How can you meal plan on a budget?

Creating a meal plan for your family is a great way to help you save money on your grocery bill each month.

But meal planning on a budget can be a little difficult at times. On top of finding meals that your family enjoys eating, you also have to make sure you stick to your budget every week when planning your meals.

If you find yourself struggling to stick with meal planning because you’re on a budget, I’m here to help! These 11 simple tips for meal planning on a budget will help you stay on track from week to week.

But first if you’re new to meal planning…

best tips for meal planning

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What is Meal Planning

If you’ve never heard of meal planning before, you’re probably not familiar with the concept.

Basically, meal planning involves laying each of the meals your family will eat during a given period of time. Most families stick to meal planning per week. But you can expand your meal plan to last all month long if you choose.

When making a plan for your family’s meals, you typically plan a breakfast, lunch, dinner, and snack for every day of the week.

That means you’ll need to sit down and make a plan for the week before you go shopping and stick to your plan as you cook each day of the week.

Why Should You Meal Plan?

There are so many great reasons to start meal planning – especially if you’re on a budget.

But if you’re not sure you want to put in that extra work each week, I understand. Maybe these benefits of meal planning will convince you to start:

1) Meal planning actually saves you time.

While you may have to put a little bit of time and effort upfront, that hour you take to plan your meals won’t compare to the amount of time you spend scrambling to get dinner on the table every night or the time you spend stressing about what you’re going to cook for your family each evening.

2) Planning your meals helps your family make healthier choices.

Instead of trying to come up with a meal on the fly that may or may not be healthy, meal planning allows you to think about the food you feed your family more critically.

When you take the time to plan your family’s meals, you can be sure that each meal includes nutritious options.

3) Meal planning helps you save money.

If you’re on a budget, you know how important it is to be organized when you head into the grocery store.

Think about how much more you spent the last time you went shopping without a shopping list. Now consider how much less you would spend if you had a thorough plan before you went to the store.

Taking the time to map out all the ingredients you’ll need to cook every meal throughout the week will help you get organized before you go to the store.

It will also prevent you from having to go back to the grocery store to purchase ingredients you need but forgot to purchase on your weekly grocery trip.

How to Meal Plan on a Budget

Meal planning can be a pretty simple task – whether you’re trying to stick to a budget or not. But meal planning on a budget requires a little bit of extra work to help you stay within your set spending limit each week. Here’s the process for meal planning inexpensively:

1. Set aside a time to meal plan.

You’ll need at least an hour to create a meal plan and shopping list for the week, so make sure to set aside time every week to make your meal plan.

Add the time to your calendar or designate the same day and time each week for planning. This will ensure you remember to meal plan every week and help you stick to your resolve to continue meal planning in the future.

2. Take a look at your weekly schedule.

Busy families often have places to go throughout the week. That means you’ll need to plan around those activities when it comes to the dinners you prepare. You don’t want to have to cook a big, complicated dinner on the same night your child has a soccer game, right?

Before you decide what you’ll be cooking, it’s always a good idea to take note of the events you have on your schedule. Use those activities to determine the types of recipes you’ll make each night.

3. Shop your kitchen.

Since you’re meal planning on a budget, you’re going to need to find ways to save money on groceries. With meal planning, saving money is much simpler because you’ll know exactly what you need when you head to the store.

So, before you make a recipe and shopping list for your weekly meal plan, take the time to do an inventory of your kitchen. Jot down some ingredients you could use for your meals, then try to incorporate the food you have at home into your meal plan this week.

4. Check the weekly sales.

Planning your meals ahead of time also allows you to cook with what’s on sale that week.

Check your store’s weekly sale to see what types of food are on sale before you make your meal plan. Pay special attention to items that are often more expensive to purchase when they’re not on sale, like meat and produce. When you see a good deal in the weekly circular, think about ways you can incorporate it into your meal plan.

Flipp is an app that gives you access to all of the weekly flyers in your area. You can quickly search for common items like milk to view who has the best price!

Related post: 11 Ridiculously Easy Ways to Save Money on Groceries

5. Pick your recipes.

After you know what you have to work with at home and what’s on sale at the grocery store this week, you can start planning your meals for the week.

There are a variety of ways to find recipes to cook for your family as you’re meal planning. Start with meals you know your family likes to eat to ensure you don’t end up with wasted food. Then, you can start incorporating new recipes into your rotation. You can find recipes:

  • In your cookbooks. Grab your favorite cookbooks and scan through the recipes to see if any of them stand out. In addition to looking for recipes that incorporate ingredients you have at home and food that’s on sale this week, also seek out recipes you know your family will enjoy.
  • On your favorite websites. Bookmark some of your favorite recipes sites so you can reference them while you’re meal planning. You can easily do a search on most sites using ingredients or types of food to help you narrow down your search.
  • Search the web. Head to Google or Pinterest to find recipe ideas to add to your meal plan. Search for recipes that include the ingredients you have on hand or look for types of recipes you need to add to your plan to help narrow your search.

