Why Weekly Meal Planning is a Frugal Tradition Worth Keeping

Inside: How to start the life-changing habit of creating a weekly meal plan. Of all the ways to simplify your life, this might be the best. We’ll discover how it saves you money and helps you manage one of the most time-consuming tasks of your day.

Planning and execution. For most things, but cooking especially, they are better when you separate them.

A work desk with an open planner, surrounded by colorful flowers in vases, a cup with a spoon, and fresh fruits like apples and pears, reflecting a vibrant and organized workspace.

When 4:30 rolls around, and dinner is looming, the idea of thinking about it and making it gets wrapped up in one overwhelming task. You can’t think of a single thing you have made for dinner in your life, ever. And if you can, it doesn’t sound appealing. And if it does, you don’t have the ingredients.

But if you remove that planning from the process, everything is easier. Afternoon arrives. You check your notebook. Chicken and rice skillet. Chopped salad. You can get all that prepped in 30 minutes and clean up and make the salad while the chicken bakes. There’s ballet practice at 6, so you’re glad you planned something on the easier side. Getting up and turning on the oven suddenly doesn’t seem so hard.

Right? Right. Let’s start this frugal habit now. You’ll be so glad you did.

Key Takeaways

  • Save money
  • Reduce food waste
  • Create balanced menus tailored to your schedule.
  • Plan for leftovers

Step 1: Start By Taking Inventory of What You Already Have

Before you even think about hitting the grocery store, the first step in creating a successful weekly meal plan is to take stock of what you already have in your kitchen. This simple act can save you money, reduce food waste, and inspire creative meal ideas.

I like to start by opening up my fridge, freezer, and pantry, and making a quick list of the ingredients I have on hand. Don’t forget to check expiration dates and prioritize any items that need to be used up soon. Do you have any home-canned foods you need to use up?

For example, let’s say you discover a forgotten can of chickpeas, some leftover roasted vegetables, and a half-used jar of pesto. Suddenly, you’ve got the makings of a delicious and easy Mediterranean-inspired pasta dish. Or maybe you find a bag of frozen chicken breasts, a few carrots, and some celery – perfect for a comforting pot of homemade chicken soup.

By starting with what you already have, you’ll be able to create a meal plan that minimizes food waste and maximizes your grocery budget. Plus, you’ll be forced to get creative in the kitchen.

So, before you start jotting down your meal ideas for the week, take a few minutes to assess your current inventory. Your wallet (and your taste buds) will thank you.

Step 2: Take Advantage of Seasonal Foods and Grocery Specials

One of the best ways to save money on your weekly meal plan is to take advantage of seasonal foods and grocery specials. Not only will you be getting the best deals, but you’ll also be enjoying produce at its peak flavor and nutritional value.

I love visiting my local farmer’s market or checking out the seasonal produce section at the grocery store. It’s a great way to get inspired and discover new ingredients to incorporate into my meals. For example, in the summer, I might load up on fresh tomatoes, zucchini, and basil to make a delicious pasta primavera or caprese salad.

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Don’t forget to keep an eye out for sales and promotions at your favorite grocery stores. I like to check the weekly circulars or sign up for email newsletters to stay in the loop. If I see that chicken breasts are on sale, for instance, I might plan a week’s worth of meals around that ingredient, like grilled chicken salads, stir-fries, or enchiladas.

Another great way to save money is to plan your meals around cheaper, in-season ingredients. In the fall, for example, I might focus on recipes that feature sweet potatoes, apples, and winter squash. These hearty, flavorful ingredients are not only affordable but also perfect for cozy, comforting meals on chilly nights.

By being strategic about your ingredient choices and taking advantage of seasonal foods and grocery specials, you can create a weekly meal plan that’s both delicious and budget-friendly. So, don’t be afraid to let the sales and seasons guide your menu – your taste buds (and your wallet) will thank you!

Step 3: Buying in Bulk and Planning Ahead to Save Money

Another smart strategy for saving money on your weekly meal plan is to buy ingredients in bulk and plan. While it might seem like a bigger upfront investment, purchasing larger quantities of staples like rice, beans, and pasta can pay off in the long run.

An open refrigerator filled with various food items including vegetables, fruits, bottles, and containers, all neatly arranged on shelves.

I like to look for sales on non-perishable items and stock up when the prices are low. If you’re out of something, you’re forced to buy it at full price. If it’s on sale, buy two. If it’s at a rock-bottom price, buy as many as you can. Over time, you’ll have stocked a pantry affordably.

When it comes to perishable items like meat and produce, I try to plan my meals around what’s on sale and what I know I can use up before it goes bad. If I find a great price on ground beef, for instance, I might buy a few extra pounds and plan to make a big batch of meatballs or burger patties to freeze for later.

Another way to save money and reduce waste is to plan for leftovers. When I’m cooking a big meal like a roast chicken or a pot of chili, I always make extra so that I can repurpose the leftovers into new meals later in the week. For example, leftover roast chicken can be turned into chicken salad sandwiches or added to a quick vegetable soup.

