Creating a weekly meal plan is a task I personally dislike. However, making our menu plan week after week is one of the simplest ways to save money.
Using a weekly meal planner will do the same for you. It is as simple as that. There are two main reasons that a menu plan can save money:
- You don’t eat dinner out as often.
- You know what to buy at the grocery store.
Let me explain how each of these really can affect your budget.
THE DINING OUT SNEAK ATTACK
See if this relates to your life: You are heading home from work and look at the clock. The time says 5:22 p.m. As you look ahead, you notice that traffic has slowed down. At that moment, you realize you are still at least 30 minutes away from home.
You finally tear through the door at 5:50, the first thing you hear is “What’s for dinner!?!?” or “I’m starving!!!! When are we going to eat?!” After the hectic day you’ve had, you realize you have no clue what you are going to feed the family. So, you say get into the car – we are headed out to eat! In that moment, you will drop $20 (or more)….for the 3rd time this week.
Now, imagine reliving that same scenario 8 – 10 times per month. That means you will eat out more than 200 meals in a year. Put a dollar value on this ($20 per meal), and you will have spent more than $4,000 dining out! In the moment, $20 isn’t too bad, but when you take another look at what you pay annually, it can be shocking!
Dining out is great, but not several times a week. Determine how much you will spend dining out and stick to it. That may mean one meal a week out. We started doing this when we were working ourselves out of debt (you can read my own debt free story). For us, it is normal to fix dinner at home and something to which we are accustomed.
Your menu plan helps you know what you will make for dinner every night. There is no worry that you have to come up with a new idea. The list is there telling you exactly what you need to make. It is one less thing you have to worry about night after night.
THE LOWER GROCERY BUDGET
The other way I have noticed that we save money with our weekly meal plan has to do with my weekly shopping trips. Before we had a menu plan, I would walk the aisles of the store with my list, while trying to figure out what I might have for dinner that week.
Of course, despite my very best efforts, I always found myself forgetting items. That lead to more return trips to the store during the week. And, when I did that, I would often toss additional things (that we did not necessarily need) into the cart. I was spending more money than I needed to!
When you create a menu plan, you know every meal and snack you will have for the week. Your menu plan then becomes your guide to creating a shopping list. The list will include all of the items you need for every meal and snack for the week. You end up with a comprehensive, workable shopping list.
WEEKLY MEAL PLANNER
When it comes to menu planning, the key is just that. You absolutely must plan ahead. Meal planning is not complicated and does not take much time if you have the tools and tips to help you do just that.
Sometimes, it just isn’t in the cards to do your own and you need some help. It is simple to create your weekly meal plan by yourself, but you will need to consider a few things before you do.
STEP 1 – CHECK THE FREEZER, PANTRY & REFRIGERATOR
The first thing you must do when working on your weekly meal plan is to make sure that you use any foods you already have available. After all, if you have foods that may spoil soon, it is a waste of your money not to use them for your meals.
To start, look at items that may spoil or expire soon. Come up with a meal where you can use these foods before you end up tossing it into the trash.
Next, check for items you have on hand. You may have found a great deal on noodles last week and stocked up. That means spaghetti might be something to have this week.
You should also look for ways to make multiple meals out of one item. For example, you may have roast chicken for dinner one night. That will result in leftovers. Later that same week, whip up a batch of chicken and noodles with the leftovers. You’ve used all of the chicken and will not have wasted food.
STEP 2 – CHECK THE GROCERY STORE AD
You might have several items on hand to make four meals, but that still leaves three more to plan. Rather than make what you want, look at the store flyer to find items on sale. You may see that ground beef is on sale, so that may lend itself to grilling burgers.
Even better than looking at the entire ad, check the front cover and any shorter sales dates. These items are the best deals you’ll find (often best deals you will see for weeks). You should not only plan on making meals with things you can find here but also stock up on these (so you have them on hand for future meal plans).
STEP 3 – CREATE AND CHECK YOUR FAVORITE MEALS LIST
Create a list of your family’s favorite meals (our free printable form makes this easy to do). It is is a simple way to come up with ideas without having to re-think the wheel from week to week.
Start small and add a few meals from each week until you have at least 25 or more ideas which you can look at each week. As you try new meals on Pinterest or from your favorite site, add it to your list (and then bookmark or pin your recipe so you can find it when you need to).
STEP 4 – ASK YOUR FAMILY
I consider this a crucial step in using your weekly meal plan. Sit down and ask your family for their input.
For example, if you find a package of chicken breasts in the freezer, ask them what chicken based meal they’d love to have that week. Doing so not only helps you come up with new ideas but also helps you know that you are selecting meals your family will enjoy.
STEP 5 – PUT YOUR MEAL PLAN IN WRITING
When you create a meal plan, it is imperative that it is in writing. You should also plan for every day of the week — Sunday through Saturday. Don’t forget to include your breakfasts, lunch (even if packing them for school or work) and your snacks, in addition to what you will have for dinner each week.
STEP 6 – DON’T PLAN TOO FAR IN ADVANCE
Many like to menu plan for a month. While that can be good for some, I don’t recommend this. The reason is that you need to check the weekly ad to ensure your meals use items that are on sale. Planning out meals for any period longer than two weeks can result in missing those key deals when prepping your meals.
STEP 7 – MAKE SURE YOUR MEAL PLAN IS VISIBLE
The final step is to make sure your meal plan is visible. If you and your family can’t see it, you can’t use it. Rather than tuck it into a drawer, put it on your refrigerator, where you look at it every morning. Then, before you leave for work, make sure that any frozen items get thawed so you can use them to make dinner.
I recommend that you print out the menu plan you wish to use and then head to the UPS or office supply store to have them laminate it for you. Pick up flat magnets to place on the corners and then, you have a form you can use over and over again.
Another suggestion is to print one menu plan. Then, visit your copy store and get it reproduced in black and white. It is less expensive than using ink and paper for a new form each week.
WEEKLY MEAL PLANNING – TWO WEEKS OF MEALS
Getting started can be touch when it comes to planning a menu plan. Here are some ideas to help you come up with menu ideas (with your recipes):
WEEK ONE MEAL PLAN
Sunday – Italian
Monday – Mexican
Tuesday – Meatless
Wednesday – Sandwiches
Thursday – Seafood
Friday – Left Over
Saturday – Seafood
WEEK TWO MEAL PLAN
Sunday – BBQ
Monday – Asian
Tuesday – Taco Night
Wednesday – Slow Cooker Meal
Thursday – Left Over
Friday – Dinner Out
Saturday – American
Now, you can figure out which meals your family loves that fall into these categories. Add them to your list, so you know which meals you can refer to from week to week.
It took my family and I a little time to get used to the menu plan, but now that we use it, we can’t imagine NOT having it available to help us plan our meals. I still am not a fan of sitting down to plan out what to eat each week.
However, when I am done and realize the time (and money) am saving because of it, I always smile and then hang the plan back up on the fridge.