I get asked how I am able to afford to cook meals at home and still east less processed foods and more homemade ones in a tight budget of less than $300 a month with my family all the time. Rather than try to explain it over and over, I thought it was best to try making this post so I can not only help the people who are asking but also help anyone else looking for solutions to thier grocery budgeting and, ultimately their family’s health and time. I do meal planning. You have probably heard of it, but the way I do mine is a big more Type A organized and it makes it super easy for me to make a grocery list without buying too much of one thing and not enough of another.
Why meal plan? It takes very little time each week and since I started doing it, I have found that I waste less, buy less and worry less about food budgeting. You would not believe how much you can save by meal planning. It’s so crazy because for so long, I was trying to avoid doing it due to it looking like it was too hard and making excuses for myself in that direction. When I first decided to start, it took me a long time to work all the kinks out of other ways of doing meal plans. I don’t really keep a calendar and I don’t use a printer (I am not even sure where my printer cord is as I type this). I don’t have much time and I don’t have a whole lot of money. We also do not use very much processed food here, so many of the recipes were out. I had to come up with a way that was efficient and worked for my budget.
I have finally, through trial and error, come up with a simple and efficient meal planning strategy! If you share a similar goal of less processed and more time devoted to other things besides meal planning, then I hope this system works for you.
How to Meal Plan on One Hour a Week or Less
Gather Your Recipes
The very first part to meal planning the way I do it is to gather the recipes of ideas for recipes that your family likes the most. I try to make a list of at least 30 different meals we all enjoy on a regular basis. They don’t even have to be extravagant. On my list I have vegetarian lasagna, burgers, chicken teriyaki, soups etc. I don’t write down all the recipes, I just write down the meal names. I keep them in a notebook. This way, you don’t have to try to figure out new recipes all the time and can be assured that you will be making something that will be eaten. It also helps you keep an inventory better as well.
For us, we only plan dinners on a stricter basis. For lunches, snacks and breakfasts (other than weekend breakfasts when I get a little “fancy”), we eat the same things during the week like smoothies, oatmeal, cereal, fruit etc. I keep these meals super low cost so I have a little more to splurge on dinners.
Make Your Grocery Lists
This is the most time-consuming part of the whole process, but the good news is, once it’s done, it’s done. With each recipe or meal idea, write down what you need to make it. You don’t even need to know exacts. I just write something like “cheddar cheese” or “chicken breasts”. I write down every little thing, too. For instance, let’s say you were writing down ingredients for tacos. I would write something similar to this:
Colby Jack Cheese
Greek Yogurt (we use it in place of sour cream in a lot of things)
When you are done with doing this for every recipe, it allows you to easily see what you need for the meals you have decided to make for the week.
Keep Track of Inventory
There are some things we almost always have in the house because we use them a lot. These include things like milk, cheese, yogurt, chicken, broccoli, canned and bagged beans, and bulk items like rice, oats and flour. I keep track of these items on a running list and write down on a dry erase board in my kitchen when items are out or running low. Right before I head to the store for my weekly shop, I write down these items that are staples.
Rotate Your Meals
Now, here’s the part that only takes me a little less than and hour a week. When I sit down to meal plan for the week, I simply look through my book of “recipes” and write down the week’s meals. I write down and plan for 8 meals even though there are only 7 days in a week. This is because I often have periods where I simply don’t have time or don’t feel well enough to shop. It allows me to have a one day cushion. I rotate out meals for the month and keep them fresh so no one has to eat the same thing twice in a month.
To make your grocery list, just go to each recipe and write down what items you DON’T have at home already. Some weeks, I am only spending $50 on groceries because I am using up things we already have. Be mindful of that when making your meal plan for the week. For instance, if you made spaghetti sauce one night last week and froze the leftovers, make lasagna the next week with them.
Throw a New Meal in Every Other Week
One way to start to hate meal planning is if it seems like all you ever do is eat the same stuff every month or week. That’s why twice a month, I scour Pinterest and look for new recipes to add as potentials to my rotating schedule. I simply make it and ask my family if it’s a keeper or not. If it is, it gets a place in my book.
Meal planning saves you so much money and time. If I have a list and a specific budget in mind, I am able to stick with it much easier and no make impulse buys. I also find that it is much easier to avoid overspending if I don’t shop hungry and do it alone.