Meal Planning: How to Save Time and Money

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For our family, every minute during the week is usually pretty hectic. After coming home from work and picking up the little one from daycare, the last thing I want to do is figure out what to cook.

In the past, we used to eat out more often than I’d like to admit. This added up to too many calories and too much wasted money.

That’s when we decided to make a change and start meal planning.

Once I became committed to putting our health and wellness first, I began meal planning religiously. This helped greatly reduce weekly expenditures, cut back on eating unhealthy frozen meals, and reduce eating out.

Now, when Wednesday night rolls around and I’m tired and ready to relax, I can open up my meal planner and see what I’ve already bought ingredients for and throw something together quickly.

 

Follow along with these 5 tips on meal planning: how to eat healthy and save money.

  1. Pick 1-2 new recipes per week and then rotate staple meals that you can make quickly and easily
  2. Stay organized with a meal planning journal and write out grocery list while planning meals
  3. Pick themes of meals to follow each week and recycle previously planned meals
  4. Keep pantry stocked with basic items
  5. Allow for flexibility throughout the week
    Meal planning tips for beginners
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1. Choosing Recipes for the Week

When I first started meal planning, I had a very difficult time sticking with it. I had tons of fun searching on Pinterest and flipping through my favorite cookbooks to find unique recipes. I would spend hours picking out 4-5 brand new recipes and then would write out my seemingly endless grocery list.

During this process, I never considered the fact that I would be cooking these meals after working all day with a young baby who wanted to be held constantly.

After a few weeks, I realized meal planning does not have to be an elaborate ordeal with gourmet meals every night. All you need to do is plan out a few meals that are quick and easy to throw together.

I usually aim to plan out 4-5 dinners per week and make enough for leftovers for lunch the next day. This allows us to have a night or two to eat out because that’s something we enjoy doing as a family.

And sometimes everyone needs a break from the kitchen!

Typically, I choose 1-2 new recipes to try each week for days that I may have a little extra time in the evenings and am feeling adventurous. The other days, I rotate between some staple dishes that are quick, easy, and healthy. For us, these staples are usually tacos, chickpea pasta with veggies (we love Banza pasta), or a quick stir fry with different protein and veggies.

2. Use a meal planner to stay organized

Using a solid meal planner is a must for successful meal planning. 

If you prefer a paper planner, I love Erin Condren’s Meal Planner (and all of her planners for that matter). This planner helps you record what you will cook each day of the week and track which ingredients you’ll need. Not only does this keep me organized, but it is also so colorful and filled with fun stickers.

Erin Condren Meal Planner Petiteplanner 5.75Ì¢‰âÂå쳌 x 8.25Ì¢‰âÂå쳌

Erin Condren’s Petite Meal Planner

Also, you can access my free meal planner plus shopping list and recipe index.  You can either print this out and fill it out, or just update it on your computer each week.

 

While picking out our meal plan for the upcoming week, I have found it to be very helpful to keep a running list of ingredients which we would need to buy for each meal. This helps me save time later since both meals and my grocery list are planned at once. It also keeps me on track while in the grocery store and helps to cut back tremendously on weekly grocery bills. Having a set list in the store has helped reduce impulse buys and reduce wasting food each week.

3. Pick Themes for Meals

One helpful trick to cut back on the amount of time spent meal planning is choosing general themes for each day of the week. For example, you can try Meatless Mondays, Taco Tuesdays, Asian Wednesdays, Slow Cooker Thursdays, and Pizza Fridays.

If you have a basic idea like this before picking out meals, it makes it easy to quickly pick a meal from each category. You will have your week planned out in no time!

Also, you can always recycle previously planned meals. After you initially plan out 4-6 weeks of meals, you can follow that same schedule over and over again. When you keep your meal plan in one journal, after a month or two of meal planning it is easy to flip back to previous weeks and repeat recipes. This would save you a tremendous amount of time in the long run since you’ll already have grocery lists and recipes all laid out. You can always swap meals out over time to add some variety as needed.

4. Keep Pantry Well Stocked

In order to keep the weekly grocery bill down and the amount of time required shopping to a minimum, we try to keep certain non-perishables on hand. These include grains (rice, quinoa, lentils, pasta), beans (black beans and garbanzo beans), tomato sauce and diced tomatoes, frozen vegetables, onions, and garlic.

During the week, we keep a running list on the refrigerator of staple items that we run out of. This way we always know what to replace instead of ending up with three cans of black beans and zero cans of tomato sauce.

Also, it is worth investing in a variety of spices and oils. If you are brand new to cooking, I’d start with a basic spice rack and then add on from there. This allows you to cook a greater variety of styles of food. A little investment up front pays off in the long run.

5. Always Allow for Flexibility

Also, while meal planning, you have to learn to always be flexible. Cooking for a family means sometimes one person may not be in the mood for what you had planned. Or sometimes you’ve just had a hectic day and need to go out for Taco Tuesday!

That’s ok! Life is all about balance and finding the happy medium between clean eating, meal prepping, and enjoying great food and family.

For tips on how to save even more time during the busy week, check out this post on 2 minute quinoa.

If you want some ideas for a clean-eating meal plan, download my free 1 week plan with shopping list

As always, comment below with any questions. Sign up for the mailing list to stay up to date on the latest posts!

Check out a newer version of this post with even more tips here!

 

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Meal planning for Beginners
Meal Planning For Beginner
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16 thoughts on “Meal Planning: How to Save Time and Money”

  1. These tips are so smart! I’ve never heard of a meal planning journal- I’m going to have to get one for myself! I also appreciated the theme tip because that really does narrow down the endless meal possibilities and will help me stay focused.

  2. All very good suggestions. Love the theme ideas too. However, I was much more organized, like you, when I was working. Now we seem to wing it … but our pantry is full of many staples. Thanks for sharing!❤️❤️

  3. Nice, Jordan! I admire your organizational skills! Such a fun blog for new moms and anyone who wants some healthy meal planning tips.

    1. Mindful Mama Health

      Hi Darleen! Thank you for your feedback! It is not easy to balance it all, but my goal is to give others helpful advice to live a healthy and well-balanced life!

      1. Mindful Mama Health

        The themes have helped a lot with meal planning, especially when I’m not feeling very creative! Takes a lot of guesswork out

  4. This article is a life saver and a game changer. I have always wanted to be better at planning my meals and I am so motivatied after reading this article. Thank you for posting!
    Sandra Tanner
    Optimized Life

  5. Very, very useful. My son is a picky eater so I have to plan carefully for him to get everything he needs in terms of nutrition. Your tips might come in handy.

    1. Mindful Mama Health

      Aw that’s difficult, but keep offering different foods and hopefully he’ll eventually try more! Hope this helps!

  6. These are awesome tips mama! I don’t use a meal planner but I think its worth starting. I’m in such a rut recipe wise and always feel annoyed with the meal planning

    1. Mindful Mama Health

      One thing that I love about my meal planner is the fact that I can look back through it in the future! If I find a recipe that the family loves, I make a note so I can use it again in the future.

  7. Meal planning is the hardest thing for me. These are great tips. I really like the idea of a theme, I think if I can do a theme and come up with a few recipes within that and then rotate as you suggested I may be able to make it happen.

  8. We are Banza pasta fanatics too! I can easily get away with 2 Banza nights a week and my meals are halfway done for the week 🙂 I will have to check out that planner. I like your idea to rotate plans every 4-6 weeks. Brilliant!

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