Eating at home with a meal plan is the most cost-effective way to save money and fill up on healthy foods. Meal planning is simply having a plan for a big meal every day. Our family had my husband working afternoons for a while, so our big meal was lunch. Whenever you eat a big meal, the key to saving money is planning.
It’s as easy as grabbing a piece of paper, or on your phone, and make a list of the days of the week that you need to make a meal. Most weeks it will be every day, but sometimes you have dinner plans out. You could even plan a dinner out.
Every Friday is pizza night at my house because by then I am sick of making dinner. We buy the best frozen pizza we can find, a bag of salad, and we are set for an inexpensive night in. No tipping needed!
Dinner is typically the big meal to plan for and gather recipes together. Meal planning can save you money but also time and stress.
There is nothing as stressful as a busy day and then digging through the refrigerator for something to eat. It usually does not end well. Many nights have just got fast food or a bowl of cereal.
Here are some ways to get a meal plan started in your home:
Uses pantry items
Planning your meals in advance will help you clean out the pantry of all of the unused cans of beans and artichoke hearts from other recipes. When you meal plan you can intentionally find recipes for those items before they expire.
No impulse purchases
Planning what you really need before you leave for the store will allow you to easily stick to the list. If it is not on the list, it is not in the cart. You have the best intentions when you make a list. Don’t go to the store hungry or rushed because that can also lead you to over purchase and when rushed, I tend to just grab items without looking at the price or the ingredient list.
Make sure you plan to make more than you need for one meal. The leftovers are a cost-effective lunch or a quick dinner to defrost from the freezer. Make meals in bulk will help on those busy nights. Ingredients are generally cheaper when bought in bulk as well.
Fuel to the store
When you really take the time to make a meal plan for the week, you make a list of the ingredients and prevent you from additional trips to the store. Plus, time is money and it takes usually at least 30 minutes round trip to the store.
Coupon cutting and sale papers
Taking the time to look through weekly sales ads and cutting coupons will help you find recipes based on in-season items and sale items. This is a good way to look up recipes to map out your week as well. Also, this might spark new recipe ideas.
Don’t forget other meals and snacks
Breakfast, lunch, and snacks need to be included in the meal planning. Those meals need to be addressed with a regular rotation of items like eggs, peanut butter, bread, yogurt, fruit, etc.
Snack foods can be expensive if they are pre-packaged. When it is not time for school lunches, save money by not buying prepackaged snacks. No need for individual bags of pretzels when a larger, cheaper bag and a plastic baggie will do the trick for much cheaper.
Plan for quick
I always grab one of those big frozen pasta bags that take like 10 minutes on the stove for a night where nothing goes well. Inevitably someone will be late or traffic will be bad or I will just not feel like cooking, it is good to have a back-up plan that does not involve the more expensive eating-out option.
Plan for slow
At least one night a week, prep the crockpot for a meal that you can prep the night before or early in the morning. It is so great to walk in the door and smell the dinner cooking and know that all I have to do is wait for time to eat. Slow cookers are great for cheaper, tougher pieces of meat because they tenderize over the length of time they cook.
Sometimes, I just throw in frozen chicken breasts, or pot roast, broth, and baby carrots with some seasoning and you have just made dinner in five minutes. There are a ton of crockpot recipes online for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Waking up to breakfast ready is a fantastic start to a day.
Spice it up
Invest in some universal seasonings for extra flavor on a cheap piece of chicken or roasted vegetables easily. I always have a citrus lime, Chicago steak, and everything bagel seasoning.