Plan Your Meals, Save Some Money

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Plan some easy meals this week so you can save some money and eat better.

Plan Your Meals, Save Some Money - Plan some easy meals this week so you can save some money and eat better.One afternoon recently, my husband and I were out running errands. We were both feeling hungry. He said, “Are we going out to eat?”

“Ha! No, I have a meal plan. We’re having pasta at home.”

Since we had separate cars, and I drive like an old lady, he got home before me. He had a pot of water boiling when I walked in the door. A concoction of eggplant, zucchini, and tomatoes was simmering in the crockpot. I blended that with my immersion blender, added cooked ground turkey, and we were good to go.

I was tired, so I cheated. No other sides, but there were lots of veggies in the sauce. Haha!

Having a meal plan and sticking to it saved us at least $20.

As much as I love going out to eat, it’s easily a $25 expense for our family — if we buy cheap burgers, share fries, and skip the drinks. If we go to a nicer place, we’d spend at least twice that — and still eat “fast food”.

I know from experience that it’s cheaper to eat at home. The trick is how to make it easier. If it’s easy, you’ll do it more often. Driving through the fast food lane is easy. We need to make home cooking easier than that. Tastier and cheaper helps!

Ready to make it easy?

Plan Your Meals, Save Some Money - Plan some easy meals this week so you can save some money and eat better.

Make an easy meal plan for this week.

Don’t think you need to create a complicated spreadsheet with every course cross-referenced. Don’t go overboard. Don’t over think this.

Take a look in your cupboards, fridge, and freezer.

What do you already have on hand? This should inform your meal plan. Chances are you have lots of options based on what’s already there. See my list of meals you can make when there’s “nothing” to eat.

List five meals that you can easily prepare, preferably without a recipe, preferably based on what you already have.

Can’t think of any? Copy my list. My children could eat these foods until the cows come home.

  1. beans and rice
  2. crunchy tacos
  3. spaghetti with bolognese sauce
  4. bean burritos
  5. grilled chicken

Plan Your Meals, Save Some Money - Plan some easy meals this week so you can save some money and eat better.

Create a grocery list of what you need to make those things.

Hopefully, your meals are based on what you’ve already got on hand. If not, go back and tweak the meal list to better make use of your food storage. Don’t buy more food if you’ve already got enough on hand.

Shop for ingredients.

Again, don’t overbuy. It’s easier to cook from a half-full or almost empty fridge than it is to cook from one bursting at the seems. Trust me,.

Get cooking.

Tack your meal list to the fridge. Glance at it often. Each morning pull out the things that you’ll use in tonight’s dinner. Make sure things are thawed. Pre-chop or slice vegetables, cheese, etc. as you are able.

About an half hour before you think you want to eat, start prepping dinner. Easy meals shouldn’t take longer than this.

Enjoy a great week and save some money!

What makes meal planning easier for YOU?

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Comments

  1. Stephanie M. says:

    Meal planning is something I’ve always done. I usually always know what I’m going to be serving for dinner for the week. Sometimes things get changed and I have to or want to for whatever reason switch meals to different days but at the end of the week, we usually eat what I’ve planned. Being the over the top organized person that I am, it’s not in my nature to wake up and say to myself, “I wonder what I’ll cook today.” Meal planning makes my days easier because I start defrosting the next day’s meat choice the day before so the next day when I go to cook it, it’s ready. Sometimes if there is a lot of prep work, I get that done earlier in the day. It also helps because since I already know ahead of time what I’m cooking the next day, I can plan my day accordingly. If I have leftovers and don’t have to cook, that’s usually a good day for me to do other things.

  2. With soon-to-be 10 children, I’d go broke without a meal plan!

    My husband is always the tempter, though, on going out. Growing up, his mom just went to the grocery or the fast food joints daily to pick up dinner for the family – whatever everyone wanted at that moment. Costly, unhealthy, and scatter-brained! He works for the small family company now, and they’re all still like that at lunchtime. So, my dear husband can try to get me to make something on a whim or to skip my plan and get carryout. But, the cost is so ridiculous that I refuse every time! Like you said – even sharing fries, eating the cheapest burgers and skipping drinks is easily $25 or more. You can break the budget with one bad decision like that!

