal plan for your budget. Let’s get to it!

Step 1 – The first thing you are going to want to determine is how long you want to plan for. It really is all your preference. For our family, I have set our grocery budget to $400.00 per month, so I like to plan out my menu for the entire month at a time. This way I can be sure that I won’t overspend earlier in the month and then have to compensate for it toward the end of the month.

Step 2 – Once you decide how far out you want to plan your meals, pick a calendar template to use. You can use a paper agenda and pencil, a white board and dry erase marker, or an electronic format. I personally like to use a calendar such as google calendars or Microsoft Word. I tend to want to move things around or change my mind a lot during the planning process and an electronic format makes is simpler for me to do that.

Step 3 – The next step is to look at your schedule and determine which nights you don’t have to cook dinner. Our family has designated every Friday night as a family pizza night so I fill in each Friday spot with “Pizza.” My husband teaches a training class every Thursday evening, so the kids and I eat leftovers. My full-time work schedule means I have more time on Sunday evenings for special recipes than I would during the week. I also consider my Monday evening dance class. Whatever I make on Mondays needs to be quick and easy to prepare. We usually attend church on Saturday evenings. Since my hubby works there, he eats there. It’s just me and the kiddos so dinner is quick and easy. If it’s a weekend when I am leading worship, the church provides dinner for me.

Basically, this process helps me to simplify how to approach the month. That way I don’t plan to make something that I either won’t have time to prepare or that won’t get eaten. This eliminates buying extra groceries that will not get used which means extra savings and less wasted food.

Step 4 – Think of your family’s favorite meals and what type of meals those are. That way you can plan for a variety of textures and flavors throughout the week. I like to rotate with a pattern of:

  • Sunday – Special recipe
  • Monday – Pasta
  • Tuesday – Either Asian (stir-fry or fried rice) or Veggie Bowls
  • Wednesday – Some kind of stew or soup. (These dishes usually leave us with A LOT of leftovers so it also provides lunches and/or dinner for Thursday.)
  • Thursday – Either leftovers or easy and kid-friendly
  • Friday – Pizza
  • Saturday – Quick & kid-friendly

Sometimes I will mix up the rotation but this is the general framework that I start with. When we were eating more meat I would try to rotate chicken, ground turkey, seafood, and the occasional red meat. This helps so your family doesn’t get bored with eating the same type of meal everyday.

Step 5 – Pull out your recipe books or pull up Pinterest on your computer and start picking which recipes you want to make for each day of your plan. I like to use the full name of the recipe or close abbreviations on my calendar so that I can easily refer back to my Pinterest board when I need the recipe. It saves me from having to print out each recipe and also saves me search time. Below is my plan for dinner for the entire month of October.

October 2016 Dinners

Sunday Monday Tuesday Wednesday Thursday Friday Saturday
1
Roast Pumpkin, Herb & Walnut Pasta Bake Bulgar, BlackBean, Mushroom Enchilada Casserole (Prepare on Sunday) Bliss Bowls w/Baked Falafel Creamy Lentils & Spinach L/O Church Couples Retreat Church Couples Retreat
2 3 4 5 6 7 8
Breakfast for Dinner Tomato, Kale & WB Gnocchi Shrimp & Broccoli Stir-fry w/Rice Bissara w/ Naan L/O Pizza Quesadillas w/Beans & Avocado
9 10 11 12 13 14 15
Mediterranean Baked Sweet Potatoes Tortellini Alfredo w/Salad Bliss Bowl CP Black Bean & Quinoa Stew L/O Pizza Church Food
16 17 18 19 20 21 22
Creamy Tomato Soup w/Bread Stir-fry w/Tofu & Rice Orzo & Scallops CP Black Bean & Lentil Soup L/O Pizza Apple Gouda Grilled Cheese
23 24 25 26 27 28 29
Dinner at Rachelle’s (Bring Salad) Chili w/Cornbread Roasted Butternut Squash w/Udon Creamy Lentils & Spinach L/O Dinner Out Boca Sandwiches w/SP Fries
30 31 1 2 3 4 5
Chicken & Dumplings Jack-o-lantern Pizza Stir-fry w/Tofu & Udon CP White Bean & SD Tomato Soup L/O Pizza Black Bean Pasta a la Vodka

You’ll see it shows my overlapping days from the previous month and my tentative plan for the first few days of November. I’m not including October 29-31 in this October’s budget because that grocery run will fall into November’s budget. You’ll also see that it reflect the dates when I know I won’t need to prepare dinner.

