Having a meal plan takes the guessing out of what to get at the store, provides time for you to find good deals for when you shop and helps you plan your time each week.
As a parent, knowing when I will be making a meal that takes longer to prepare really helps me know how to choose activities for the day with the kids. Meal planning is also an excellent way to lower your stress over food and, potentially, save money.
For a very long time, I didn’t plan meals. I was constantly worrying about, thinking about and generally despising cooking. Especially since I have a picky eater toddler, food became so stressful I just stopped cooking altogether, and my family and I ate mostly processed, out-of-the-box food.
While we still do this on occasion, we also have dietary restrictions that make this a very expensive option (gluten free, lactose free and diabetic friendly).
While there are many ways to create a simple system for meal planning, I’ve made it easier for you by created a free template you can print out to use each week. Just scroll to the bottom of this article to get your FREE copy (and access to all freebies in the Hive Library).
What I Do At Home
Now, every weekend I briefly discuss the food for the week with my husband. I’m very grateful I was gifted a deep freezer on Buy Nothing where I can store tons of meat (that I find good deals on) and freezer meals. This helps us decide what to make that week.
To keep from talking about it for too long, we made a list of common meals we can make (that fit in our budget and, mostly, don’t take too long to cook). We created ours on a large chalk board and used fun chalk markers, then hung it in the kitchen above a small white board weekly calendar to write out the meals for the week.
I keep in mind any appointments, playdates or other activity that may limit my cooking time in a given day.
When I cook, I generally lean toward larger meals (usually in the crockpot) to have leftovers for a day or two.
Once we are done planning, we create a shopping list of items we need for our weekly grocery store run. I then look at our local store for any sales or coupons on items we need to purchase. We buy our groceries, and we are set for the week!
Save Money: Meal Planning on a Budget
If you already have a budget, all you need to do is divide up the grocery budget by week (so divide by 4), and that is what you have to spend as you plan your meals each week. Make a list of your commonly made meals with an estimated cost to help keep you on budget.
I highly suggest that if you haven’t done a budget you should do it! I did write about how we created our budget and have a budget template you can access for free if you join the KrisBeeMama Hive (a weekly newsletter by email). If you sign up for the newsletter, you will have access to all free downloads in the Hive Library as they come available (including the free meal planning printable).
Look for sales and coupons for the coming weekend’s shopping trip. You can also check out my Resources page for other ways you can save money.
Other than the resources listed, I also use digital coupons through my local grocery store app on my phone (I’m not a fan of physical coupon clipping, though many are) so check to see if your local store offers this (like Safeway, Krogers, etc).
Saving Time: Freezer Meals
There are tons of freezer meal recipes out there (especially on Pinterest!). These are fantastic options for meal planning because you can:
- Freeze a meal for weeks or even months to have on hand if you are short on time
- Find a great deal on meat and freeze a meal or two out of it to save money
- Save any fruits or vegetables that may be going bad in your kitchen
I love to freeze stew to defrost and put in the crockpot. We don’t generally eat a lot of potatoes, but it’s cheaper to buy them in large bags. So, I plan a meal that needs a few potatoes, then make a couple freezer meals out of the rest so they won’t sprout as they wait to be used.
Save More Time: Using Leftovers
Leftovers are the best!
This doesn’t necessarily mean leftover whole meals.
Recently, I defrosted some steaks I found on sale but there were 7 of them in a single package! So, I still cooked them all and chopped up the leftovers to make steak chili from ingredients I already had on hand the next day.
We also had leftover brat sausages after making jambalaya, and I cooked them to do a one-pan meal in the next day or two (one-pan oven meals are also a huge time saver! I just threw the sausages on a cookie sheet with veggies to roast – done!).
The last one I’ll mention is pulled pork from the crockpot – this generally makes a ton of food but freezes really well! So, I can take any leftovers and throw them in the freezer for an easy meal down the road!
FREE Meal Plan Template
Want a little help getting your meal planning started? Check out the free meal plan printable below to snag your copy.
Please share any of your tips in the comments below!