Practical & Healthy Meal Planning that will Save You Money
Last updated: December 2020
Meal planning is an easy way to save money at the grocery store and find whole-foods for your family to eat. You can start meal planning today with these practical tips to prioritize your health.
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Why I Started Meal Planning
If you know me at all, you’ll quickly learn that I’m a planner. I enjoy organizing things and knowing how things are going to work out. So, when my mother told me I would never be able to survive on my current salary and support myself and my husband, I knew what I had to do!
In comes meal planning.
When I first started out, I researched meals for 50 cent per person. I tried to get down to the lowest possible cost per meal for my husband and I.
These meals were mostly freezer meals that would be batched cooked ahead of time, then stored for consumption later. I thought I had found the jackpot – quick, easy, and cheap!
While these meals weren’t terrible and did have some nutrients, they also used ingredients like cream of chicken soup, which has many preservatives and other not-so-natural things in it. I quickly switched to looking for veggie and protein forward meals to satisfy our financial and nutritious needs.
While my husband and I do not strictly follow a paleo diet, we do enjoy cooking paleo foods as the recipes leave out processed ingredients, preservatives and additives, and unnatural sugars or sweeteners. While we do occasionally eat grains or consume dairy products, eating mostly paleo has helped us reach our dietary goal of feeding our bodies with high quality fuel.
AND, you might even think, NO WAY could I eat paleo and stay in my budget since meat and veggies are expensive. I’m here to tell you that’s just not true!
If my husband and I can live on a $10 to $20 dollar food budget per person per week, you can too! Meal planning for two is possible, and meal planning on a budget with a family is that much easier!
Meal Planning Can Save You Money
Meal planning on a budget is possible. In fact, I believe meal planning makes staying within your budget even more simple and straightforward.
You Can Plan Ahead
When you meal plan, it means that you’re thinking about what food you want to eat in advanced.
Before you even get to the store, you know approximately how much money you’re going to spend, and exactly how you’re going to use your money.
When you meal plan, you don’t have to worrying about overspending on snacks or desserts and not having enough for a quality meal because you’ve prioritized your meals first.
Meal planning on a budget helps you to know where every dollar of your money is going at the beginning of the month. You can be intentional with your budget.
It Reduces Food (and Money) Waste
Additionally, meal planning reduces food waste, and therefore money waste.
I can’t tell you how many times I found old, uneaten food in the fridge at a child. In my family growing up we did eat leftovers, but we often weren’t intentional to eat all of the leftovers. We frequently threw food away.
Every time you throw food away because it’s gone bad or you didn’t eat it in time, that’s money you spent that you will never get back.
Not to mention that’s a resource that you intended to use, but instead wasted.
However, meal planning helps you to be intentional about what food you’re going to eat and when.
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When I meal plan at the beginning of each week, I choose a recipe, decide how many days throughout the next week that I and my husband want to eat the recipe, then calculate the quantities of ingredients needed for that many days.
For example, my husband and I love this chili recipe from Bakerita. The recipe states that it makes 8 servings, so I divide eight by the number of people in my family (two) and know that we can have chili for four dinners next week.
However, if we wanted to have guests over on Monday night, then I would divide eight by say four people for Monday (dinner party night) and two people for Tuesday and Wednesday (just normal nights), and we would only be able to have chili for three nights, instead of four.
By deciding which nights you are going to eat specific meals, you can stop throwing away the last serving or two of your cooked food.
It Prevents Impulse Purchases at the Store and Restaurants
Meal planning on a budget also prevents you from making impulse purchases and buying things that you don’t need.
When you meal plan for the week, you are intentionally thinking about what your family might need. This means you’re going to choose recipes that prioritize good food. AND you’re going to be intentional to choose things that everyone likes and will look forward to eating.
When you go to the store and see the cookies, or ice cream, or whatever else you enjoy, you won’t be tempted to purchase it impulsively because you know that what is on your grocery list is 1. better for you and your health, 2. something you are looking forward to enjoying while you eat, and 3. won’t break your budget for this week/month.
Meal Planning on a Budget Doesn’t Have to be Boring
While you are somewhat restricted when you use a budget, you choose to grocery shop on budget because you know it will help you reach your long term goals of being financially free and purchasing other things that you desire.
This restriction can often have a negative connotation; however, when you consider that you are the one choosing what your food budget is, and you’re the one choosing what you spend your food budget on, you realize that you are still in control of how you spend your money!
And with a budget, you’re making intentional choices to prioritize your long-term goals.
That being said, often times, people assume that if you’re on a food budget, you can’t have nice food (i.e. me when I first got married).
However, that’s simply not true!
