Meal Planning on a Budget

Happy 2020! I am not a huge fan of New Year’s resolutions, however I am starting the New Decade with a couple goals in mind. I hate to admit it, but up until this year, Matt and I never had a comprehensive budget. We’ve made spreadsheets in the past, but never applied them to our every day spending and tracked our progress. Budgeting with a savings goal in mind is going to be a focus of ours for this new year (especially with baby boy joining us in May!) and I think planning our meals more effectively is the perfect place to start. Today I’m sharing my tried and true process for weekly meal planning because I am here to make your life both more delicious and easier 🙂

Aside from sticking to your budget, there are a few benefits to planning your meals out ahead of time. I HATE throwing out food, especially leftovers from meals I’ve taken the time to cook. I have seen a lot of reduced food waste since I started planning our meals, since I’m only buying what I need for the recipes I’ve picked. I am also less prone to impulse-buying anything that looks good at the grocery store, and my grocery shopping trips are a lot quicker because I know exactly what I need. Saving time, money, and reducing the time you spend grocery shopping- do you need more reasons to start??

This process might look like a LOT at first, but I have it down to a science, so it only takes me about 30 minutes to plan once a week. I swear it’s worth it!

Step 1 – Gather your meal inspo

When I’m planning meals for the week, there are a few places I’ll go for inspo. I like browsing my older recipes, not only because I know we love them, but it also gives me a chance to re-test my recipes and spruce them up where needed. I have a whole category dedicated to weeknight meals which makes my search quick and easy.

Browsing my Pinterest boards is especially helpful when I’m feeling like I’m in a meal rut and we’re getting tired of the same kinds of things. I have my Pinterest boards separated into different meal categories, such as: Mains, Bowls, Sides, Soups, Slow Cooking, etc. so I can search based on what I am looking for. Recipes that I’ve made and loved are saved to their own Board titled “Favorites.”

Something I’ve also found helpful is keeping a running note of meal plans on my iPhone from previous weeks. Sometimes I’ll scroll down to a few months ago to find something we haven’t had in a while and that helps keep things fresh.

Step 2 – Plan your meals

Once I have an idea of what kinds of meals I want to cook for the week, I’ll take a look at our Google Calendar to understand how many dinners we’ll be home for that week. There’s no use in buying groceries for nights when you have a planned date night out or will be out of town! Sometimes Matt has dinner meetings or is traveling, and I just need to plan dinner for myself. Glancing at the calendar gives me a good idea of how many meals we’ll need, which days we’ll have leftovers for lunch, and which days we don’t need any meals planned at all.

Once I know the number of meals, I create a note on my iPhone quickly outlining the days we need meals prepared and what I’ll make, as well as what we’ll have for leftovers:

This list doesn’t include breakfasts for us, because that’s the one meal we don’t mind being repetitive. I’ll usually have oatmeal or eggs and Matt has a bagel or yogurt, so I know to just keep those stocked throughout the week. If meal planning your breakfasts will help you- include that here!

Step 3 – Build your grocery list

This seems like a no-brainer, but making your grocery list before going to the store is a huge help. I go through the recipes I plan to make, separating the ingredients out by produce, dairy, meat, dry goods, and baking aisle so that I am not running back and forth at the store. An organized list saves a lot of time, especially if you’re able to write it based on the store you know you’re going to be shopping at. When we lived near an ALDI, I had the store layout memorized like Rain Man and our grocery trips were never longer than 25 minutes.

If you are going to need the same ingredient for multiple recipes, make yourself a note to be sure you’re buying the right amount.

I like to build my grocery list at home so I can double-check what items I already have in the fridge and pantry, saving us a little $$ where I can.

Not a fan of paper lists? I love using ShopList to create my grocery lists because it saves your previously entered items and you can check them off as you shop.

Step 4 – Grocery shopping

This step is going to vary widely by person. If you’re the kind of person who grocery shops a few times a week or goes to multiple stores to find everything you need, tracking your groceries and spending is a little more difficult.

Since we’re in a remote area far far away from all the stores I love and miss (Trader Joe’s, Whole Foods, ALDI, etc.) I have found that ordering my groceries from Walmart Pickup saves me a bunch of time and frustration. I swear I’ll never go into a Walmart again. I especially love this method because I can create the order for pickup the next day, and if I think of something I’ve forgotten, I have a few hours to edit the order before they start picking. Tracking my grocery spending is super easy because I have the order history saved in my account, and don’t have to worry about saving receipts. The individual prices of items are more easily tracked when shopping online, as it’s hard to remember how much something should cost when you’re rushing through your list in the grocery store.

Walmart isn’t the only grocery pickup/delivery option out there- I know ALDI and a lot of other grocery stores offer grocery delivery through Instacart for a small fee. I would say the only downside to my method is that I don’t get to hand-pick produce and often times end up with rock-hard avocados. The solution? Just push that meal to the end of the week so they have time to ripen.

I hope you find these steps helpful and effective when planning your meals- whether you’re just trying to save time and money, or are looking to minimize the amount of food you’re tossing each week. Do you have any meal planning tips? Share in your comments below!

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