Did you know that for every extra minute you stay in the grocery store, you spend an extra $1.75? We will talk more about that later in the article but for now we want to talk about meal planning strategies.
Meal planning is a HUGE time saver and also saves a lot of money! You may be wondering, ‘How do I get started meal planning?’ So let’s address that first…
What is meal planning?
Meal planning is when you create a shopping list and plan meals that you will cook for the week. On that list you include everything that you need to create the meals on your plan. You meal plan so that you don’t have to go back and forth to the store multiple times, and you don’t go out to eat and spend unnecessary money.
Why meal plan?
There is a statistic that says for every hour of planning saves you four hours of execution, and meal planning is no different. By planning your meals out in advance, you will save yourself hours of unnecessary work, not to mention a lot of stress.
Are you a working parent struggling to get food on the table? Meal planning may just be your saving grace! You can plan your meals out ahead of time, prepare some on a Sunday and stick them in the freezer. When you need a quick meal, you already have some.
How do I get started?
The first thing you want to do when you are meal planning is look at your grocery store flyer. On the front page of the flyer you will see their listed ‘loss leaders.’ These are the items that they put on the front of the flyer to lure you into their store in the hopes that you will buy the rest of your groceries there.
If you have the time to shop at multiple stores and shop only their loss leaders, you can save a lot of money each week! But if you are busy like the rest of us, pick the store that has the best deals that week, and shop there.
Here are our top 8 steps for creating a successful grocery budget
1.) Start by getting out the sales circular for your local grocery store. The loss leaders we discussed above change every week. Those are the items to stock up on for the week and start to meal plan around.
2.) I start my meal planning by finding out what is Free or Cheap. I find the free items that I get using coupons, then the cheap items that are on sale. I then turn to either Pinterest or my own recipes for ideas on what to cook using those ingredients.
3.) Find the meat that is on sale, and try to match the meat on sale with some of those free or cheap items. Ask the butcher at your local store when they discount their meat packages, then go to the store during those times. My local store does them at 8 am every morning, when you go in during this time you see large ‘Meat Reduction’ stickers on them. These are reduced for quick sale because they are near expiration date, and can easily be frozen for up to 3 months before eaten.
4.) After you have picked out your free or cheap items and you meat sales, fill in your menu plan with side dishes. What produce do you want to eat for the week etc.?
5.) Write your meal ideas on a calendar so your family can see it. You can put it on front of the refrigerator or write it somewhere in your kitchen.
6.) Always have some simple go-to meals on hand. Two of our go-to meals are Pita Pizzas and Eggs and Sausage. On any given day you can find supplies to make these two meals for dinner, this way we never have to grab that emergency pizza.
7.) Learn to play the grocery game. Make a list for your grocery items, put everything that you need for the week for your meals on this list. The goal is not to go back to the store.
8.) Avoid those one-ingredient trips, because of what I said above, you know that you will buy things that you do not need. Shop once a week and only once a week.
What if I don’t want to use coupons – can I still do this?
Yes! You can still do this even if you don’t use coupons. Meal planning alone with save you a lot of money, adding coupons is like icing on the cake.
A great place to shop without coupons is Aldi. If you are lucky enough to have an Aldi around you take advantage of it. It is a great store where you can get inexpensive healthy foods for so much less than what you pay in a traditional grocery store.
To start, I recommend planning your meals for dinners for 7 days. Once you have successfully stuck to that plan, you can get more creative and begin to plan out breakfast and lunch too. I find that the dinner meals are the hardest to assemble and stay on budget for, so in the long run you will save more money.
Creating a meal plan for the first time can be time consuming, but while you are doing it remember that you are saving yourself hours or stress, running back and forth to the store, and waiting around for pizza to be delivered. Once you do it for a few weeks, it becomes second nature and you can never look back!