I researched a bunch of articles online and from what I found, most people say that meal planning can save you anywhere from $100 to $5000 a year! That’s a pretty large number range but how much you save will depend on how consistent you are with your meal plan and how tight you are with your budget.
Neglecting to meal plan also leads to a lot of other ways you could be wasting money like going out to eat more often and grocery shopping without a list. Implementing the habit of regular meal planning will help cut down on these expenses as well.
Because I know how much of a struggle it can be to figure out a plan for meals that works for you and your family, and actually stick to it, I want to do the best I can to lay out why meal planning is important and give you some helpful resources to make meal planning easier for you.
All these are things that I struggle with so please don’t feel like you are a terrible person if you have to throw out food that goes bad or you call for pizza to be delivered for dinner tonight because you just can’t bear the thought of having to cook dinner. We have all been there, but I also know that when I do plan meals I am more at ease because I know have have good food on hand so I don’t have to worry about what’s for dinner or whether there will be food for breakfast in the morning.
Three reasons why NOT having a meal plan costs you money
Without a meal plan you are more likely going grocery shopping without a complete list.
If you don’t have a specific plan for what you will eat, you don’t really have a need to make a grocery list other than maybe a few basic things you need or think you might need. Now, I know this isn’t necessarily true because I have gone through periods of menu planning burn-out where I still made a list but it was not as thorough as if I had a good meal plan in place.
Shopping without a list is probably causing you to shop more often than is necessary as well because you are not thinking ahead as much about what you will need to make complete meals.
Without a meal plan, you may end up throwing out unused food.
If you don’t plan to use the food you buy it will have a tendency to go bad. I recently threw out an entire carton of strawberries and I cringed just thinking about how much of a waste it was. I had planned to use them but put off that meal so they had gone bad before I had the chance. If you ever add up all the money you are basically dumping in the garbage when this happens, you’ll probably cringe too.
Without a meal plan you run the risk of spending more money on going out to eat.
If you don’t have a specific idea of what you will eat for dinner, or lunch or any other meal of the day, it is much easier to pick up fast food, go to a restaurant or order out because it is more convenient. I have no problem with doing these things on occasion or when you plan for it but it can become an expensive budget buster if you are not careful. This can also apply to things like snacks when you are away from home or extra trips to the coffee shop. There’s a reason small unnecessary spending that adds up over time is often called the latte factor.
Making your meals from scratch is by far the most inexpensive way to eat. When you go out you are not only paying for the food but you are paying for the preparation cost as well. On top of that, it’s easier to eat unhealthy foods when you are going out, especially for fast food. Planning ahead and having a lot of good nourishing meals that you can make from scratch is the cheapest and healthiest way to avoid unnecessary spending out going out to eat.
How to Create a meal Plan that Works For You So You Can Start Saving
Start making a master list of meals. Think of meals you and your family love the most. It is probably easiest to start with dinners but don’t forget breakfast, lunch and snacks too. You can make this simply by just writing it out in a notebook or you could have a spreadsheet or other digital way you keep your list. I like to also take note of where the recipe comes from if it’s something I will need to refer back to. If you need ideas for your list, start going through some of your favorite cookbooks.
Go through your current food supply and take note of ingredients you have that you could use to make a meal. Also write down any meals that you can already make with what you have on hand. From that, decide what extra ingredients you will need to make complete meals.
Create a list of meals you can make for the week, or however long you want to plan for. You should plan meals at least one week at a time so you don’t end up going shopping too often. Some people like to plan for a whole month in advance but if you are new to meal planning, try one week and see how it goes.
Make your grocery list based on any extra ingredients you will need to complete those meals. Then add any new meals you want to make to your list of meals then add whatever ingredients you need for those to your grocery list.
Assign your meals to specific days. This one isn’t absolutely necessary if you just don’t have time to plan that much or if you would rather be a little more flexible. I have found that it works best if I plan to make certain meals on a specific day because I can plan for thawing or preparing anything else I may need in advance. To do this you can use a simple calendar, a weekly menu board or just write it out in your notebook.
Now you are ready to be armed with a plan so you can avoid this pitfall to successful money management! Check out my list below for some extra resources.
Helpful Meal Planning Resources
The following resources will give you help with planning menus as well as give you strategies to make nourishing food for your family. You’ll also find lots of recipes that you can use when planning your meals.
Please note: Some links below are my affiliate links. There is no extra cost to you for using my links to make a purchase. Read my disclosure policy here. Thank you for supporting Joyful Thrifty Home!
Make meal planning even easier with once a month meals, a premier meal planning site. You will get access to pre-planned menus with recipes, shopping lists and the ability to customize your menus to suit you and your families needs. Plus lots of other tips and resources for menu planning.
Meal Planning Made Easy by Kelly Smith: In Meal Planning Made Easy, you’ll learn an easy, step-by-step meal planning system that will help you better nourish your family with the awesome added benefits of saving time, money, and stress! And you’ll also discover Kelly’s proven “Cook Once, Eat Twice or More” strategies and gain access to an entire month of free whole food meal plans and additional meal planning resources.
Simplified Dinners by Mystie Winkler: Simplified Dinners enables anyone to transition toward home-prepared, real, whole foods cooking – even those less confident in the kitchen. Simplified Dinners helps keep dinner streamlined while allowing flexibility.
The ABC’s of Freezer Cooking by KM Logan: The ABC’s of Freezer Cooking covers all the basics to teach you how and how not to prepare freezer meals for your family. Included is how to write a meal plan, money-saving strategies, 15 basic recipes, and there is even a section on how to utilize freezer cooking as a weight loss tool.
No Cook Freezer Meals by Kelly McNelis: Inside the No Cook Freezer Meals cookbook you’ll find 18 recipes, a grocery list, nutrition info, freezer labels, a freezer inventory sheet, and tons of freezer meal tips – including how to find time to freeze, step-by-step instructions, and more!
The Healthy Lunch Box by Katie Kimball: The Healthy Lunch Box: Sandwich-Free Secrets to Packing a Real Food Lunchincludes 45 recipes, 100+ additional linked resources, and is loaded with strategies to streamline your packing process, stock your pantry with emergency backups for your backups, and send healthy, delicious food in the lunch box, no matter how old your eater is.
What are some of your best tips or resources for meal planning?