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Beginners Guide to Meal Planning: 6 Time Saving and Money Saving Tips

(image credit: Getty images)

It's 5 pm and I'm exhausted from a busy day in the cafeteria. Weary I stand in front of the open fridge debating whether the brownies on the counter would be an acceptable dinner. Sound familiar?

With so many pressures of everyday life, it's easy to take the easy way out and reach for your cellphone to order take out. It gets delivered right to your door! But like many others, our income took a huge hit with the recent pandemic. As income decreased, our eating increase. What else are we suppose to do stuck at home?

I've always been a fan of meal planning, but when I stopped blogging 5 yrs ago, the meal planning also stopped. I was no longer sharing with you guys, and exhausted from returning to work after 14 years of being a stay at home wife and mother. The result? I fell into the take out, "let's go out" rut. It's a delicious rut to be in, but not great for your health, or your wallet!

So today I wanted to share some tricks and tips for meal planning. If you are a meal planner, kudos to you! You already know how beneficial it is to your daily routine and how it helps you save money. But for those of you who are unsure how to start, here is a few steps to get you into a really great habit. No more standing in front of an open fridge, hoping dinner would magically appear. The only hard part is..... breaking up with your fast food delivery driver ;)

(image credit: Getty images)

#1 take inventory of what you already have on hand

Remember that roast you bought 3 months ago? Or the 6 jars of Alfredo sauce you bought on sale before Easter? Yep, it's easy to fall into the "It's such a good deal I'll buy it to have on hand" trap, BUT it's time to use those things up. Grab yourself a pen and pad of paper, and go through your freezer and pantry. Write every item down, and maybe throw out that expired bottle of salad dressing while you're at it! Once your list is complete, it's time for the magic to begin.

I usually start with proteins and I leave 1 or two days per week, on my meal plan, for leftovers. Once you know what protein you'll be making, you can choose your sides. Picking recipes with common ingredients is a great practice as well. That way if you have leftovers, they can be transformed into something else. Ex- Roast beef with potatoes, carrots, onions, gravy and Yorkshire pudding can become Tacos/Burritos using leftover meat, served with beans and rice.

#2 download a grocery flyer app, or take the time to grab the flyers out of the paper

This is a great way to save money! Choose items you will definitely be using, according to your menu. It'll help reduce impulse buying. Make a master ingredient list, like spices, sauces and condiments that will be used in several dishes, splurging on less common ingredients once in a while. Buy only produce you have added to your meal plan. Do you know how many times I've come home with squash, sweet potatoes, or a fresh produce item that caught my fancy, saying "I will find something to do with this I'm sure". Only thing is, it was usually tossed in the compost bin, rather than turned into something delicious.

Another benefit of shopping the grocery flyers, is price mathching! Many people are reluctant to price match. I used to be. I use to drive from one end of town to the other, to shop for sale items at all the grocery stores. Then one day I realized how silly it was, and decided to price match items at one store. Many stores do price matching, so put those excuses away!

#3 Keep it simple

I never assign specific days to my meal plan. I make a list of 5-6 dishes (leaving one or two days for leftovers). Every morning I look at the list, decide what I feel like making and take the protein out to thaw in the fridge while I'm at work. On days I know I'll be extra busy at work, or with appointments and errands, I try to make a crock pot meal. There's nothing better than coming home to dinner that's been cooking all day! To make things easier, I make sure to add recipes I know my family will be happy about. 80% of my meal plan is recipes I cook often, while I leave room for 1 or two new recipes a week.

(image credit: Getty images)

#4 Don't fall into a rut

Eating the same thing over an over again is a sure fire way to get bored of meal planning. So while you're on Facebook for the 6th time today, take the time to check out some food pages on Facebook, Pinterest, or even Google a meal you've been craving. The internet is so packed full of recipes, it's easy to find one that will suit you and your ability in the kitchen. If you are old school like me, check out the cookbook section at your local library. Worried you're not the best cook? Reading food blogs such as mine, reading cookbooks, watching cooking videos and experimenting are a great way to build your confidence in the kitchen.

#5 Have a craving for take out? Try recreating it at home.

The kids and I are in love with sushi. I always thought it would be too difficult to make at home. Thankfully I worked with an awesome woman, who showed me how simple it is to make. So now whenever we get the craving we head to our Asian market near by and grab the needed ingredients. It's less expensive than going out and once you have most of the ingredients on hand, you'll be more tempted to make it again. You'll find tons of restaurant recreations all over the internet!

# 6 Don't deprive yourself

Meal planning is like dieting... if you deprive yourself, you'll fall off the wagon. I'm not saying never eat out again; maybe just cut down to once or twice a month. They say it takes about two months to form a habit, and 10 days or more to break one. Don't be too hard on yourself if the first month doesn't go as well as you planned. Just don't give up. It'll eventually become second nature and once you see that you aren't spending money on eating out, on food with low nutritional value, or on food that's getting thrown in the bin; it will be the most satisfying feeling ever!

6 Time Saving and Money Saving Tips for Meal Planning


  1. Great tips for meal planning, and we are so happy you share at Tuesday Turn About! Hope to see you each week!

  2. ********************************************************
    Thank you for sharing at #OverTheMoon. Pinned and shared. Have a lovely week. I hope to see you at next week’s party too! Please stay safe and healthy. Come party with us at Over The Moon! Catapult your content Over The Moon! @marilyn_lesniak @EclecticRedBarn

  3. It's funny because it's jjust the opposite for me - while the opps and good eats are there more often, I find I want to lose more weight to be more attractive to my partner

  4. This is a great recipe and it will be a great hit on our dinner table. Will try this weekend on thanksgiving.

  5. Great and very helpful tips. Hard to come up with great ideas every night, this sure is helpful. Thank you, Giangi

  6. These are great tips for meal planning, and I use most of them too, so I can vouch for their effectiveness. I find that the hardest part of the system is remembering to take out the meat far enough in advance for it to thaw!

  7. Meal prepping is such a great way to stay on track and do better nutrition choice. I think planning and keeping it simple are the essential steps for success :)

  8. keeping inventory is important so you dont double ingredients at all

  9. This is so incredibly helpful! Thanks for such great tips!

  10. I need to do something because I am loosing my mind on cooking meals. Everything you said is very helpful, I am starting with an inventory of what I have, and then see what I can create and plan.

  11. Great tips thank you for sharing! I definitely fall into ruts but with kids you gotta do what you gotta do lol

  12. Really helpful tips, thanks so much!

  13. Lots of great tips! I need to get back on track with my meal planning so this is helpful.

  14. There are so many great tips in this post and I found a few especially helpful. I've never been much of a dinner planner. I am THAT person who has a full freezer and pantry because I buy things on sale and then never find a good time to use them!

  15. These are some really great tips! I love the idea of writing down the little odds and ends that you've collected in your cupboard and finally putting them to use. Thanks for sharing

  16. Keep it simple - the advice that works best for me!:) My new mantra when I go shopping! Thanks, Cindy!:))

  17. The hardest part is remembering the coupons! If I don’t forget them at home I forget them at checkout even if I wrap them around my credit card lol

  18. These are some really great tips, thank you for sharing! I really need to start trying to meal prep!

  19. These are really helpful tips. Good call on checking what you have first haha I need to do that more before I shop!!

  20. I am so lazy at meal planning, but stock up groceries in the fridge and sometimes they end up in the compost bin as you mentioned. But now after reading your post I am getting motivated to plan ahead and save some time and money. Thanks for sharing, Cindy.

  21. Great tips! I rarely order out and although I plan many meals, I often get in a rut. I will definitely keep these ideas in my back pocket!


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