Did you know you could save A LOT of money by making healthy meal plans and sticking to them? It’s true!
In 2015, Canadians with kids spent $276/month eating out, and I’m guessing Americans probably weren’t far behind. I don’t know about you, but I could
buy a lot of nice shoes I mean…build up a nice little savings account with $276 extra a month!
If you eat out like the average Canadian, or if you overspend on your groceries, meal planning could really help you stick to your budget and save money.
Even though planning meals in advance can feel a bit overwhelming at first (trust me, I’ve been there), with a bit of preparation, you’ll be an expert menu planner in no time.
Wondering where you should start? Keep reading, and you’ll learn everything you need to know about healthy meal plans.
You can also download this meal planning printable to help make things easier.
How to Make Healthy Meal Plans for Cheap
Step 1: List Meal Categories
The first thing you need to do when beginning to meal plan is list the categories of all your meals.
For example, if you’re planning meals for a period of one week, you’ll need seven breakfasts, seven lunches, seven snacks, and seven dinners.
If you download our free meal planning printable, these basic categories are already set out for you.
Once you’ve written out all the general categories for your meals, it’s time to get more specific.
Think about what you’re going to have time to cook on certain days and whether specific meals need to be taken to work or school.
If you realize that you’ll only have 20 minutes in the evening to make dinner on Wednesday next week, then one of your dinners needs to be made from a quick recipe or a slow cooker recipe.
If your child does not have access to a microwave at school, you’ll need to find lunch recipes that can be eaten cold.
Once you have your specific list of meal categories, you’re ready to move on.
Step 2: See What’s in Your Pantry
This next step is CRUCIAL to making your meals for as cheap as possible; you need to look at your fridge and pantry and see what kind of foods you have already.
By choosing recipes that use foods you already have, you’ll save a lot of money and reduce food waste.
To make the best use of things you have, write a list of the foods in your fridge and cupboards so that you can reference the list when you move on to recipe planning.
Step 3: Brainstorm Recipes
After listing all of your meals and foods in your pantry, it’s time to start brainstorming recipes. For every meal, you need to find a recipe that fits your menu categories by searching online or looking in your cookbooks.
To help you plan recipes around foods you already have, you can plug those ingredients into a website like supercook.com to find out what you could make.
If you want to save money, but your pantry is empty, you can try looking up foods that are on sale and plugging those into supercook.com too.
Another way to save money at this stage of meal planning is to choose meals that use beans as the main protein, or that call for shredded meat instead of large meat portions.
While you’re looking up recipes, make sure to keep track of where you find them. Whether you put a post-it inside your recipe book or write down the URL somewhere, you’ll need to look up these recipes regularly, so have them on hand and ready to go.
*Tip for Overwhelmed Moms: If you REALLY want to save money, but you know you’re going to be tempted to eat out during the month, you need to plan for your weak moments.
So choose a few meals that can me made ahead and frozen (soups, stews, and casseroles are good for this). Make these meals at the beginning of the month and keep them in your freezer for those evenings when you’re just too tired to cook.
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Step 4: Assign Meals to Days
Now that you have a great list of meals for the next week, plug those meals into specific days by using our free menu planning template.
Think about spreading out similar types of meals. For example, you may not want to eat pasta on Monday AND Tuesday. Instead, spread similar meals out a few days.
Step 5: Make an Ingredients List
Once you’ve planned recipes and assigned them to days, it’s time to list all of the ingredients that you’ll need for a full week of meals.
To make your list, simply look at each recipe and write down the ingredients needed and how much of each to buy.
If you’ve decided to use certain recipes more than once, make sure to write down the extra ingredients you’ll need to make the meal multiple times.
Once you’ve made your ingredients list, go over it to make sure you’ve combined all similar items. For example, DON’T make a list that looks like THIS:
Bad Grocery List:
- 1 onion
- Spaghetti noodles
- 1 tomato
- 1 onion
- 1 tomato
INSTEAD, make a list that looks like THIS:
Good Grocery List:
- 2 Onions
- Spaghetti noodles
- 2 tomatoes
By writing a list that combines similar ingredients, you’ll save yourself a big headache at the grocery store.
Step 6: Decide When You’ll Shop and Meal Prep
The final step in your menu planning is deciding when you’re going to buy the food and when you’ll do meal prep.
So choose a day and approximate time to do your shopping, or purchase groceries online to save time.
Once you have picked up all the ingredients, you can even choose a time to prep and get meals ready.
Step 7: Stick to Your Healthy Meal Plan
The final step in using meal planning to save money is to stick to your menu! If you need moral support, tell your partner or spouse about your plans and have them cheer you on when you want to quit.
If you’re wanting to eat out, make sure you have your freezer meals ready to go so you’re prepared for those overwhelming days.
And, if you fall of the wagon one day, don’t beat yourself up — just start again.
Start Making Healthy Meal Plans Today
Menu planning may seem intimidating at first, but it’s a great way to save yourself stress and to stick to your budget.
If you follow all the tips above, you’ll have all the tools you need to become a great meal planner. So start brainstorming and figure out a meal plan for your family today!
Soon you’ll be saving more money, time, and you won’t be wondering what to make for dinner every day.