Complete Guide To Meal Planning On A Budget: Cheap And Easy

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meal planning on a budget

Have you ever wondered what the secret is to people having delicious, wholesome home cooked meals at the drop of a dime? Well, let me fill you in on their little secret, It’s because they are meal planners!

If you have been looking for a monthly meal plan that is cheap or the best value meal plans to save you money this is for you!

Meal planning on a budget is something that will save you a ton of time and money. It also answers that dreaded question “what’s for dinner?”

The reason I started meal planning is that I was sick and tired of letting food go to waste.  I can’t tell you how many times I would do a big grocery store run only to have a bag full of carrots or a couple red peppers go to complete waste.

I hate the thought of spending my hard earned money at the grocery store only to throw food into the trash.

That’s when I knew something had to change. If I was going to continue to create a grocery budget I wanted to know I was going to get the biggest bang for my buck! 

For me, wasting food is just like throwing money out the window. That’s why I decided it was time to put a little bit of energy into creating budget meal plans.

Did you know that your food budget really does have the potential to make or break your whole budget?  

If you do it wrong, you’ll end up spending your whole budget on food and another $200 per week dining out because you didn’t put some thought into your meal plan.

People are busy I get it!  Many are running kids from one activity to the next. Some are juggling 2 jobs while trying to figure out how they can possibly find time to eat in between. And others are just plain out right overwhelmed at the thought of meal planning.  

Dah tah dah!  May I present you with meal planning on a budget! Meal planning doesn’t have to be complicated. I’m going to provide you a step by step guide to making meal planning for beginners easy.  This is such a simple system that you can even start today!

P.S. Don’t lose these meal planning ideas on a budget by clicking here to quickly & easily save them to your Pinterest.

This article may contain affiliates links, full disclosure here

But First, What Is Meal Planning?

Before we get too far, let’s make sure we’re on the same page about what meal planning is and what it isn’t.

Meal planning is asking the “what’s for dinner?” question once for the entire week, instead of every night.

Meal Planning Is

  • Taking a quick inventory of what you already have in your fridge and pantry.
  • Selecting your recipes and creating a thoughtful list.
  • Shopping for ingredients.

Meal Planning Is Not

  • Just for large families: Meal planning is for everyone.
  • Expensive: When done well, this strategy will save you a ton of money. I Promise!
  • A lot of work: You do a bit of concentrated work up front, but then everything is on autopilot once you begin to implement your meal plan.
  • Inflexible: This is your plan. You can customize as you choose and leave room for experimentation as you find necessary. The great thing about meal planning is keeping it fluid and not set in stone.
meal planning on a budget

Why You Should Meal Plan?

We all know that $#*! happens. If we can set ourselves up for success with a good meal prep and planning system we are more likely to be successful with this whole meal planning thing.  

  • Saves you time-Meal planning is not something you have to do all weekend. With these helpful FREE meal planning printables (found in the signup box below), you can meal plan in a matter of minutes.  
  • Saves you money– Meal planning on a budget can save you a ton of money each year. It literally keeps you from throwing food (money) in the trash. With meal planning you put a plan into action instead of allowing things to become wilted and wasted in the back of your fridge.   
  • Saves your health – Meal prep and planning guarantees you will always have healthy and nutritious meals. No more bags of potato chips in a pinch or drive through meals when you’re in a hurry.

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Who Should Meal Plan?

Everyone. I know people think that meal planning is something that is only for larger families. But meal planning is effective for even smaller families.

The goal of meal planning is to save you time in the kitchen while also saving you money. By putting some effort into meal planning you are simply providing a plan to make sure you are using all of those wonderful ingredients you’ve purchased.

Step-by-Step Instructions For How To Meal Planning For Beginners

1. Start with a plan

Grab a FREE meal planning printable by signing up in the box below. Really write it out! Don’t try to keep this all in your head.

I’ve tried in the past to meal plan without writing it out and it doesn’t work. If you are are going to put the effort into doing this at least do yourself a favor and use the printable meal plan.

You don’t have to get too crazy with planning.  Don’t think of meal planning as some daunting task, rather think of all the money you will be saving.

WEEKLY MEAL PLAN

Don’t waste another moment without a meal planner Sign up for your FREE planner

    We won’t send you spam. Unsubscribe at any time.

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    2. Put aside some time

    Just a little bit of time. I like to do this on Sunday afternoon for about 10-15 minutes right before I head out to the store.  This isn’t something that should take the whole weekend.

    Find a day that works best for you. Maybe it’s something you can do on Tuesday evening while you are watching your favorite TV show. Or maybe on your Thursday morning subway commute.  

    I’ve received some feedback that people enjoy meal prepping midweek because they have a better idea of what is happening and are better equipped to adapt their schedules. Discover what will work for you and stick with it!

    For example, if you learn there is an impromptu get together you can skip a meal plan that evening or maybe throw something in the crockpot.  

