6 tips for easy meal planning
By Mandy Budzowski, MS and Laura Yautz RD
Is the budget tight these days? Is it too much to ask to have a dinner to serve your family that’s quick, healthy, and not too expensive? If you’re looking for ways to plan meals on a budget, you’re in the right place. We have all you need to plan a delicious, healthy, low-cost menu!
Why plan meals? Planning ahead can:
- Improve your family’s nutrition intake and allow for a more balanced diet.
- Save time. Knowing ahead of time exactly what will be served each day can eliminate added stress and poor choices.
- Reduce impulse spending. We have all been to the grocery store without a plan, and it’s dangerous. Meal planning helps you avoid extra trips and running out of options.
Over the years, I’ve discovered a few resources and tricks for eating healthy while trying to stretch the family budget.
Top six tips for easy meal planning:
1. Set aside time to plan.
Setting aside a dedicated planning hour can lead to success. During that hour, take inventory of the foods you already have. Find ways to add them into your meal plan for the week. Letting food go to waste can burn a hole in your budget quickly.
2. Develop your meal plan for the week.
Decide what you would like to serve the family this week. I like to use a meal planning guide so I can write in the options and make a shopping list after.
3. Create a shopping list.
Create a standard shopping list that’s organized by the layout of the store where you shop. For example, my list consists of produce, meats, dairy, and other. You can choose the categories that make the most sense to you.
4. Don’t shop hungry.
Shopping hungry can be dangerous. Make sure to have a healthy snack or shop after a meal to avoid unnecessary buying based on your mood.
5. Make sure you are a bargain shopper.
- Be sure to look at each store’s weekly shopper for manager’s specials and deals of the week.
- Shop at stores that offer shopper rewards.
- Buy in bulk. Larger cans or packages usually cost less per serving. Make sure to compare price per pound or ounce.
- Buy the generic or store brands instead of name brands. Even if there is a coupon, check to see if it’s cheaper to buy the bargain brand. Typically, they are made by the name-brand manufacturer and taste the same.
6. Cook wisely and efficiently.
If you were able to buy larger serving sizes of products, consider making large batches and freezing them for another meal. If you are purchasing cheaper cuts of meat, consider using the crock pot to serve a delicious, tender option.
Preparing a well-balanced meal plan for your family doesn’t have to be a headache. Eating healthful foods can be simple when you put aside time to plan and prepare for success.
Use our Meal Planning worksheet to help you prepare a well-balanced meal for you and your family.
What tips do you have for meal planning on a budget? Share in the comment section for other readers.