How to Save Money with Meal Planning
After about 10 months of meal planning, I have a pretty good system going, but it didn’t come without a few mistakes here and there. In fact, when I first started, I didn’t save money, I spent more! Meal planning can be a great way to save money and reduce stress. I even lost weight when I started meal planning! Read on for some tips on how I save $400 a month meal planning. Oh yea, and I included 4 weekly meal plans with a shopping list to go with them!!
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First, let me say this whole meal planning idea was inspired by Julie at FillingtheJars.com. You can find all of her monthly meal plans just by clicking here.
Don’t be Drawn in By Pinterest
Pinterest is a great place to find new recipes but often those recipes are long and complicated! I drooled over fancy recipes plated oh so perfectly and put several on my first meal plan. What I forgot to do was look at the length of time it took to cook it or compare ingredients to what I already had in my pantry. I merrily listed out all of the ingredients and ran off to the grocery store. Nearly $300 later, I walked out. Needless to say, I was not off to a money saving start.
Keep it Simple
After my first week of Pinterest drool, I learned to keep it simple. I still try a few of those delicious looking Pinterest recipes, but I limit myself to one a week. I try and stick to simpler recipes for the rest of the week. Crock pot meals, one pan meals, or meals that can be mostly done on the grill are all very simple and very yummy.
Check Your Pantry
The easiest way to save money when you are meal planning is to use what you already have. Look in your pantry and see what’s in there. Then find some recipes that use those things. If you have 4 jars of salsa in your pantry (this was true of my pantry at one time), you can declare Mexican week and put tacos, enchiladas and huevos rancheros on your meal plan. If you have some extra pasta throw a pasta dish on your meal plan. Use what you have so you are not spending more than you need to.
If you are using my meal plans and shopping lists, check the shopping list against the pantry items before you go to the grocery store.
Use the Same Ingredient in More than One Meal
There are a lot of recipes that call for just a little of this or a little of that, but the grocery store doesn’t sell just a little of this or a little of that. So you end up buying way more than you need. To avoid waste and save money, try and come up with a few recipes that use those ingredients. For example, if you really want to try this awesome recipe for Cilantro Lime Chicken, make tacos with cilantro lime rice the same week.
Check the Circulars
If your local supermarket is offering a great deal on pork loin, put a pork loin in your meal plan. If they are having a special on Salmon, cook this great recipe for Garlic Herb Roasted Salmon. Finding the sales and using sale items in your meal plan is a great way to take advantage of grocery store sales.
This seems like a no-brainer but before I started meal planning I hated coupons. I had a bunch of them and they were willy-nilly all over the place. I never knew which ones to bring, or which was my best option. So I pretty much stayed far away from coupons.
With a meal plan, I had a concrete shopping list of things I needed and could use a site like coupons.com to search for and print out just what I needed. It was so much easier! I have included a link to the coupons I found for each meal plan so you don’t even have to search!
Plan a Leftover Night
After my first few weeks of meal planning, I discovered I cook way too much food. I started cooking a little bit less, but much of the time I was cooking a recipe or just making food the way it came packaged. I couldn’t see the sense in saving one little chicken breast, so I cooked it and we ate it for leftover night.
If you plan a left-over night, but don’t have quite enough, you can always heat up a few cans of soup to beef up your meal. I have a teenage boy. He eats pretty much everything in sight right now, so I keep some soup on hand anyway and this is an easy way to add a little nutrition and substance to a meal.
Know Your Substitutes
Sometimes you want to stick with the recipe but other times it is cheaper (and usually easier) to substitute. For example, if the recipe calls for red onion, you can use regular sweet or yellow onion. If the recipe calls for shallots, the same thing applies. You can get a whole bag of onions for about $3.00. Red onions are not quite as bad as shallots but run about $.75 a piece. Just the one tip can save you $10 a week.
One More Little Tip
You will notice in my meal plans I use a lot of rice. My husband is diabetic and rice is better for him then potatoes. We buy rice in bulk by the 25 lb bag. I have to recommend you buy this product from an Asian grocery if there is one near you. You will be astounded by the price difference!
One other thing about rice is my rice cooker. If you don’t have a rice cooker, get one. Simple to use, simple to clean and my rice is always done perfectly. Here is the secret to perfectly cooked rice in a rice cooker.
- Put your pinky finger just touching the rice
- Fill the water up to the first knuckle of your pinky
- Press start
It is that simple.
Finally! Now that I have shared all the ways I have learned to save money with meal planning, here are 4 free weekly menus. Each has a corresponding shopping list and coupon list from coupons.com. All you have to do is hit print!