Step 4: Accommodate Your Schedule with Easy Dinners and Planned Leftovers

No one wants to cook elaborate dinners every night. Make sure you schedule some simple meals for busy days to keep things realistic. Ideas include:

  • Sheet pan meals where everything cooks together.
  • One-pot pasta
  • Slow cooker dishes you set up in the morning.
  • Hearty salads with pre-cooked protein.
A cozy, sunlit kitchen interior with a table set for a meal, pots and pans hanging above, and a stove with pots on it.

Another way to make your weekly meal plan work for your schedule is to embrace leftovers. When I’m cooking a big batch of soup or a casserole, I always make extra so that I can enjoy the leftovers for lunch or dinner later in the week. Not only does this save me time and money, but it also means I have a delicious, homemade meal ready to go when I’m short on time or energy.

If you’re not a fan of eating the same thing two days in a row, try repurposing your leftovers into new meals. For example, leftover grilled chicken can be sliced up and added to a salad or wrapped up in a tortilla with some veggies and cheese for a quick and easy lunch. Leftover roasted vegetables can be blended into a smooth and creamy soup or tossed with some pasta and a sprinkle of Parmesan for a satisfying dinner.

By including easy dinners and planned leftovers in your weekly meal plan, you can save time and stress in the kitchen without sacrificing flavor or nutrition. So, don’t be afraid to embrace the shortcuts.

Step 5: Create a Balanced Menu with Variety

You need to balance difficulty so you don’t burn out, but you’ll also want to add some variety to your meals so people don’t get sick of them. Here are some tips:

A person in a blue-striped shirt and apron preparing food in a rustic kitchen, with a focus on their hands cutting vegetables.
  • Theme Nights Can Help: Not only does this add some fun, but it can simplify the decision-making process. Try ideas like “Meatless Mondays”, “Taco Tuesdays”, or “Breakfast for Dinner Thursdays”.
  • Variety is Vital: Don’t fall into a rut of repeating the same meals too frequently. Mix up your proteins (chicken, fish, beef, tofu, beans), rotate different vegetables, and include a range of whole grains.
  • New Recipes: Aim to try one new recipe a month. This keeps things interesting and helps you discover new favorites. Don’t be afraid to start with simple ideas – new variations on dishes you already love can be a less intimidating starting point.

Step 6: Get Your Plan on Paper

Now that you’ve got a handle on the basics of weekly meal planning, it’s time to put your skills into action. From now on, every Sunday, without fail, commit to having a week of meals planned.

Key Tip:

If you have an online app you love, keep using it! But I find that many people make meal planning feel hard and complicated when it’s as simple as possible.

Using Printables: One of the best ways to stay organized and on track is to use a printable meal planning template. I’m a big fan of the templates that include a space for your grocery list right alongside your meal plan.

That way, I can jot down the ingredients I need for each recipe as I’m planning out my meals, and then easily transfer them to my shopping list when it’s time to hit the store.

When it comes to actually filling out your template, I find it helpful to start with dinners and then work backward to plan out lunches and breakfasts. That way, you can make sure you have enough leftovers or ingredients on hand to cover all your meals for the week.

Using a Simple Spiral Notebook: If you’re not a fan of printables or prefer a more old-school approach, a simple spiral notebook can be just as effective for weekly meal planning. I’ve been using the same beat-up notebook for my meal plans for years, and it’s never let me down.

There’s something satisfying about putting pen to paper and physically writing out your meals for the week. Plus, a notebook gives you the flexibility to create a meal planning system that works for you, whether that means jotting down recipes, making grocery lists, or tracking your favorite dishes.

I like to dedicate one page of my notebook to each week’s meal plan. At the top of the page, I’ll write down the dates for that week, along with any special events or occasions that might impact my cooking schedule. Then, I’ll divide the page into sections for each day of the week, leaving plenty of space to write down my breakfast, lunch, and dinner plans.

One of the benefits of using a notebook is that you can easily look back at past meal plans for inspiration or to remember a particularly delicious recipe. I’ll often flip through my old plans when I’m feeling stuck or uninspired in the kitchen, and it’s always fun to rediscover a forgotten favorite.

More on Saving Money

Aside from weekly meal planning, here are some resources on how you can save money.

I hope these resources help you start your money-saving journey.

Just Get Started

If you’re new to meal planning, start small. Maybe that means planning out just your dinners for the week or focusing on a few key ingredients that you can use in multiple meals. As you get more comfortable with the process, you can gradually add in more meals or get more creative with your recipes.

Remember, the goal of meal planning is to make your life easier – not to add more stress or pressure to your already busy schedule. So, if you have a week where you don’t stick to your plan perfectly, or you end up ordering takeout more than you’d like, don’t beat yourself up about it. Just get back on track with your next meal plan and keep moving forward.

At the end of the day, the most important thing is to find a meal-planning system that works for you and your family. Whether that means using a printable template, a spiral notebook, or just a few sticky notes on the fridge, the key is to stay organized, stay inspired, and keep on cooking

Why Weekly Meal Planning is a Frugal Tradition Worth Keeping

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