Learn how to create a weekly meal plan to save money, eat healthier, and avoid a kitchen scramble at the end of the day.
Some weeks, the only way I get dinner on the table every night is because I have a meal plan. Seriously, I do not know how we ate before. Now I have been doing it for so long that it has become an easy, ingrained routine. Of course it didn’t start off that way. Back when we were newlyweds, Hubby and I would just wander through Wal-mart together, throwing things in the cart that caught our attention.
Later, when I started making weekly menu and grocery lists, I still did it the hard way. I spent hours agonizing over what to make. I browsed the circular of every store within a five-mile radius (which is 10+). I clipped every coupon and followed every deal blogger I met. And although our grocery bill was averaging $50 per week, it was costing me a silly amount of time. Plus we weren’t exactly eating healthy every day.
My weekly meal plan routine
Now, I spend about two hours every Sunday planning and the process would probably be faster still if I didn’t try so many new recipes. I don’t know if it will work for you, but here’s what I do.
1. Gather circular for my favorite stores, coupons, and any cookbooks I’ve picked up from the library. Right now I do most of my shopping at Aldi and Sprouts. I swing by Kroger for items I can’t find at the other two.
2. I clip any coupons I have an organize them in a little box organize by aisles.
3. I start a shopping list that includes staples I know we need and any good deals in the circulars.
4. I make a menu using the things on my list and that we already have. This usually covers us for two or three days.
5. I fill in the menu with recipes from cookbooks or Pinterest. I usually flip through any books I’ve gotten from the library during the previous week and bookmark interesting recipes with a sticky note. I also pin things to my food boards on Pinterest randomly. This makes the actual planning time go faster because I’m not looking for anything new.
6. I add the ingredients I don’t have for the additional recipes to my list.
7. I pull out coupons for products already on my list. I also might add a few coupons that are about to expire. These are usually for things I’ve been planning on buying but haven’t caught on sale yet. I try not to add more than five things this way or it throws off my budget.
After writing it out like that, it seems like a long and tedious process. It really doesn’t feel that way though. Of course I love food. And organizing. If you hate meal planning, you could switch to a two-week or monthly routine. There are also meal planning services available.
Update: You might also like my new method, the all-in-one menu planning system. Plan once and you’re done.
Weekly meal planning tips
Balance time vs. money.
I like to think I have these two balanced pretty evenly. I save what I can, but my time is valuable too. If you have a shoestring budget and more time, you could spend more time hunting for coupons and deals. If you are short on time and money isn’t an issue, you could skip the coupons and circulars altogether and just plan what looks tasty.
Set a budget.
We have a weekly grocery budget that I try to stick to. I keep track of what I spend each week so that if I go over, I know to be more cautious the next week. The opposite is also true though. If I’m under, I know next week I can afford an extra treat. When you don’t know the price of everything when you’re planning, it can be a challenge. I usually keep track of how much I’m spending as I add things to my cart. Then I can just leave off a few extras if I hit my limit. I hate being surprised at the checkout.
Don’t plan when you’re tired.
This one goes with “don’t shop when you’re hungry.” If you shop when you are hungry, you’ll add things to your cart that look tasty, whether they are on your list or not. If you plan when you’re tired, you will include meals that are simple and fast because cooking for an hour sounds like a chore. Junk food is easy.
Keep a list of favorite meals.
I try to be pretty creative, but I have weeks where I can’t think of a single thing to cook. I don’t know where my brain goes. Fortunately, I have a collection of about a dozen easy recipes that we all enjoy. When in doubt, I just stick them in where needed. Here are a few.
- make-your-own tacos
- spaghetti and meat sauce
- tuna alfredo
- beans and rice
- brinner – That’s breakfast for dinner, like whole-grain waffles.
I plan breakfast, lunch, snacks, and dinner for seven days. For breakfast and snacks, I usually just make a short list of choices so that everyone can pick each day. For lunch, I plan about three days and leave leftovers for the rest. Although I plan dinner for every night, I don’t always do it in detail. Some nights I might write in a vague idea like something with pasta or salad and then just include whatever we still have on that day. And if we plan to eat outside of the house, I write that in too.
Update: If you’re trying to avoid eating out, these tips will help.
It also helps to write your weekly meal plan and grocery list on a cute little worksheet. I created a few free printable menu planning charts that you can download. Just click on the image to see a PDF that you can save to your computer.
For more meal planning inspiration, read my weekly Menu Plan Monday post where I share what we are eating. Do you plan a weekly menu? What tips would you add? If you don’t, what would help you get going?