    On another note, I laugh every time you post a picture of your pantry. I have the EXACT same items in mine – the Bhutanese red rice, the couscous, and the stacked pastas from Trader Joe’s! No wonder I find your cookbooks and blog so helpful!

    By the way – I’d love to know how you use your red rice, as I only have one recipe for stir-fried Bhutanese rice that we use (one I found on the internet). Our family was inspired to try Bhutanese rice after reading about it in What the World Eats.

  3. GREAT JOB – it is so hard sometimes and I agree – my plan saves me time and time again.

    But there have been plenty of times that it wasn’t the most balanced of meals – such is life – we do our best – it’s all we can do.

  4. I have always meal planned and do monthly meal plans on/about the 15th of the month for the upcoming month. As you suggest, I start by inventorying what is on hand first. I select the meals for the upcoming month, keeping in mind our afterschool commitments (I work full-time). My general plan is a big meat meal on Sunday to provide leftovers aka planned overs for the upcoming week (or to become what I call “frozen assets” for the future) as well as soup stocks (usually). Mon is fish dinner, Tues/Th is crock pot or quick to prep meals, wed is pasta, Fri is l/o night, sat is soup or sandwich night. Th is also typically vegetarian. Planning ahead helps me to incorporate leftovers, avoid food waste (although I tend to tote leftovers to work for my lunch). PLanning ahead also means keeping a snack bag in the car for myself as well as the rest of the family to curb impulse drive thru stops. While I do set aside $ monthly for restaurant food, it’s modest and we must keep within budget.

  5. One of my biggest ways to avoid the siren call of the drive thru has been to start keeping a snack baggie in the glove box. Granola bars and squeezable apple sauce are what I tend to put in there most frequently, although other items do get used as well. I don’t eat those items much at home, but if I am out running errands and get hungry, I can eat one or both of those items and it will tide me over until I can get home and make some real food. Making homemade apple sauce is so easy and inexpensive, I resisted purchasing the pricier squeezeables but I finally bought a box at Costco and am so happy I did. It is lasting me a while, the ingredients are only apples with no additives I don’t want, and the increase in price between what I can make in the crock pot and what I spend on that package is still miles lower than what I would spend in a DT!

    Actual meal planning itself… not so much. My days very rarely go according to plan, and I have to be way too flexible for full-on meal planning. I cook when I can, I use leftovers when I can’t. Good thing we love leftovers. After reading you and a few others preach about it so often, I have started having a sort of “menu option” of about 3 things that are available in the fridge. Then I just ask the kid if he has a preference. Meal planning like you guys do? Doesn’t work for me at this point in my life. Attempts to do it like that have actually resulted in MORE food waste as I plan to do things, then the schedule will shift so meat thawed out doesn’t get used for several days and then goes bad, raw veggies rot, etc. My freezer is my friend… batch cook, portion into 2-meal sizes, and simply reheat when needed.

    • I didn’t do meal plans for a while because it didn’t seem to work for my family’s schedule at the time. I agree, it depends on the phase of life you’re in. Even now, when I use a meal plan, my plan can get scrapped because I have to account for other family members’ preferences and requests, or because grocery shopping didn’t happen like I thought it would. You just roll with the punches.

    • I look at my calendar to decide what days I know we will be out,and subtract those from the plan. I make sure we have one crockpot meal ready to go for Monday nights (we always have so much going on). Then I chose meals that can be cooked for the rest of the nights, I make sure at least one of them has ingredients that won’t go bad, so if we end up eating with friends or family I don’t waste food. Then I put the list of possible meals on the fridge 🙂

  6. When I started doing all the cooking for my family, I got overwhelmed at the thought of making meal plans. Jessica, your website was helpful (thank you!!), but I still felt like I was trying to fit a square peg into a round hole. I would laboriously write out pasta for Monday, chili for Tuesday, etc., but it just didn’t seem to work for me. I scrapped the whole thing and started just winging it, and a while after that I realized I HAD fallen into a meal plan habit, and it’s very close to the process you describe – I just needed to live it out for a while to realize how the rhythm of it worked with my daily habits, how my family does grocery shopping, etc.

