Food can be one of the easiest categories in your budget that you overspend in. Whether you’re eating out, grabbing a morning coffee, or just not being smart when purchasing groceries. The cost of food adds up quick, and even though it’s a necessity for survival, it shouldn’t be making you go broke.
Meal planning can be one of the easiest ways to cut back on your food expenses and save money while still eating good. Meal planning is the art of going into your week with a plan of action for your meals versus buying things on a whim, not making your own lunches, or buying ingredients that don’t necessarily make a meal on their own. By meal planning you’ll eliminate buying things you don’t need, and you’ll also help cutback on food waste from things going bad that you don’t use.
A meal planning strategy
Let’s get started with building a meal planning strategy that works. It’s a lot easier and less daunting than you think, and like anything, once you get in the habit of meal planning, it’ll become second nature to you.
Draw a two column template that leaves room for breakfast, lunch, and dinner for every day of the week on the left, and a grocery list on the right.
Fill in any meals that have already been accounted for such as birthday dinner that you’re eating out for, or a lunch meeting at work.
Take stock of what’s in your fridge and pantry and fill in as many meals that can be made from the ingredients you already have. If you have leftovers from the previous week, include those as meals too.
You may also have some ingredients that you can’t make a full meal out of, that’s okay. Add them to your list and add on your grocery list the new items you’ll need to make it a complete meal. For example, you already have burgers but are missing the toppings and buns.
Lastly, to fill in any blank spots for meals, add in any all-new meals if you need to. Need inspiration? Check out Pinterest for some super easy recipes. This can also be a good spot for finding inspiration for meals to make with ingredients you already have too.
There are also some apps out there that make meal planning easier, here are some that are recommended by The Penny Hoarder:
- $5 Meal Plan sends you a weekly menu of meals that cost about $2 a person (they even have a gluten-free version).
- Plan To Eat features recipes and a drag-and-drop meal planning interface that auto-generates a grocery list.
- Pepperplate includes recipes and meal planning, as well as a “cook now” function to set up multiple cooking timers for a complex meal.
- Emeals lets you input your family size, number of meals needed and comes up with the meals for you. All you have to do is go shopping!
When you have a plan in place, it’ll make grocery shopping so much more efficient. You’ll go into the store knowing exactly what you need, and won’t spend money on random things you pick up that don’t actually form a full meal. Over $165 billion of food is wasted each year, that’s $529 per person. Let’s cut down our waste by planning before we shop.
To get you on the right foot with meal planning, here are some tips to make the adjustment easier:
- Pack your lunches the night before. This way if you’re running late in the morning, or you’re too tired, you have no excuse.
- Switch up your lunch and dinner so you don’t get sick of eating the same thing every single day and aren’t tempted to toss it and go out to eat instead.
- Prepare your favourite recipes over and over to help you to stick to your plan. If you know you (and your family) likes them, then don’t worry about always getting too creative.
- Have dedicated food for snacks like nuts, or cheese, so you don’t get hungry and eat all your prepped food in one day, or buy snacks.
- Commit to eating foods before they go bad. Don’t always buy new ingredients, but look for ways you can use the ingredients you currently have.
Tips to optimize your meal plan
To really get the most out of your meal plan, you can take it to the next level by incorporating some of these tips into your routine:
Stock your pantry, fridge & freezer
Stockpile staples in your pantry, fridge and freezer. Think long-lasting flavorful or nutrient-dense items like rice, pasta, beans, canned tomatoes and sauce, soups, frozen veggies, etc. These are staples that can easily be incorporated into a lot of recipes, and when you catch them on sale or buy in bulk, you can save.
Simplify your planning process with themes
To keep things easy, assign a category based off days of the week like Meatless Monday, Taco Tuesday, Crockpot Wednesday, etc. and mix the recipes up each week to keep things exciting.
Plan a weekly cleanout
Plan one night of your week to just have a cleanout to eat any leftovers you have, a frozen meal you made, or get creative and use up some ingredients you have leftover. Easy and less food waste.
Order groceries online
This can help you from going off your list in store, you’re only buying the things you need, and you’ll reduce overspending.