If you’re looking for cheap, yummy recipes, check out the $5 meal plan. For $5 per month, you get recipes for 24 dinners, 4 lunches, 4 breakfasts, 4 snacks and 4 desserts. Between leftovers and the occasional takeout, that’ll cover you for the whole month! You also get grocery shopping lists!

Each meal is cheap and costs less than $5 to make. There’s variety in the meals including all types of meats, some meatless, freezer friendly recipes, slow cooker recipes etc. There’s a gluten-free meal plan as well!

What I love is that they offer a 14 day free trial (approximately 20 recipes) that you can cancel at any time with no questions asked. You can check out their ideas and see if it works for you and your family.

6. Write down your weekly meal plan.

Make sure you write down your meal plan for the week. This will help you stay organized.

Here’s my simple meal planner worksheet on Etsy. It’s a digital download so you can print it as many times as you want. Click here to use a 15% off coupon towards your purchase.

7. Start with an ingredient list.

Once you have your recipes picked out, it’s time to prepare to head to the grocery store. But before you make your grocery list, it’s a good idea to come up with a master list of all the ingredients you’ll need for each of your recipes.

In addition to making it easier to know exactly what you need to purchase at the store, it will also help you stay organized without the need to constantly go back to each of your recipes.

On top of adding the ingredients listed in the recipe, don’t forget to include additional items your family might need to go along with the meal, like condiments for cheeseburgers or crackers for soup.

8. Mark off the ingredients you already have.

After outlining all the ingredients you need to make your meals, head to your kitchen to start marking items off your list. If you already have something on your ingredient list, simply mark it off so you don’t add it to your shopping list.

9. Make your shopping list.

While you could head to the store with your list of remaining ingredients, I find it more helpful to create a separate shopping list.

Rewriting your shopping list will give you a chance to reorganize your list by department to make shopping much easier. An organized shopping list will help you travel through the grocery store more quickly and help you avoid unnecessary purchases as you shop.

Here’s my grocery shopping list. It’s an inventory list of 99 common grocery and household items by category. It has 13 empty spaces you can fill in based on your grocery preferences.

All you have to do is “tick” off what you need. There’s also space for if you want to include a specific quantity. This saves me so much time!

It’s a digital download you can purchase on Etsy. Once you download it, you can print it as many times as you want. Click here to use a 15% off coupon towards your purchase.

10. Purchase using cash back apps and other savings tools

Cash back apps are tools that help you get money back for making purchases. Here are 2 great cash back apps that are all free to sign up with and use:

  1. Checkout51: Each week, Checkout51 lists the items they can give you cash back on. It ranges from food to regular household items. Once you make the purchase, just take a picture of your receipt and send it in via the app. After they’ve approved the receipt, they’ll put money in your Checkout51 account that you can cash out when you reach $20.
  2. Rakuten (formerly Ebates) pays you cash back for shopping at any of their 2500 partnered companies, which includes Amazon! In the U.S., you can even get $10 for free if you sign up at Rakuten now. You have to spend $25 within 90 days of signing up. In Canada, there is a $5 sign up offer. You can check out my full review on Rakuten to see how it works.

Another way to save money when purchasing groceries is getting discount grocery gift cards.

There are online gift card marketplaces like Raise  in the U.S. where you can buy discounted grocery gift cards. In Canada, you can purchase grocery gift cards at the Gift Card store. I’ve seen Loblaw, Longo’s, Safeway, IGA and Sobeys gift cards for up to 2.5% off.

11. Stick to the plan.

After spending all that time organizing your meal plan for the week, you only have one more step to take – stick to the plan.

To help you and your family stay on track, consider hanging up your meal plan in a prominent location in the kitchen, like on the refrigerator. You’ll be able to quickly glance at the plan to see what’s for dinner, allowing you to forget the stress associated with coming up with what to cook for your family tonight.

Meal Planning Tips

Knowing how to meal plan is only half the battle. Once you figure out the steps involved in meal planning, you’ll have to put your plan in action.

One of the biggest hurdles many people face while meal planning is sticking to their plan. But if you don’t stick to the plan, what’s the point?

To help you stay on track as you get into the habit of meal planning, consider these simple tips and tricks.

1) You don’t have to cook every night.

While meal planning does involve outlining the meals your family will eat every day of the week, you don’t have to actually cook those meals.

