If your family is like mine, your food bill is one of your biggest monthly expenses.
And it’s not like you can just stop buying food. You need to eat right??
So how do you keep your food budget from spiraling out of control and still put a healthy meal on the table?
Well, there are numerous ways to save money on groceries. But the one that had the biggest impact on our grocery bill is family meal planning.
You’d be surprised what some careful planning and organization can do. Meal planning has saved my family money, time, and stress.
And it will do the same for you as long as you’re willing to invest just 30 minutes a week in mapping out a plan.
Learn more about the benefits of family meal planning and see some of our best tips and strategies that have helped us trim our food bill significantly.
Benefits of Family Meal Planning
You’ll benefit from using a meal plan in a number of ways. You’ll save both money and time. Plus you’ll eat more healthy foods and minimize your family’s intake of processed food like frozen pizza and chicken nuggets.
Here are what we consider the four main benefits of meal planning:
When we map out our family’s meals for the week we make one trip to the supermarket with a detailed list in hand. We coordinate our meal plan with weekly sales which means we save big money and waste very little food.
Before we started planning meals ahead of time we often found ourselves scrambling to find something to eat at the last minute. This often meant running to the supermarket several times per week (more opportunities for impulse purchases) or ordering take-out.
Spending just 30 minutes upfront mapping out your meals will save hours during the week. When you plan your meals, you can do all your shopping in just one trip. You can spend that time preparing a healthy dinner and enjoying it with your family rather than wandering the supermarket aisles waiting for a dinner idea to jump out at you.
Helps You Eat Healthier
Before we planned out our weekly menu, we would have a delicious home-cooked meal a few nights per week. But the rest of the week we often ended up eating a lot of frozen pizzas and Rice-A-Roni.
It was especially difficult on those nights we spent shuttling the kids back and forth to girl scouts or soccer practice. More often than not we’d end up swinging by McDonald’s or ordering Chinese food.
Now that we plan our meals we enjoy more home-cooked meals cooked with fresh foods.
“What do you want for dinner?”
“I dunno. What do you want to do?”
Sound familiar? In our house those simple questions would often lead to an hour of back and forth and getting on each other’s nerves.
But when you have a plan, you don’t need to worry about what’s for dinner or having to run out to the supermarket at the last minute. Plus, because you’re spending less on food you’ll have less stress about your family’s finances too.
Now that you have a good understanding of the benefits of meal planning, let’s get into the nitty gritty and share some tips and strategies that will ensure your meal plans are successful.
How To Meal Plan Like A Pro
Now that you’ve learned how family meal planning will save you time, money, and stress, let’s talk about some tips and strategies you can use to get the most out of it.
Master 10-15 “Go To” Dishes
Start off by making a list of meals you enjoy and you feel confident making. These are going to be your “go to” meals and they’ll make up the core of your family’s meal plan, at least in the beginning. Ideally, your list will have a nice mix of beef, chicken, fish, pasta, and side dishes. But don’t worry if your list is heavy on just pasta dishes. We’ll build up your list over time.
Gather all your recipes for your “go to” meals and put them in the same place. You can print them out and keep them in a binder or save them to a folder on your desktop. It really helps to have an organized list like this handy as you plan your meals. And if you have 15 meals in your binder you’ll be able to plan at least two weeks in advance with no duplicates.
Take Time To Learn New Meals
If you only cook the same ten meals over and over again you’ll eventually get bored and your whole family meal plan will fail. While your “go to” meals will make up the core of your meal plan, it’s important to mix in other options to keep things fresh and interesting.
We often get new dinner ideas by watching the Food Network, and this new thing called the Internet has a pretty much limitless supply of recipes to explore.
As you build up your cooking skills and add more meals to your master list, look for meals that offer versatility and simplicity. Sure, if you want to learn how to make Beef Wellington or deep-fried turkey, go for it! (And if you do can you invite me over for dinner?)
But when you have a busy schedule and you’re constantly shuttling kids from one place to another, simplicity is essential. Think about quesadillas, wraps, homemade pizza, or breakfast for dinner. These quick and easy options are perfect for those days where time is tight and energy is short.