Double recipes when possible
This way you can eat the leftovers, pack them for lunch, or freeze them so you can have a quick and easy meal in a few weeks.
Cut your grocery bill in half
Let’s get that grocery bill down so you’re not paying an arm and a leg for food! How? Here are some of our tips to land the best deals.
Use a list
It’s simple, make sure you’re taking your meal planning template with you when you head to the grocery list and stick to the items you have on there. According to research from the University of Pennsylvania, people who can avoid impulse spending when they shop with a list and save up to 23% on their grocery bills.
Shop at the right store
You don’t need to go to 8 different stores each week and be an extreme couponer, just shop at the store that usually has the best prices. Whole Foods or Loblaws is going to add up quick, instead, shop at the cheaper stores like FreshCo or No Frills. You’ll notice a difference instantly in your bill.
Buy generic brands
Often that “no name” brand is the exact same thing as the brand name you recognize. Just look at the ingredients for proof. As much as possible, shop for the generic brand, or look for the best deal. The brand, for most things, really doesn’t matter at the end of the day. Walmart’s Great Value products are usually produced by a major brand name food company, who might have their own version of those products under its brand names sitting right next to the cheaper, Great Value version.
Lots of supermarkets price match aka when you find a better price advertised somewhere else, they’ll match that price at checkout. This can take the work of going through the flyers, but apps like Flipp make this easier.
If you’re having troubles keeping up with your grocery bills, GoDay can help you get money when you need it. Check out the services we offer by clicking “Our Loans” at the top of this page.
Meals for $5 or less
If you’re looking for inspiration to get started on meal planning, we wrote a post awhile back about meals you can put together for $5 or less. Use these below recipes to get your wheels turning. Even the most novice cooks can pull these ones off:
Fish fillet and glorious green veggie(s)
It’s that simple. Roast, grill, fry, or bake your fish with some healthy green veggies like broccoli or green beans. Season how you prefer. Haddock and tilapia are often your cheapest bets for fish, and you can often get a six pack of one of those for under $8 which can last you six meals.
Chicken with frozen veg
There’s so many possibilities for how you can make chicken. You can bread it, eat it plain, make it into chicken strips, or season it with your favourite sauce or seasoning. Pair it with frozen veggies that you can also season how you like. Frozen veggies are cheap, and they will take longer to go bad if you’re infamous for letting veggies just sit in your fridge for too long.
Soup is such an easy and healthy meal to make and you can do it on a budget too! Here are some options for different soups you can try out:
- Chicken broth with green beans and rice
- Barley and beans
- Carrot and ginger
- Cream of Broccoli
- Potato Leek
Eggs with any veggie
Cheap, and good for you. A carton of eggs can cost you $3 and feed you for many meals. Plus, you don’t have to just eat them for breakfast. Whip them up in different ways, or add in your fav veggies, cheese, etc. to keep them exciting.
You can also check out this list we put together for frugal meals you can make.
More tips to help you save on food
Here are some additional ways you can save on your grocery bill and eat food that goes further, and has less waste:
- Cook less meat and load up on vegetarian proteins that cost less like beans, and eggs
- Appreciate the full rotisserie chicken. These can go a long way and you can make multiple different meals with one!
- Dry beans versus canned can be cheaper and healthier because they have less sodium
- Use your slow cooker – a slow cooker can make almost anything taste good (even cheap cuts of meat)
- Buy in bulk and freeze where you can
- Make big batches of what you’re cooking and freeze it for later
- Buy frozen fruits or veggies so they last longer
- Buy produce that is in season and freeze it for later
- Sign-up for store points/discount cards where you shop
- Buy spices, baking supplies, etc. in the bulk section so you just purchase what you need
- Make your own sauces, dressings and seasonings instead of buying
- If you have a garden or outdoor space, grow your own veggies and herbs
- Repurpose food scraps where you can (like in soup)
- Store your produce the right way to ensure it lasts longer
- Regrow vegetables from their roots (here’s a full list of veggies you can do this with)
What are some of your biggest tips for saving on food and meal planning to get the most out of your grocery shops? Share them with us!