If you’re a beginner to meal planning, it can feel overwhelming to get started. There are meal planning tips that’ll help you save money and be successful. Many recipes call for a lot of ingredients and prep time. If you’re busy or meal planning on a budget, that’s a recipe for failure.
Here are a few meal planning tips to help you get started on planning your meals ahead of time and identifying your go-to meals. As you get started, check out Trader Joe’s Quick and Easy Dinner Ideas, breakfast ideas and dinner ideas for recipe ideas to add to your collection.
Set A Realistic Goal for Meal Planning
If you like eating out a lot or are really busy don’t try to meal prep for every single meal in the week ahead. Start out by planning two to three dinners for the week ahead and two to three lunches. Then, have a few healthy frozen meals handy in case you need more meals. This way, if you decide to eat out or have business dinners / travel arise you don’t have food go to waste. You also have the flexibility to make a few quick meals from the freezer, or use those in latter weeks. If you want to meal prep, so you only have to make one dish check out how to meal prep for beginners.
Write Your Meal Plan Down
Print a calendar from online and write down what nights you will make meals. Then, use that calendar to create a list for grocery shopping. If you don’t know exactly what nights you’ll eat what, you can also create an excel by week and then title the columns “meal 1, meal 2, meal 3.” By writing it down, you will save money as you won’t buy excess food at the grocery store. You can also plan meals based on what is on sale at the grocery store saving even more money. Lastly, by writing your meal plan down you add another level of accountability.
Don’t Make All Food From Scratch
You’re making a homemade meal, but that doesn’t mean every single part of the meal has to be made from scratch. You can buy a box of pasta, a pie crust, marinara sauce and more and still have a homemade meal. Trying to make every part of the meal from scratch will take a lot of time. It’s not cheating by buying parts of it! Sometimes it’s cheaper to buy certain parts of the recipe instead of trying to make it all from scratch.
Save Your Recipes In A Central Place
There are lots of recipe apps where you can save your recipes in a shared folder. The problem is you find lots of recipe ideas in different places, on random websites, emailed to you, etc. I find it easiest to print out all recipes and put them in a binder. This allows me to keep the binder next to the cookbooks I have as well. Alternatively, you can save all of your recipes to a shared folder on your computer. If you put this folder in Dropbox, you can also reference it easily as you’re grocery shopping. It’s much easier to figure out what to make when you can look through a bunch of recipes easily.
Use All of the Food You Buy
Using all of the food you buy seems like a simple concept, but in reality requires planning. There are many recipes which require only part of a container of an ingredient leaving you with leftovers. For example, a quiche requires 3-4 eggs leaving you with 8-9 eggs when you buy a carton of a dozen. One way to use all of the food you buy is to make recipes that have overlap in ingredients the same week. Make omelets for breakfast the same week you make a quiche. If you still have leftovers for ingredients that will go bad try to freeze it. You’re supposed to use a jar of sauce up within 7 days of opening it. Any that you don’t use can be put in a sturdy plastic container in the freezer.
It’s not fun to spend a ton of money on a specific ingredient you only need a pinch of for one dish. If a dish requires a lot of spices that can easily add up to $30 additional. Finding recipes that call for similar ingredients will reduce these costs.
Buy Frozen Fruits and Vegetables
Frozen veggies and fruit are great. They are similarly priced to fresh fruits and veggies, don’t contain artificial ingredients and I personally think they work just as well in meals. If you end up delaying a meal until later the food doesn’t have to go to waste.
Use Store and Manufacturers Coupons
A quick google search ahead of shopping will show you what is for sale at your local grocery store that week. Many manufacturers also offer coupons that can be used at any store. If you get the newspaper, both store and manufacturers coupons will come with your Sunday paper.
Know What Kitchen Tools Are Required For A Recipe
If you’re just starting out it’s likely the kitchen tools you have at home are sparse. You may not have the zester to zest a lemon, or fine chopper. There are ways to do these tasks more manually but it takes a lot more effort. Before you go shopping, don’t forget to look at what kitchen tools are required to make a recipe. You will either need to add the tools to your shopping list or find a new recipe.
What are tips you’ve found as you’ve started meal prepping and planning out your weekly meals?
More of a cooking tip than a meal planning tip. My wife and I have a rule that, if for some reason, we mess up dinner so bad it’s inedible, we’re allowed to order something out, such as pizza.
This takes a lot of pressure off of trying to get things 100% right, and in the two or so years we’ve had that rule, I can’t really remember I time we’ve used it. Maybe once?
Thanks for sharing, great tip!
Our meal planning was a mess until we finally bought a dry erase board calendar, stuck it to the frig, and physical write out our meal plan each week! Before then we would either waste food or not but enough for the week.
Awesome idea, thanks for sharing!
Using all the food you buy is such an important tip! It starts with good planning, but not throwing out food can be a huge money and budget saver for anyone.
Agreed, one of the easiest ways to save money is to use everything you buy.
We just started on meal planning and prepping this year as one of our goals. These are useful tips that we’ve discovered as well. Thanks for writing this.
That’s a great goal, it was one of my New Years Resolutions for 2019. While I haven’t had success sticking to it all weeks, I’ve definitely done better than 2018!
Passive Income NZ (@PassiveIncomeNZ) says
Yes- why are people not recommending frozen vegetables more. Sure- fresh is good- but I only want to get groceries once a week.
Same, and with frozen veggies sometimes they are even cheaper! Especially when the vegetable isn’t in season.
My Lifebrarian - A Money and Minimalism Blog says
What great tips! The one that most resonated with me is creating meals with similar ingredients. I 100% find that it’s helped with reducing food waste. Also—great idea about keeping all the recipes in a central location. I may start getting the URL and keeping a google doc sheet (I don’t have a printer at home). Thanks for this!
That’s a great idea! Plus a google sheet doc is easily accessible on your phone so you can use it while grocery shopping 🙂