    For me, I don’t meal plan a dinner every night- I like to plan 5 or 6 because I’ve found if I do 7 we end up wasting food. You’ll figure out what works best for you.

    3. Look at your weekly schedule

    What’s going on this week? Do you have a busy night where you will be working late? Do you have plans for dinner with friends or a party? What about the kids, are they booked with activities on a particular night?

    4. Take inventory of your fridge, freezer, and pantry

    All good planning starts with knowing your resources. By using what you already have you can keep your grocery costs down.  You don’t want to be wasting your money on things that you already have.

    5. Look at the sales ads

    My two favorite stores (ok the only 2 stores where I live) have phone apps that allow me to quickly check their sales.  If you see something that is a good price you should jot this down someplace like Evernote in your phone.

    By becoming aware of good prices for your groceries you will learn what is actually a good deal and what you should pass on. 

    6. Create your meal plan for the week

    Use tried and true recipes by making a list of your favorite recipes. I use a meal planning cheat sheet when creating my meal plan.  I like having a list of our favorite meals (breakfast, lunch, and dinner) so that I can use it as a reference as I plan the week.

    Create this list as you think of or come across new favorites, just add new ideas as time goes on.  

    I highly recommend you doing this step. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had a favorite recipe that we really enjoyed and I’ve completely forgotten about it because I didn’t write it down.

    Beginner meal planning tip:  I recommend putting breakfast and lunches on autopilot for a couple of weeks until you are familiar with what will work for you and your family.  Keep them easy –eggs or oatmeal for breakfast, leftovers and salads for lunch.

    7. Make a shopping list and go grocery shopping

    Grab a pen and paper and begin writing out your grocery list. I like to grocery shop on Sunday right after I’ve taken inventory, and created my list. Double check your fridge and pantry, to see if you have any substitute items you can use for your menu.

    8. Implement your meal plan and stick with it

    To make this whole meal planning thing actually work you are going to have to stick with the plan you created. Meal planning can save you a ton of money if and only if you don’t let food go to waste. Each morning, look at your meal planning calendar to see what the meal is for the day.

    Looking For A Bit Of Inspiration-Meal Planning Ideas

    Stumped on what to make? I totally understand. There are so many great options for discovering something that will entertain your palate.  I love using Pinterest for new and different menu ideas.

    It’s easy, all you do is type in a couple of ingredients into the search bar and hundreds of meal planning ideas appear.

    I’m Feeling Lazy This week- I Need Something To Make Meal Planning Easy

    If you aren’t in the mood for planning your own meals $5 meal plans is a great option. $5 meal plans is an excellent resource that has saved me when things get busy.

    Each week, Five Dollar Meal Plan will send you an email with a printable meal plan. The meal plan includes five dinners, one breakfast, and one lunch. You’ll also receive a shopping list of everything you’ll need to make your meals.

    What I like is that the menus build in some flexibility, as each includes one freezer-friendly recipe, one slow cooker recipe, and one 20-minute recipe. You’ll also have access to archived menus if you want to try out something different for the week.

    Best part? You can grab a free 14-day free trial to $5 Meal Plans! After that, it’s only five dollars every month. Trust me, it’ll save you way more money and effort than the $5 per month it costs.

    Curious about what’s on the menus? Click here to download a free sample meal plan.

    meal planning on a budget

    Have Themed Dinners

    Looking for ways to make meal planning easier? You’re not the only one! Sometimes the most difficult part is trying to decide what you should eat each night of the week.  

    If your “favorite foods list” isn’t cutting it, then consider creating food menu themes for each night of the week. All this is is a simple meal planning “menu” that assigns each day of the week a dinner category to make planning even easier.

    Here’s My Meal Planning Categories:

    • Meatless Monday
    • Taco Tuesday
    • Whatever Wednesday
    • Tomato Thursday
    • Fish Friday
    • Sandwich Saturday
    • Soup & Salad Sunday

    There are tons of meal planning templates and printables you can find to print for free online, but I went ahead and made one for you which you can download for FREE!

    WEEKLY MEAL PLAN

    Don’t waste another moment without a meal planner Sign up for your FREE planner

      We won’t send you spam. Unsubscribe at any time.

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      Gathing Supplies And Preparing For Your Meal Planning

      So you’ve put in all of this time and effort into planning, shopping and preparing food.  The last thing you want to have happen is your food to go to waste. My favorite way to keep leftovers from getting lost in the fridge is to use these.  I also really love using these jars for leftover soups or jar salad creations.

      You will need all the space you can get when meal prepping so make sure your kitchen counters are as clear as possible and wipe them down! Find my favorite recipe for all-natural DIY sanitizing wipes here

      Are you a meal planner? If so, do you do any meal planning on a budget? Do you find that it really saves you money?

      Want to remember this COMPLETE GUIDE TO MEAL PLANNING ON A BUDGET: CHEAP AND EASY? Click here to pin to your favorite Pinterest board

      Don’t forget to share and pin for later! While you’re there, I’d love for you to follow me on Pinterest

      meal planning on a budget

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