How to Meal Plan to Save Money on Groceries
Learn the best meal planning method, with step-by-step instructions for beginners.
As a family of six on one income, I need a meal plan on a budget. Whether you’re on a keto diet, need to lose weight, or just want to know what’s for dinner every night, this meal planning method will work for you. You can grab the free printable meal plan template to use month after month as you eat healthy, save money, and gain sanity by always knowing what’s for dinner.
Disclaimer: This post contains affiliate links. I may earn a small commission if you make a purchase, but you will not be charged a penny extra! And mama, I never recommend products I don’t love or believe in.
Do you ever go shopping when you’re really hungry?
Any chance you (like me) always buy way more than you should when you shop in that hungry state?
Shopping without a meal plan is pretty much the same thing.
I used to go shopping quite often without any meal plan. I just went with what sounded good, haphazardly putting things in my cart.
The end result is the same:
Over-budget spending, wasted food, and wasted money.
Using a meal planner and getting it down has saved me so much. In so many areas.
Here are the main ways meal planning has saved my sanity
- I actually save time because I’m not trying to put together a meal frantically, usually at the most stressful time of the day, when I don’t think very quickly and am distracted.
- I save food and waste less because I have a plan to use all of what I buy. Even cabbage.
And that means…
- I save money since less food waste=less money waste. Duh.
Now get this.
I have found that if I plan out a month at a time, instead of a week, I actually save even more time, food, and money. Win, win, win.
Plus, then I know what we’re eating for four whole weeks and I only need to sit down to plan once a month!
It’s not perfect, but, oh my, it has really helped my sanity. I wish I could fully express how much I love doing it this way and how I truly think YOU might benefit from it as well!
Related post: How to Save (a bunch of) Money on Gluten Free Food
Related post: How to Extend Meat- 4lbs of Meat for 14 Dinners
Here are some tips of things to do before we get started on the nitty-gritty of how to monthly meal plan
Print off a template for menu planning you like
You’re going to be looking at it every day for four weeks. Having a pretty printed meal plan template helps with the mindset and willingness to stick with meal planning.
Fill out the dates on the meal plan template download so you’re ready to go.
You can grab my free printable menu planning template by signing up for our freebie library HERE (various designs to choose from).
Have a list of family favorite meals.
In the free meal planner template, there’s a list you can fill out with meals you want to keep in rotation.
It has a place to jot down the main three ingredients that will spoil the quickest.
This will be a great tool to use to make things go quicker every time you plan. Take the time now to fill in the blanks, and get cozy with it. You’re gonna see it a lot.
Set the mood.
Make it a fun, relaxing time. Grab your favorite beverage, put on some music, and find a quiet time (aka after kids are in bed).
I know it sounds silly, but it’s important to set the mood and make this time enjoyable so that you keep doing it and even look forward to it. Make it like a date.
Collect your supplies.
Grab your shopping list, fun pens (yes, mandatory ;)), a pencil, and get the weather forecast out in front of you.
Whether you like paper or you use an app to write your shopping list, have that next to you as you meal plan.
My favorite pens of all time are these Stabilo pens. They write like an extra fine Sharpie, but they don’t bleed through the paper.
Use a pencil to write the meals down so that you can have the flexibility to erase and move things around as needed.
Now you’re ready to get started on your meal planning! Right? Ready or not, here we go.
The basic steps to help you become a meal planning master
1. Consider the factors that will impact your menu and mark it on the menu calendar in pencil.
- Will you be out of town for part of the month?
Consider making a couple freezer meals before you go so that you can pull one out when you get home.
- What evenings will you be crunched for time?
Maybe those are your Slow Cooker or Instant Pot meal days.
- Do you have friends coming over?
Think about what meals you can easily double or triple that are cost effective (my go-tos are sweet potato chili and some kind of chicken pot pie or gravy with biscuits).
- What is the weather going to be like?
Is it going to be really hot? Perhaps you could plan more outdoor grilled meals to keep the house cool.
What about if it’s super cold or dreary? Maybe you want to incorporate more soups than normal.
2. Write down any meals that you eat regularly (streamline your meal planning!)
Taco Tuesday, anyone? Try to have a rhythm to your weekly meals that you can get excited about.