Think about ways your family can enjoy a meal together that doesn’t involve cooking to give yourself a break every once in a while. Leftover night, frozen pizza, and sandwiches are all great meal ideas that don’t require you to slave over a hot stove.

2) Save your favorite recipes.

Finding recipes your family loves is a great way to ensure you don’t waste food each week.

So, when you come across a recipe that was delicious, make sure to save it. You can bookmark it in your browser, create a new Pinterest board to fill with your family’s favorite recipes, or print out the recipe and add it to a binder.

3) Stick with recipes you know plus one new recipe.

We all want to experiment with new foods for our family, but trying out multiple new recipes each week will probably result in a lot of wasted food.

Instead, try to stick with recipes your family knows and loves during the majority of the week.

You can dedicate one night per week or one night every other week to trying out new recipes.

4) Take inventory of ingredients you use most often.

Once you get in the habit of meal planning, you’ll probably start to see a pattern in the meals your family eats. That means you’ll probably use a variety of common ingredients over and over again throughout the weeks.

By taking note of these often-used ingredients, you can start stocking up on those items you use again and again. Purchase multiples of your favorite ingredient when it’s on sale, and you’ll always have it on hand when you need it to make your family’s favorite recipes.

5) Choose recipes that use cheap food options.

When you’re on a budget, you know that not all food at the grocery store is created equally.

To ensure you stay on your budget, be mindful of the recipes you choose to make each week.

Adding recipes with expensive cuts of meat or out of season vegetables is guaranteed to increase your grocery spending each week. But making sure to include recipes that incorporate cheaper ingredients can help you cut back on the amount of money you spend at the grocery store.

Here’s a list of 27 healthy, cheap foods to buy to make a big impact on your grocery budget.

This list includes the typical beans, rice and potatoes, but also other lesser known options.

6) Consider meal prepping.

Once you have the planning out of the way, sticking to your meal plan should be a piece of cake. But if you find that you’re still struggling to get dinner on the table every night, consider taking some time over the weekend to meal prep.

Meal prepping involves tackling all those little time-consuming tasks you need to do before you start cooking. To help prepare your meals for the week, you could:

  • Wash and chop all your vegetables
  • Rinse your lettuce and herbs
  • Prepare your sauces
  • Sort your ingredients according to meal

7) Save what you don’t use.

After prepping all your ingredients, make sure to save the ingredients you don’t use You can often freeze leftover ingredients for use later.

Extra vegetables, herbs, and sauces can be frozen to use the next time you cook that meal. That means you won’t have to purchase them the next time you add that recipe to your meal plan.

Just make sure you use good, airtight containers like these mason jars and rectangular glass containers.

I use the mason jars to store fruits, vegetables and snacks in the fridge and freezer. I use the rectangular glass containers to store larger quantities of meals.

8) Create a back-up plan.

No matter now much planning you do at the beginning of the week, there will be days when you just don’t feel like cooking the dinner on your menu.

If that happens, make sure to have a back-up plan in mind to keep you from heading to the drive-thru. Stock your pantry with easy-to-make staples, like pasta and jarred sauce, or make sure to have a frozen pizza in the deep freeze in case of emergencies.

9) Have a rotation of easy to cook meals.

Another great option to help you stay on track when you just don’t feel like cooking is to have a roster of easy to cook recipes that you can whip up in just a few minutes. When coming up with easy recipes, consider:

  • Freezer meals: Make a few meals ahead of time, then place them in the freezer. These meals can be thawed and reheated for a quick weeknight dinner that requires no prep work.
  • Dump meals: Another easy to make meal idea includes dump meals. These simple meals involve dumping ingredients into your slow cooker and letting the appliance do all the hard work for you.
  • Quick and no-cook meals: Having a selection of quick-cooking or no-cook meals at your disposal is another simple way to ensure your family gets fed without much work on your part. Pasta dishes, meals with precooked ingredients, and sandwiches are all great options for quick weeknight dinner ideas.

10) Make planning easier with daily themes.

Taco Tuesdays and Pizza Fridays can be fun for families with kids. And those themed days make planning so much easier for you.

When you create a theme for each night of the week, you take the guesswork out of planning dinner. And your family will know exactly what’s for dinner every night. They may even get excited about it!

11) Make a plan for your leftovers.

Cooking dinner at home each night will mean you’re going to have plenty of leftovers after each meal.

Don’t let that food go to waste! Leftovers can be incorporated into your meal plan to help you save time and money.

Dinner leftovers are great for quick lunches. Or you can add your leftovers into your weekly dinner rotation by having a leftover night and letting your family pick which leftovers they want to eat for dinner.

Final Thoughts on Meal Planning on a Budget

Meal planning on a budget is possible. With these tips and tricks, meal planning will be easier. You’ll get the time and money savings to do what you want with your family!

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