Step 6 – Create a grocery list for the whole month, separated by each week based on your plan. I usually get my grocery shopping done on Friday afternoons, so my grocery “week” is from Friday through the following Thursday. It helps to know the average price of each of the items you usually purchase. When I make my list I include the non-sale price of each item in parenthesis. Once I have every item listed, I can total up how much the dinner groceries will cost for that week. Then I can total up how much the dinner groceries will cost for the entire month.

21

This month my total for dinners comes out to $198.73. This figure does not include Friday night pizza because even though we usually do frozen, we’ll occasionally order it from a local shop. We usually spend no more than $12 total. That means I have $201.27 remaining to spend on pizza, breakfast, lunch, and snack items.

With some additional planning, I am easily able to buy everything else I need with my remaining amount. Usually, something on the list of dinner groceries will provide leftovers for snacks, like extra celery, cherry tomatoes or carrots. Plus, I usually make dinners that will provide leftover lunches for me and my husband to eat the next day. Again, the calendar helps me figure out which days I won’t have leftovers for lunch and then I can plan accordingly.

My kids both have ADHD, which means that we don’t buy a lot of pre-packaged, expensive snack foods because they have a tendency to binge if we keep those items in the house. Instead, I try to buy things like roasted almonds, baby carrots, yogurt, and cheese in bulk. I do cave on a few things like Goldfish crackers, granola bars, and apple sauce. Since I buy in bulk, these items work not only as snack items, but also as things I can easily pack in my kids’ lunches on school days.

Breakfast items are easy. I buy at least one dozen eggs and a loaf of bread each week. Then I keep cereal and oatmeal stocked in the pantry. I also usually make a batch of muffins weekly. I will buy bagels and cream cheese too if they are on sale. Between all of these items, there is always something for everyone to enjoy for breakfast.

Other weekly items include, seasonal fruit, bananas, milk and/or almond milk, juice boxes for lunches, and coffee creamer. Here’s how it breaks down:

Monthly – $43.97

  • Almonds $14.99
  • Cheese $9.99
  • Yogurt $6.00
  • Goldfish crackers – $7.00 (the BIG box)
  • Apple sauce $5.99

Weekly – $23.85

  • Eggs – $1.88
  • Bread – $2.50
  • Milk – $1.99
  • Seasonal fruit (grapes, apples, pears) – $3
  • Bananas – $4   This is a ton of bananas, I know, but we eat a lot of them and they also get used in baked items like muffins or banana bread.
  • Oatmeal – $1.50
  • Cereal – $4 Our local grocery store usually has cereal for about $2/box. Sometimes I can find cereal for $1.25/box at King Soopers (Kroger) and save even more!
  • Juice boxes – $1.99
  • Creamer – $2.99 King Soopers usually does a deal at least once a month where the creamer I like goes on sale for only $1.99/bottle. When that happens, I usually stock up for the next few weeks.

Okay, so let’s review what we’ve got so far. In October, I am planning to spend $198.73 on dinners, $43.97 on monthly bulk items, about $95.40 on weekly grocery items (for 4 weeks), and pizza (4 weeks) $48.00. That gives me an estimated total of $386.10 for the month of October for our family of four! Plus, if any of the items on my list are on sale throughout the month, it comes out to even less. Any remaining funds usually go toward restocking pantry items like flour, sugar, spices, or cooking oils.

I hope all of this information is helpful rather than totally confusing. Of course, my meal plan is mostly meat free. I guarantee you that it is possible stick to the same grocery budget even if you do include more meat. Our family did it for years prior to the last couple of months. I just reworked our monthly plan to meet our family’s current needs. I really believe that you can do the same! Happy planning!

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