Statistics show that 97% of all households* hate to meal plan (*statistic possibly made up). But when a chore can save you so much time and money, it’s hard to totally ignore it.
When I hate doing something that’s necessary, I find the best way to streamline it. I cut the fat as much as possible. (Pardon the pun.)
So I’ve got some tips for simplifying. And while we’re at it, let’s talk about doing cheap meal planning. Because what’s the point if you aren’t getting paid for all this work?
Best Tips for Cheap Meal Planning to Save Time and Money.
Start with Leftovers.
It’s not terribly often that I just pull out leftovers and tell the family to warm something up for supper. But since I do it rarely, the kids think it’s a treat. They get to eat whatever they like for once! (Around here it’s generally “I cook, you eat.”)
More often, I like to upcycle our leftovers. One night, I’ll bake or grill chicken breasts. A couple of nights later, I’ll turn those leftovers into soup or casserole. And then leftover casserole can be eaten for lunches. Or, if I’ve made a big batch, I’ll sometimes freeze soups to use on a busy night.
More important than how you use those leftovers is the fact that you begin with them. Every time I “shop” my fridge first (before my pantry or my freezer) for the evening meal, I feel like I’m getting something free. You have to use it up before it gets too old and hits the trash can. Don’t let that food go to waste.
At first it can be a bit of a hassle to use up leftovers. But after some practice, you’ll find that it’s easier to do that than starting from scratch.
Plan Using What’s on Hand.
I get it. Meal planning based on store sales is a hassle. It’s already enough to make sure you’ve got your list, your coupons, and be sure you’re staying under budget.
Sometimes it’s easier to shop first and write up a meal plan based on what’s on hand. You know your family’s eating habits. I’m willing to bet you could come up with enough meals based on what you have in your home to get you through the next shopping trip.
How does this save money? Well, how often does 5:00 hit and you still have no idea what’s for dinner? That leads to overwhelm. Overwhelm leads to ordering pizza. This used to happen to me all.the.time.
It’s called decision fatigue, and it can wreak havoc on your finances if you aren’t careful. Any time you can narrow down your choices, do it!
I simply write a short list of meals to choose from. If it’s been a harder day than expected, I choose a simple meal from my list. If I have a craving, or maybe the day turned cold and some hot soup would hit the spot, I choose that option.
What about weird ingredients?
If you found a fantastic recipe on Pinterest that you’re dying to try, make sure you have the ingredients on hand before you write it down on your meal plan. If not, put those extra ingredients on your next shopping list and save it for next time.
I like to use the free Cozi app, because I can just put a reminder on my phone. I also add things to my list as we run out of them so I don’t forget. I rarely leave my phone on the counter when I go to shop.
Speaking of Pinterest, what a fantastic way to get a ton of meal planning ideas! But be careful not to go overboard.
Humans are creatures of habit. We like what we like. You’re safer making the tried and true meals your family always enjoys. Our family could eat tacos in some form every single week. You might not like that idea, but I bet you can list 10 meals that your family will always eat. Work them into your plan every month. (Fewer decisions!)
Since chicken breast and ground beef nearly always fall into my price range, we factor those things into our regular diets. I can also always afford beans and rice, so we eat them frequently, too. And don’t forget to use up those leftovers.
You’ll notice that I’m not telling you to do a pantry challenge or to skip going to the grocery store. That’s because I’ve discovered over the past year that it actually saves me money when I go every 2 weeks, even when my pantry is full.
I also like the idea of having a stockpile of foods in case of illness or weather problems.
You can read more about that here: Why This Frugal Blogger Doesn’t Do Pantry Challenges.
I’ve actually reduced my monthly spending on groceries to around $600 for a family of 7 using this method. Much better than saving for just one month! Besides, when you start with leftovers, that’s like an ongoing pantry challenge. (Right?)
The Dreaded Grocery List
If you struggle with the idea of creating a grocery list, be sure to check out my free grocery list template. And learn about the method I use that means my grocery list is always halfway done!
Take These Steps:
- Look and see what leftovers you can make a couple of free meals from.
- Write up a quick meal plan using ingredients you already have.
- Shop with a mind towards the meals your family always enjoys eating. (Less waste!)
- Keep in mind decision fatigue, and simplify whenever possible.
- That night you were ready to order pizza, but chose to throw together some leftovers instead? Bank that pizza money in your account! Bonus points for doing it more than once this month.
With these cheap meal planning tips, you’ll save easy money.
So maybe it isn’t really 97% that hate meal planning. But you can be part of the made up 3% statistic if you want to!
Do you find that decision fatigue makes you spend more money?