The easiest way to start saving money on you groceries is meal planning. Yes, I sing the praises of Aldi and I have tried extreme couponing, but the first and easiest thing to do to save money on groceries is to meal plan. As Mike has so nicely pointed out in this post, when we weren’t meal planning we were spending an insane amount of money on groceries. It’s not just the money though. If you get in the habit of meal planning, it eliminates the daily choice of what’s for dinner.
I make no claims about the amount of money you will save by meal planning. I can guarantee that if you don’t meal plan at all and you start and stick with meal planning you will see a reduction in your grocery bills. We have come a long way with meal planning and shopping at Aldi and have our grocery budget under control.
I recently read some blog posts about grocery budgeting and meal planning. I am curious as to how other people do it and whether I can learn a few tricks to improve my process. The one blog post claimed that this family of seven spent $85 a week on groceries. Of course I wanted to know their secrets. I quickly found out that this family spent $85 dollars per week on dinner groceries. The budget did not include breakfast and lunch items. The blog post title was very misleading. It drew me in and piqued my interest, but did not deliver.
The other post I read was about meal planning. The author said even with meal planning she still routinely went over her grocery budget. To fix that she started creating spread sheets and doing lots of math to determine price per serving, how many servings required multiplied by the circumference of a pizza and then taking the square route of that number etc. etc. As you can see this process is fairly involved and time consuming. If someone is a meal planning and budgeting newbie this process would send them running for the hills!
Our process is simple and helps us stick to a realistic budget. I will lay out exactly how I meal plan for our family of six and stay within budget. You can print out the customize-able meal plan and meal list below and be well on your way to savings.Meal Planning Printables
Every week before I make my grocery list I create our meal plan for the week. Our plan includes dinner for seven nights with leftovers from five of those dinners, so Mike has lunch for work the following day. I don’t plan breakfast and lunch, mostly because we eat the same things everyday for those meals. Our total grocery budget includes the same breakfast and lunch items each week.
It’s no secret that we have a few picky eaters in our family, myself being one of them. I am not picky like a kid. I’m a picky adult, if that makes sense. The variety of meals that I serve the whole family is limited due to pickiness. I have a list of meals that a majority of the family will eat. I love it if everyone will eat what I cook, but if four or five out of six are happy then I am happy.
To start I look over my meal list and start adding meals to my weekly calendar. Certain days are always the same. We pretty much always make pizza on Friday. I also look at our calendar for the week and see if we are going anywhere for dinner, either someone’s house or to a restaurant. I don’t plan anything for those nights, because I won’t need to cook.
Shop at Home First
With my calendar in front of me and my list of meals I start planning out our meals for the week. First stop is a trip to the freezer. We usually have soup or another meal in the freezer at all times, so if I want I will plan to eat the frozen meal at some point during the week. When soup is on the menu I plan grilled cheese to go with it. After checking the freezer for meals and ingredients I check the pantry. We usually have pasta, rice, beans, mac & cheese and potatoes. Once I know what we already have at home I can make the most efficient meal plan.
I look at my meal list and consider how many ingredients I have on hand and plan meals that require less shopping. If we happen to have pasta in the pantry and meatballs in the freezer, then all I have to do is buy a can of crushed tomatoes. Spaghetti and meatballs with a tossed salad and we have dinner for one night.
Once I have planned for all of my ingredients at home and have several meals planned I then plan the rest of the week. I look at my meal list and try to pick meals that repeat ingredients. I can plan a roast chicken for one night and then use leftover chicken in quesadillas. The chicken carcass can still be used to make broth for soup. Pepperoni and cheese can be used in hoagies, pizza or pasta. Fresh vegetables can be used as the base of a meal, tossed in a salad or cut up to eat with hummus. The more repeating the better, because that means less ingredients that I have to buy. Of course if something doesn’t repeat, I’ll freeze the unused portion to use at a later date, so it doesn’t go to waste
Double and Freeze
Whenever I meal plan I also try to plan at least one meal that can be easily doubled and frozen. This is why we usually have soup in the freezer, because it is easy to double and freeze. Casseroles and baked pastas are also great for doubling and freezing. Sometimes one part of a mean can be doubled and half frozen like taco meat or meat loaf. Any prep ahead of time, though it takes more time at first, really helps us stay on track with our budget amd spend less time overall.
Shop Once a Week
The secret to my success with meal planning is only shopping once a week. I make a thorough list and buy everything on my list in one trip. Stopping at the store multiple times a week can lead to impulse purchases every time I go. I only shop once a week if possible. Mike doesn’t like this method, but we can survive a day without milk and no one here is starving. Consider making a meal plan and shopping once a week to help get your grocery budget under control.
Take about 10 minutes and make a list of all of the meals that your family eats. It can just be a list of dinners or it can be a list including breakfast and lunch too. Use the second sheet of the free printable if you want a pretty list.
Eat or freeze leftovers. If you are the type that don’t like to eat left overs you need to learn how to cook just enough food for your family to minimize waste.
Keep a dry erase board near your refrigerator or pantry. Use it to keep a running grocery list as you run out of items.
To simplify the process eat the same thing every day, for breakfast, or lunch or even dinner. Less ingredients to buy and less thinking.
Place printed weekly meal plan in clear plastic sleeve or cut to fit 8×10 frame. Use a dry erase marker to fill it in. Wipe clean and reuse each week.