Saving time and money with meal planning!

One way to keep on the frugal track is to meal plan.  If you’ve never meal planned before, it can seem daunting. Here are just a few tips to get started.

  1. Inventory your pantry, freezer, and fridge. I use these worksheets. I keep them in plastic sheaths taped to the fridge and inside the cupboard. That way you know what you’ve got on hand without having to dig. I update them every week.
  2. Check out your favorite grocery stores weekly circular online before you hit the market. You may find that chicken is on sale that week- in that case, plan to cook more dishes that involve chicken. To save the most amount of money, eat what is in season and what is on sale!
  3. Make a list of the types of dishes that your family already enjoys. Make a list of the ingredients for each recipe. Check off the ingredients you already have on hand.
  4. Gather up some recipes that you’ve wanted to try for a while. Make a list of the ingredients the recipes call for that you don’t have on hand. I try to add in one new recipe each week.
  5. Decide what you want to cook for dinner each night (based on what’s on sale, recipes your family likes, and maybe 1-2 recipes that you’d like to try that are new to you). I try to have one night where we eat up leftovers. I also make a green salad to go with dinner that night.
  6. Plan on having the ingredients for a few easy meals on reserve in the pantry/freezer. Sometimes your day goes south and you don’t have the time/energy to make what’s on the menu for a certain night. Having something easy to make waiting in the wings keeps you out of the drive-thru! I try to plan the extra meals around stuff that we already have in the cupboard. If you don’t have any “extra” food, plan on buying the ingredients for 1 extra meal each week for a month. It can be as simple as a can of soup and grilled cheese- No need to be gourmet every night!
  7. Write a list of all of the ingredients that you need for your weeks menu that you do not have on hand.
  8. Look online and in inserts for coupons. To save time, use a Coupon Database to locate coupons.  I like Couponmom’s Coupon Database– it’s separated by state!

It can take a few weeks to a month to get into the meal planning groove. Give yourself grace and realize that it doesn’t come easy to everyone!

Now, if that is too much work, there are websites (and companies) dedicated to helping you meal plan. eMeals is one of them- It’s not free, but it’s pretty cheap ($5/week or so). They ask you a bunch of questions about your family, diet, and where you live and they supply you with grocery lists based on your dietary needs and where you live and shop.