Meal Planning On A Budget





Meal Planning On A Budget

Hi friends!

Today is grocery shopping day for me. Usually, I prefer to do my grocery shopping at the beginning of the week, but in this season, Thursdays seem to work best for our schedule. 

I don’t know about you, but I’m not exactly a big fan of grocery shopping. It’s such a process — especially with kids. It’s really the putting away the food part and cleaning out the fridge that I don’t enjoy. However, I have come to really enjoy the process of meal planning and making my grocery list. 

The method of meal planning I use feels like a combination of solving a logic puzzle and finding a really great deal on a pair of shoes. Fun fact: when I was in 5th and 6th grade, I would do logic puzzles for fun. I’m kind of a nerd. Especially now when it comes to budgeting and meal planning. It involves me being creative with the food we already have at home. I enjoy the challenge of coming up with meals that will not only nourish our family, but also taste delicious, all while sticking to a pretty tight budget. 

For the past 3 years or so, our grocery budget as been about $55 a week. When we made that change, it was out of necessity. My husband had lost his job and I was at home with a newborn. But now, we choose to keep our grocery budget low so we can prioritize other things like me staying home with the boys and paying off my student loans! I’m not going to go into how we do all of our budgeting today, but we recently got to bump up our food budget to about $65 a week and I am PUMPED! It’s nice having just a little bit more flex in there. We are feeding two adults, an almost 3 year old and an almost 1 year old breakfast, lunch, and dinner on that budget which I think is pretty good? Maybe it’s not haha. 

So, I just want to take you on a little meal planning adventure with me and share a few tips on how I keep our grocery budget pretty low!

Money-Saving Tips

  1. Build meals around what you already have in your fridge, freezer, and pantry. Prioritize foods that are closer to going bad first so you don’t end up throwing them away. 
    • This way, when you’re going to the store you aren’t need to buy every single ingredient for every meal. Instead, you’ll just be filling in the gaps and it’ll save you a bunch of money. 
  2. Pick meals that use similar ingredients. This will help decrease the amount of things you’ll need to buy at the store. For example, we will usually have burrito bowls and stir fry in the same week because both recipes use chicken, rice, bell peppers, and onions. Similar ingredients but different flavors, so it doesn’t feel like we’re eating the exact same thing. 
  3. Utilize your leftovers. I personally can’t stand throwing away leftovers that didn’t get eaten in time… just ask my husband lol We usually plan to eat leftovers at least one dinner each week and a lot of times we’ll also have them for lunches. If you don’t eating the same thing multiple times a week like me, get creative! You can eat leftovers in different ways to keep things interesting. 
    • For example, If you have shredded BBQ chicken sandwiches for dinner one night, you can use the leftover chicken to make loaded sweet potatoes, nachos, quesadilla or a flatbread pizza. You could also freeze the leftover chicken and use it for another meal next week! 
  4. Check your local store ads and plan meals around sales. 
    • I almost always plan to buy whatever produce is on sale as long as it looks good and I always take advantage of sales on meat even if we aren’t going to eat it that same week. I do the majority of my shopping at Aldi but every once a while Meijer has some crazy good sales so I always check both to compare! 
  5. Use a combination of fresh, frozen, and canned produce. Plan to use up fresh produce earlier in the week and use your frozen and canned later in the week to minimize waste. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve gone overboard on fresh produce only to have to throw a good chunk of it away because we couldn’t eat it before it went bad. 

There’s a lot more where that came from but I think that’s enough for now! Now, on to how I make a meal plan and grocery list.

Meal Planning

I always start out by making a list of what we already have. Yes, I literally look through our fridge and pantry and write everything down. I try to keep an up to date list of what we’ve got in our freezer on my phone because that’s in the garage so I try to avoid taking an a trip out there. But every once in a while I do go out to make sure I’m not missing anything. 

Once I have my list of what we already have, I start trying to pair ingredients up to make meals. We have an Aldi pizza every Thursday night for our Family Dinner and we have leftovers at least once a week. So, for our family, I generally aim to plan for 5 dinners each week unless there’s something special going on like a date night. A lot of times, we actually only get through 4 of the meals because we have enough leftovers, but I still like to plan one extra meal so that we can have people over for dinner and know we’ve got plenty of food to get us through the rest of the week. If we don’t get through all of them, I can just roll meals over to the next week. 

When I write out the meals, I also list out all of the ingredients I know I need for the meal and then mark the ones I need to add to my grocery list.

I would say we have about 10-15 go to meals for our family that I know we like that I can rotate through to keep it easy. Every once in a while I’ll try out a new recipe. I recommend keeping a recipe box or a notebook/binder of recipes your family likes that you can look through if you’re feeling stumped. Don’t feel like you need to come up with a bunch of new fancy meals each week. I LOVE Pinterest, but sometimes that large number of options can feel overwhelming. There is an awesome website called Supercook that you can use to search for recipes based on the ingredients you have which is an awesome resource if you’re out of meal ideas!

Make sure when you are meal planning, you think through what you have going on that week. For example, we have Lifegroup (bible study) every Wednesday evening. We need to be leaving our house at 6 so we typically eat leftovers to make it easier. We also work on our house all day Saturday, so I usually try to plan a crockpot meal for those days like chili so we can come home to dinner ready to eat!

You also need to be realistic. Don’t plan and shop for meals that are so elaborate, you won’t feel like cooking them! I love utilizing my crockpot and single pan meals as much as possible to decrease the time I spend cooking and cleaning up. I love food, but I have two small children who get cranky around dinner time. I want my meals to be as simple as possible.

After I’ve made my dinner meal plan, I go through and make sure I’ve got what we need for breakfasts, snacks, and lunches. We usually have 3-5 options for each category I always keep on hand to pick from. I also recommend getting a grocery pad with categories listed. I think it helps me forget less items because the categories sort of jog my memory compared to a big blank piece of paper. I also like that it keeps things organized similar to how I’ll find them in the store!

Here are my three favorite note pads:

This one has a space for you to write down meals on the left and then the grocery list side is perforated so you can easily tear it off when you’re ready to go! I also love that it has a magnetic strip so you can keep it handy on the fridge. I actually just finished off this pad last week! One whole year of using it. 

This is the one I just got. The only reason I switch from the other is because we started a giant family plan calendar this year and I include our dinner plan on there. Plus, I never actually used the breakfast and lunch lines on the last one because we always have the same things. This one isn’t magnetic but I’m just going to add a magnet strip to the back! 

This last one is great, too. Especially if you tend to forget to put things on your list. It already has a lot of things listed out and you just have to check off what you need! I especially love the combo with the meal planning pad because it breaks down breakfast, lunch, and snacks the same way I do!

I hope this was helpful for you!! Let me know what you’re having for dinner next week, and have a great weekend! 

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