Here’s another great tip…sign up for a meal delivery service like Hello Fresh that ships ingredients directly to your door. They will cost slightly more than you’d pay at the grocery store, but they are super time-saver. Even if you just do it twice a week, you can schedule your Hello Fresh meals on those crazy nights when you have almost no time to breath. It’s a great option that will ensure your family gets a delicious and nutritious meal even on the craziest of nights.
And yes, it’s ok if you keep some frozen pizzas on hand in case of emergency. We’re trying to get you to the point where meal planning becomes natural but no one is asking you to be perfect.
Build Your Meal Plan Around Your Family Calendar
Are you stuck working late this week? Back to school night? Kids soccer practices right at dinner time? Dinner plans with the neighbors?
You need to check your schedule and work all these things into your weekly meal plan. How many meals do you need that week and how much time will you have to cook them? By planning ahead you’ll know which nights you can cook a full meal, which nights you’ll need to throw something in a crock-pot early, and which nights you won’t need to worry about.
Write Your Meal Plan Down
Do yourself a favor. Don’t try to just keep your meal plan in your head. The best way to stay organized and not forget anything is to write it down.
Use whatever works for you. Some people use a standard wall calendar. I like to use a whiteboard like this one because it’s easy to make changes and we keep it hanging on the wall where the whole family can see it.
Another option is to use printable meal plan template you can stick right on the refrigerator door. If you think that will work for you, I’ve made a meal plan template pdf that you can download for free.
Or if you’re more into Excel, I created a free meal plan excel template you can download here.
Take Inventory Of What You Have On Hand
Before you actually sit down and start mapping out your meal plan for the week, it’s important to take stock of what food you have on hand. Sometimes you might be surprised by what you find buried in the freezer!
If you take just five minutes to do a quick inventory of the pantry and fridge, you’ll likely find enough ingredients to cover a couple days worth of meals. That means less time shopping and less money spent at the supermarket.
Plan Your Menu Around Sales
I can’t tell you how important this one is. This one tip alone could cut your monthly grocery bill by as much as 30 to 50 percent!
When you sit down to write down your meal plan, do it with the supermarket circular in hand. You’ll be amazed how much you can save just by focusing on sale items. Prices change from week to week and something like ground beef might go from $3.99 a pound to just $1.89 per pound. That’s less than half price!
Focus on building your meals with whatever happens to be on sale that week. That one step alone could make the difference between using your entire food budget and having extra money at the end of the month.
Cook Extra For Lunches
This is another huge money saving tip! I used to be lazy and I bought lunch at work almost every day. You don’t realize how quickly that daily spending adds up, but when I did the math I was astounded. At an average of $10 per day I was spending about $200 a month on cheeseburgers and chicken sandwiches.
When I finally smartened up and realized I could cook just a little bit extra each night and bring leftovers for work, I started using those savings to pay down our debt and invest for our future. Some simple planning and minor adjustments to our meals now save me $2,400 per year!
Make A Double Batch And Freeze Half
Lets say you’re making a tray of lasagna for dinner. As long you’ve already got the sauce, cheese, and pasta ready to go, why not make two trays instead of one?
The first tray goes in the oven for that night’s dinner (with leftovers for lunch the next day) and the second tray goes in the freezer. Now you’ve got a pre-made meal sitting in the freezer ready to go whenever you need it.
Plan To Eat Out
The whole point of this article has been to teach you how to meal plan so you can be more organized and reduce your spending on food.
But guess what?
No one ever said you can NEVER go out to eat. Heck, I love taking the family out for dinner and I don’t want to give that up. So we just build that into our schedule.
On average my family eats out once or twice a month and we order take out maybe once a month. But if you want to eat out once a week and you can afford it, then go for it.
The Final Word
Family meal planning is one of the most effective ways to reduce your food budget. If you follow the tips and strategies discussed above you can trim your food budget by as much as 30 to 50 percent.
But not only that.
You’ll also have more time to spend with your family instead of walking up and down the aisles of the supermarket. Plus, you’ll have peace of mind knowing your family eats healthy meals prepared with fresh foods.