Are you tired of thinking about what to make for dinner? There are some days I get so tired of figuring out what to cook that I just throw my hands in the air. I’ll say to my dear husband, “Just tell me what to make!” If I would just follow a meal plan then it would all be in place, but I’m just like you … I get busy and fail to plan sometimes.
Meal Planning Can Be Hard
It sounds like drudgery, doesn’t it? For most of us, this is something we try over and over. We come up with a complicated meal plan, then go shopping for all the ingredients, rigidly follow our daily plan (or completely fall off the wagon and buy pizza because it’s too complicated) and then … do it all over again.
I’m going to save you from repeating this process again and again. I’ve even made a free Meal Planning Guide for you.
Who wants to spend their precious time thinking about what they’re going to eat over the next week, or month? Some days I can’t even figure out what to make tonight! Our time is important, we’ve got all kinds of other things to do like laundry, homework, housework and hmmm … binge watching Netflix. And the way most people meal plan has to be repeated over and over.
A lot of people also start somewhere like Pinterest or their favorite cookbooks for ideas of what to cook, then they have to grocery shop for all those ingredients that aren’t normally in their cupboards. This is the part that gets expensive and really can break your budget.
So, I’m going to teach you how to meal plan in a way that will actually save you money … and time. We could all use more of that, right? Here are the steps I follow in order to come up with our family’s meal plans.
After going through all the steps once, you can skip ahead the next time because half the work is done.
Read To The Bottom To Download Your Free Weekly Meal Planner
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Frugal Meal Planning – 7 Simple Steps
- Family Favorites – Start by making a list of all the meals that your family typically eats and likes. I’ve included a free Family Favorites Inventory printable. Put it all on there. This is a process that might actually take a little time and won’t be accomplished in one sit-down. If you’re having a hard time remembering what you normally eat, here are a few tips: walk the grocery aisle and let the shelves jog your memory, open your cupboards and refrigerator and look at ingredients already there, poll your family, or look through your favorite cookbook or Pinterest board. You’re not looking for new recipes and ideas here, just the things you regularly eat.
- Pantry Inventory – Now take an inventory of what is already in your pantry. This includes your dry pantry (cupboards) and your cold pantry (refrigerator and freezer). I’ve included a Pantry Inventory in the download, too.
- Meals From The Pantry – It’s time now to compare these two lists. Make a list of all the recipes you can make right now with what you already have. It’s ok if you need to add a few items to your grocery list when a recipe calls for something you don’t have, but at this step, you should choose recipes that include mostly items in your pantry. This is the step that will save your budget the most. The worst thing for your grocery budget is throwing away food, so you really want to start by using what you have on hand. I have included a Meals From The Pantry list in the free download.
- Calendar Work – When you’ve got your list of meals all together you can pull out your planner (here’s the one I use) and look at what you’ve got going on this week. Start plugging your meals into your Weekly Meal Planner based on how busy you are. There are a couple days a week that I know I won’t have a lot of time or energy for cooking dinner, so I plug in real easy meals there. On Sundays, I have a little extra time, or we like to entertain so this is where a more complicated recipe will go. Try to plan out 2 weeks, if you can. Once you’ve exhausted your list of meals from the pantry, move to the next step.
- Fill In The Blank Spots – Now it’s time to fill in the rest of your calendar. Check and see what’s on sale this week at the grocery store. I always look first for what proteins are on sale at a real good price. Usually, I can find meat on sale 30%-50% off, so I plan to buy one or two value packs. I use some this week and repackage some of it and freeze for future weeks. Next, look back at your Family Favorites list from step #1 and pick meals that will use that protein and plug them into the days left in your calendar. I know you won’t want to eat one type of protein all week, so make sure you’ve worked in some variety, including some meat-free meals.
- Grocery List – Lastly, make a comprehensive grocery list. There’s one on the side of the Weekly Menu Planner or a full page Grocery List in the download. Make sure you’ve included everything that you’ll need for all your meals (breakfast, lunch, dinner, snack, dessert). If you’ve thought this through well, then you’ll only have to make one trip to the store, which will save you a ton of money and time. While you’re there shop the sale items and stock up that pantry with great deals for your next meal-planning session.
- Follow Your Plan – The real last step is to follow your plan. Keep in mind what Benjamin Franklin said, “If you fail to plan, you are planning to fail.” Give yourself some grace, here, though. You’re new at this, and you’ll need a little flexibility while you get your footing. If you post your weekly menu on the wall, you’re much more likely to follow it. I have laminated my list, so I can fill it out with a dry-erase marker each week, then wipe it off and do it again. I have used this laminator for years and it even comes with 100 laminator sheets. Or, if you don’t want to invest in a laminator put it in a heavy duty sheet protector.
I know this sounds like a lot of work, but I promise you after you’ve done this once it will save you so much time. You’ll be able to reuse your Family Favorites list of meals over and over again.
If you can plan out two weeks at a time, you will be so grateful and it won’t feel like you’re constantly having to redo the steps. You can even rotate the same two weeks back-to-back. Remember, these are recipes your family already eats and likes, so they probably won’t get tired of them. Keep all your meal plans in a file, so you can reuse them in the future.
You may be thinking you need to block out a chunk of time before you can do this, but you can start right away. Print out your forms, put them on your kitchen counter and just start filling them out. You can be constantly adding to the Family Favorites list as you slowly think of things. And, anytime you’re in the kitchen, while you’re making dinner or breakfast, or grabbing your third cup of coffee; start filling out your Pantry Inventory. You may never get to it if you don’t start right away.
If you’re feeling absolutely overwhelmed with these steps it’s ok to use someone else’s plan. I am at a really busy season right now, too, so I totally understand. Erin at MyFreezEasy comes up with amazing freezer meal plans every single month and can send them right to your inbox. If you join her membership she even puts out secret videos showing her putting them together. Taking the time to prep freezer meals once, when you have a little block of time, will absolutely save you time during the week. Each month she includes multiple types of meal plans, a grocery list, and even preparation instructions. So, go look at and see what you think of Erin’s plans.
A Few Resources
If you’re looking for a few more ideas to get you on track, check out these resources.
- Amazing Frugal Pantry Staples
- 10 Killer Ways to Save Money on Groceries
- Easy Chile Rellenos Casserole
- Supper Budget Stretchers: Eggs
- Mexican Poached Eggs
Leave me a comment and let me know how this worked for you. Do you want more forms like this? Did you complete all the steps?