Expensive Foods are Prepackaged
Guys. The most expensive foods are prepackaged, pre-prepared, and pre-cooked. This makes sense, doesn’t it?
If the supplier is performing an extra step (e.g. cooking your meat, or chopping your veggies) they’re going to charge more for it!
When you meal plan for the week, prepare to cut your ingredients yourself. Plan to cook your food on the stove, rather than the microwave.
When you choose uncooked, bulk, and raw ingredients, they will be less expensive and you will still get the same bang for your buck as far as nutrients go.
You can afford to eat a whole-foods focused diet when you meal plan for the week.
Make a Master List of Meal Plans for the Week
One of the best things my husband and I have ever done is create a master list of meals that we enjoy.
Not only does this make meal planning faster, but it actually makes the process more enjoyable.
If I’m being honest, my husband hates meal planning. Honestly, I’m not sure why since he loves food and enjoys cooking, but it’s true.
We have a HUGE pinterest board full of yummy looking meals, but I think that too many options can be overwhelming.
To make the meal planning process easier, I created a list of about twenty dinners, five lunches, and five breakfasts that we now choose from each month. Sometimes we deviate from this list, but most of the time we choose a meal from this list because each one is healthy, uses whole-foods, and it’s a meal we have historically enjoyed.
If you eat a wider variety of foods, you could always make this list a bit bigger, but the process of meal planning from a master list helps because you can look forward to certain meals.
Meal Planning Ideas We Use
If you need some new meal planning ideas, here are some of our favorites. In addition to a simple meat and veggie meal, we like to mix it up with different flavor profiles, as you’ll see from the recipes below.
We LOVE this chicken recipe. It’s spicy, so we often eat it with homemade ranch dip and celery sticks. This combination gives a Buffalo Wild Wings vibe.
We use six chicken thighs for three meals. You could substitute a different veggie if you’re not a celery fan or would prefer another option.
This one is one of our favorites because it’s so simple. We don’t include the stevia, and use coconut aminos in place of the tamari/soy sauce
This recipe is six servings, or three meals for a family of two, but you could alter the ingredient quantities proportionally to meet your needs.
It really is the best chili. We often make it without the bacon and sausage, just because it makes the overall recipe more simple and cheaper, but we still cook the peppers and onions in bacon fat that we store in the fridge to add flavor. Personally, I like it better with half of the amount of tomatoes (yuck!).
We’ll eat on this for four meals.
We typically omit the fish sauce. Be careful not to cook your beef too long, or it will become tough and hard to chew. We typically double this recipe and eat it for four nights
At this point, for a family of two, you’ve meal planned dinners for TWO WHOLE WEEKS and you’ve only had to choose four meals! See how easy this is?
While this isn’t my husband’s favorite soup, I LOVE white chicken chili. We typically omit the cilantro and add the beans for six servings or three nights.
This is my current favorite lunch; however, I make some major substitutions. I use chicken instead of tuna, and raisins instead of apples. Also, I like a lot of celery in my chicken salad, so I typically use two or three stalks instead of one. I’ll eat on this meal throughout one week for lunches.
Flexibility is Key
When you’re meal planning it’s easy to get wrapped up in “we have to eat this on this day”, but the most important thing to remember is that flexibility is key.
While meal planning is a way to be intentional about your physical health and your financial health, sometimes, you just won’t follow your plan.
Plan for the week, not the day
While many people meal plan for the day, my husband and I plan for the week. That way, if we get invited to dinner with friends one night last minute, we can enjoy that time, rather than stressing about the food that we were supposed to eat at home.
When you meal plan for the week, rather than the day, it allows you to shift back each meal one day or two, without producing food waste.
Allow Yourself Room to Enjoy
Additionally, maybe one night you decide you just want some ice cream but you didn’t plant for it as a dessert or snack in your meal plan this week. That is SO okay.
When you honor your body, you give it what it needs, and sometimes what it wants. Even though you might not have included it in your meal plan, you can still go out to purchase it the night of if you want to and if you’ve made room in your budget for it.
It’s good to respect ourselves in this way.
Creating a meal plan for the week can be a great way to save money while still being intentional about your physical health by planning nutritious and yummy meals for yourself and your family. I’ve provided some great meal planning ideas for you to jumpstart this week’s meal plan, but feel free to start with your own recipes too!
Let me know what meal planning tips are your favorite, and how you intend to prioritize your family’s health through meal planning this week.
Disclaimer: Although I am a mental health professional, I am not YOUR mental health professional. The information provided on this website is for educational and informational purposes only and using this website does not establish a counselor-client relationship, or constitute provision of mental health services. I am not responsible for any damages resulting from your use of the content on this site, as the information provided does not substitute for collaboration with a health professional. Please consult with your health professional before making changes to your health regimen.