Meal planning is extremely important for your budget. Outside of housing expenses, it is probably your second largest expenses. Several factors such as location or family size play a role in determining how much money you may be spending in this category.
For the first couple of years of my marriage, I went to the grocery store without a plan . I always felt like we had nothing good to eat and we didn’t have enough money to buy food. Actually, we were spending too much on groceries and our dining out expenses was ridiculous.
My first attempt in dealing with this involved creating a rough meal plan that would last for approximately two weeks. My goal: feed everyone dinner for two weeks until I got paid again. I reviewed sales papers and grabbed my coupon binder and went to the store.
There were a few flaws in this plan…
- I always ended up at the grocery store within a week because we ran out of something or I forgot something. My list wasn’t comprehensive.
- I was only creating a meal plan for dinners. Planning for breakfast and lunches seemed like too much work so we continued spending money at fast food places during these mealtimes.
- We weren’t eating healthy because most of the foods I purchased at rock bottom prices with coupons weren’t healthy foods.
The plan sucked to put it lightly.
We developed bad eating habits, my husband and I gained unnecessary weight, and my child was addicted to sugary drinks and snacks that provided little nutrients.
Needless to say, I couldn’t have this in my life (imagine me throwing the sales papers up in the air and leaving the room with unnecessary theatrics)!
I gave up the coupons/sales papers altogether and began shopping at Aldi.
I loved the fact that I could stick to a decent grocery budget without coupons, but the only problem was I still bought the same junk I purchased at a traditional store with coupons, just at a cheaper price. Solved one problem, but still had another to solve.
Fast forward several years and 50 lbs later…behold the wonders of a low-carb, high-fat diet.
During the summer of 2014, three months before I discovered I was pregnant with my son, I followed the principles of the LCHF diet and lost 40 lbs. After having my darling baby biscuit, I picked up where I left off and lost all of my pregnancy weight and some.
My daughter and husband don’t adhere to the LCHF lifestyle
as strictly as I do at all, but I don’t let this discourage me. Instead of trying to change their eating habits, I’ve incorporated some low carb principles around my meal planning for them.
This has significantly lowered our grocery bill because I now focus primarily on meat and vegetables (and a side of fat for me).
These two ingredients are the premise for my new meal planning system. We don’t need all of the extras. No snacks, processed foods, drinks, etc.
In order to make my new plan work, I created a master list of all the lunches and dinners we seem to enjoy. Each week when it’s time to plan our meals, they’re already on paper, I just have to figure out which days we will eat what. By planning our meals by the week, I’m able to incorporate more fresh vegetables into our meals.
Here is an example of one of our weekly meal plans using a master meal list:
Monday – Chipotle Chicken and Green Beans
Tuesday – leftovers
Wednesday – Homemade General Tso Chicken over Broccoli
Thursday – Loaded Cauliflower Soup and Strip Steak
Friday – Deviled Eggs, Chicken Wings, and Celery Sticks
This meal plan doesn’t usually allow for lunch leftovers; however, I’ve discovered with a low carb diet, we (my husband and I) usually aren’t hungry for lunch anyway. My daughter eats a packed lunch at school so I don’t have to worry about her either.
An example of her lunch menu for the week goes something like this: (picky kids have their own master meal plan)
Monday- Pizza Quesadilla (on a low carb tortilla), Celery Sticks, Grapes, Mini Bottled Water (included in all lunches)
Tuesday- Peanut Butter and Jelly, Yogurt, Applesauce,
Wednesday- Grilled Cheese Sandwich, Grapes, Yogurt (I usually try to mix up the type of fruit)
Thursday – String Cheese, Peanut Butter, Crackers, Carrot Sticks, Ham or Turkey Slices
Friday – Boneless BBQ chicken, Carrot Sticks and Ranch Dressing, Fruit
For breakfast, I keep things super simple. I purchase a bunch of eggs and uncured, nitrate-free bacon (which is insanely cheap at Aldi) for my husband and I. Our picky 5-year-old has a rotating breakfast menu which incorporates toast, jelly, cream cheese, bagels, fruits, smoothies, and cereal (which I allow on the weekends only).
Using a master meal list saves me time, sanity, and a bunch of money!
Even though I keep a running tab of our favorite meals on our master list, I never throw out the meal plans I make each week! Instead of throwing them out, I keep the list in a folder so in the event I want to be lazy, I can just pull out one of the previous meal plans and go shopping.
I also keep the shopping lists and the amount of each item I purchase at the bottom of the meal plan. This helps me determine what meals we can afford for the week if we have any budget hiccups.
So, now that I’ve explained how I plan my meals using a master meal list, I’ll start sharing (monthly) the meals we’ve eaten each week, how much we have left over in our grocery budget, and where we can improve.
I’ll even be sweet and include the links to some of our favorite meals! Hopefully, this will take some of the guesswork out of it for you and you can save money too.
Do you have any additional tips on how to save time and money through meal planning? If so, share!