    For anyone who’s struggling to make meal planning work for them, I encourage you to start simple, take note of the cooking habits you already fall into, and craft that into a meal plan that works for you. For example, I always cook stir-fry on Sundays because it’s an easy meal, and once I realized what I was doing and that my family didn’t mind, I wrote it down as an official meal for each Sunday on my meal plan. I also like to have at least 3 meatless meals per week, but I don’t fuss over whether that’s going to be lentil curry, pea soup, etc., because I know each of those takes about the same time to prepare and we always have those staples on hand. So my meal plan for those days often just says “legumes,” and I figure out what I’m cooking when I’m ready to cook. It just depends on how you shop, how you organize your day, and what works for you.

    These days I have a meal plan I write out every weekend and stick to pretty closely, and I really appreciate the time and effort it saves me. 🙂

  7. So timely! Just yesterday, we got home from a party and nobody wanted what I had planned…and I didn’t really feel like cooking it anyway. So we ate out. Fail! That’s when I realized the hole in my plan: last-minute substitutes. (Seriously — I rarely feel like sticking to my big plan on Saturday afternoon. Why haven’t I faced up to this already??) Thanks for the great tips!

  8. I use a regular online calendar and slot in recipe names for each night.
    I have recipe file with all of my recipes that I use regularly electronically on Google Drive. I pull each one I plan to use (and create pdfs of new ones) and combine them in one PDF.
    I then print the plan, and the recipe file – and have them in my kitchen, ready to go.

    I do this every two weeks, and make my grocery list off that (and make the meal plan based on the weekly store sales, and what I already have).

    The first week uses up the more delicate produce that would be bad by the end of the 2 week period.

    There’s usually a theme, so – one night is chicken, another ground beef, another crockpot, another leftovers and another is homemade pizza night.

    And I totally plan for leftovers for my work lunch!

  9. Meal planning is essential in our house. My kids all have lots of activities which involves me driving around during the dinner prep hour. I post my menu on a big chalkboard so the entire family can reference it and have something to look forward to during the day. Lately, we do a lot of crock pot meals or stuff I can prep ahead of time and pop in the oven to cook while I drive around. We also plan to have easy meal ingredients on hand for the days when we’re really too busy to eat together (sadly, becoming more and more frequent during the high school years). We always have pizza stuff (I make & freeze crusts), quesadilla fixings, or crackers, fruit & cheese on hand. There is usually a portion or two of a prior meal in the fridge. Rarely do we go for fast food — my family just doesn’t like it. Today was a big meal prep day for me — I made a quiche, canned some pears, made applesauce from some soft apples, froze some bananas, grilled chicken breasts (which will go in tonight’s pasta, be used for lunch wraps, & be chopped up for salads), and made a pasta casserole for dinner tonight. I also prepped some lunch salads for the next two days. My family is spoiled but I love to cook and they love my cooking so it’s a win for us all. 🙂

  10. I don’t make a strict menu plan of what’s going to be eaten on what day. Instead, I keep a couple of different lists. One is a comprehensive list of all the meals I can make with the meat and pantry staples that are the house at the moment, usually with the addition of some dairy or fresh produce from my weekly shop (I redo this list every few months). The other is a short list that I keep on a whiteboard on the fridge of eight or nine things that we will eat that week. Eight or nine so I have some variety, and whatever we don’t eat that week stays on the list till the next. That way I don’t get stuck with “oh, we’re supposed to have this for dinner but I don’t feel like it” and we go out. I also always have super easy quick cook things on hand like frozen pot stickers and chicken strips because even buying those pre-packaged things is less expensive than a trip to the local burger joint.

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