Here are some ideas that make meal planning easy:
- Meatless Monday
- Instant Pot meals on Monday
- Taco Tuesday
- Stir-Fry Thursday
- Alternate your easy dinners on your especially long days: Pizza, spaghetti, nachos, breakfast for dinner
- Easy nearly-no-prep breakfast on Mondays (we do soaked oats every Monday)
- Fried eggs on Friday
- Pancakes or omelets alternate on Saturday
- Granola bowls on Sunday
I generally prep breakfast cookies or baked oatmeal in advance for Wednesdays, since we leave the house early.
Are there certain days when you’ll be eating out? Fill those spoken-for meals in first.
Having meals on a regular rotation will help streamline your menu planning.
3. Consider groceries you found on sale and already stocked up on (shop your kitchen)
Look at what you already have and need to use. Let the items you’ve already found on sale guide your meal plan.
But don’t get caught up in planning meals based on researching what will be on sale.
TIP ABOUT COUPONS: Once your meal plan is done, it guides your coupon and sale search. Not the other way around.
When you know what foods you need, those are the items you watch for to come up in deals.
That way you don’t get tossed around in a sea of endless “deal” items that can actually waste money.
Related Post: How to Keep our Veggies Fresh As Long as Possible
This next step is long, but stick with me. It’s not as complicated as it looks here! And there are pictures.
4. Fill in the rest of the meal plan with this pattern:
- Think of a meal you really like or want to incorporate (I call this a CORNERSTONE MEAL) and write it down on the meal plan.
- Look at the ingredients that will be left over after and will spoil quickly.
- Brainstorm (or Pinterest) ideas for meals that use up the reminder of those ingredients (Refer to your meal idea sheet to help).
For example, let’s say my cornerstone meal is chicken pot pie.
After making this meal, I know that I’ll have half a package of raw chicken, and a bunch of celery left over.
I think about meals that incorporate chicken and plan it within 2-3 days of this meal so that the raw chicken doesn’t go bad.
Celery has a longer life in the fridge, but I know I’ll need to incorporate it within the next week or two. I LOVE stir-fry with crispy celery in it, AND it incorporates chicken, so I add that to my meal plan on Thursday.
5. Add ingredients to your shopping list as you meal plan
I personally use the Wunderlist app on my phone because I think it’s the best app ever!
My husband and I have our lists synced, so we can both add things to the grocery list and mark when we buy an item. And it makes a ding sound when you check an item off the list. I. love. It. (maybe I have a problem?).
Use whatever shopping list is best for you! If you like a good ol’ paper list, do it.
I would suggest having your shopping list separate from your menu, though. Dragging your meal planner around the store gets it gross fast. Or lost.
Now repeat this process for the other meal times you want planned in advance!
I only plan out breakfast and dinner. I usually just make a mental list of staple lunches and snacks that I’ll rotate through and make sure I add those ingredients to my shopping list.
If it’s helpful for you, make a physical list so you can better visualize it.
That’s how I do it. I can already feel the burden lifting.
I know what’s for dinner tomorrow. And the next day. And the next…
Tada! No more grocery shopping without a meal plan! Where you end up buying a lot of food you don’t need — like when you’re hangry shopping 😉
- Feel free to swap meals around if you end up not feeling like eating what you wrote down. Just try to swap it with a meal that utilizes the same ingredients.
The beauty of a plan is that you can shift things around and still have a grasp on what’s going on. It stays under control.
- Review your meal planner every day, ideally reviewing it the night before to prepare for the next morning.
That way you stay on top of the prep needed to make it happen. It doesn’t do any good to have a plan only to realize you didn’t thaw the meat or purchase the main ingredients.
- When using Wunderlist or another shopping list app, add the groceries with the store name you purchase it at FIRST.
For example, I’ll add “Winco chicken,” or “Trader Joe’s gluten free pasta.”
Then when I go shopping I hit the alphabetize button and all of my items are separated by the correct store.
I hope you found some useful tips to make using a meal planner a little bit easier. Do you have any meal planning ideas or methods that work for YOU? I’d love to hear them (aka read them in the comments)!
Do you want a free menu planner printable? Click here!