10 ways budget meal planning can save you money right now – Low Calorie Diets Tips

Meal planning and meal prep often feels overly complicated, but it doesn’t have to be, especially when your goal is simply to reduce your weekly grocery bill.

With groceries prices soaring (up nearly 10% over the past 12 months), now is a good time to rethink how you spend your groceries.

The concept behind meal planning is simple: you plan meals for about a week and then prepare some or all of the foods you will be eating during that time. If spending your Sunday night chopping veggies isn’t your thing, don’t worry. You can still use this guide to reduce your grocery expenses without becoming a super Dee-Duper meal prepper.

But you don’t have to plan and prepare every meal of the week, but if you have at least a game plan, you’ll avoid the temptation of eat-in and drive-through. Spend 30 minutes twice a week planning meals. Sundays and Wednesdays are good because these are often the days when new coupons are released and grocery stores kick off their weekly sales. And that’s another way to include some savings in your grocery budget.

10 meal planning tips that will save you on your dining budget

  • watch sale

  • Shop seasonally

  • Look for specific recipes

  • Buy versatile ingredients

  • Consider private label

  • Get your spices from wholesale markets

  • Eat the same thing for breakfast every day

  • Prepare appetizers that do double duty

  • Limit your snacks

  • Skip the special containers

The key to budget-friendly meal prep is making it work with what you already do. What do you and your family like to eat? Can you make a double batch of a favorite recipe and save the rest for lunch? What are some ingredients you can buy in bulk (even if that means turning down a friend’s food club membership)?

Answering these questions will help get your meal prep on the money-saving foot, but following a few other guidelines will help keep your weekly meal prep simple and cheap.

1. View sales

This may sound obvious, but grocery sales are one of the best ways to ensure you’re making the most of your grocery budget every week. Keep an eye out for ads in your local papers and take advantage of holiday deals — like when canned beans for Cinco de Mayo or BBQ sauces go on sale on July 4th.

Buy what you can reasonably keep in your pantry or freezer (hot dog buns, for example, can be frozen) and plan to use them at a later date. Just make sure you use whatever you buy, since purchases just to pick up junk food or things you don’t eat aren’t ultimately savings.

2. Shop seasonally

Similar to taking advantage of special offers, seasonal shopping is another great way to save money while stocking up on deliciously fresh groceries for your meal prep. Learn what vendors are at your local farmers markets and where local farm stalls and fields are located. This way you get the best deals on fresh produce, which can then be consumed fresh, frozen or even canned for later.

Consider joining a farm share program, where you can purchase a larger portion of fresh produce from local farmers each week. If your need for products isn’t quite as fancy, you can also head in with a friend or neighbor and split the cost for even more savings.

3. Search for specific recipes

One of the best ways to reduce food waste is to shop with recipes in mind. Pick a few meals to prepare before heading to the store, then you can work with a list of ingredients rather than spontaneously buying groceries that you may or may not eat.

Try planning your meals around some things you already have, such as items that are about to expire or what you have in the pantry. By combining what you already have with a few new ingredients, you can reduce your expenses and also eliminate the need to throw away fresh food that isn’t eaten on time.

Stock up on pantry essentials and make cooking home cooking easier and more economical.

4. Buy versatile ingredients

Using one ingredient for multiple meals can go a long way in keeping your grocery list from getting out of control. For example, peanut butter can be used in smoothies, sandwiches, as a snack with apples, and even as a cooking ingredient.

If you’re lucky enough to find a whole chicken for a good price, roast it for dinner one night and use the leftovers in chicken salad. Use the carcass to prepare broth and leftover meat for a soup.

Find out how to double or even triple your ingredients to save money on food prep.

5. Consider private label

Speaking of pasta, you’ll have a hard time telling the difference between name brand pasta and the more expensive brands. The same is often true of many of your staple foods, dairy or even fresh legumes. As you work your way through a shopping list, consider which items you really need from a particular brand (non-dairy milk, for example, varies quite a bit in flavor by brand) and which items could save you a little money by choosing the store’s brand. Keep in mind that private label is often from the same manufacturer as more expensive brands and in some cases it is literally the same product at a completely different price.

Sometimes it’s the little things (like store-brand beans instead of ones that cost $2 more) that can add up to big savings.

6. Get your condiments from bulk stores

Meal planning usually means preparing larger batches of a few staples, packing the extras, and then eating them throughout the week.

However, as you prepare larger batches of your staples, you likely need more of your favorite condiments. Buying your spices in bulk can help you avoid adding expensive jars of the same spices to your shopping list every few months.

Buying in bulk is also handy for those spices you rarely use. Why spend $7 on a packet of star anise pods when you’re not sure you’ll be using them more than once every few months?

Grocery clubs are great places to shop in bulk, but if you don’t have a membership, Amazon and some popular grocery chains also have options.

Spices and herbs can get expensive, but we’ve found 10 genius ways to save money on spices to upgrade your kitchen.

7. Eat the same thing for breakfast every day

Variety may be the spice of life, but variety can also be the enemy of your budget.

Eating something different for breakfast every week means buying more ingredients. But if you eat the same thing every morning — say Greek yogurt with granola and peanut butter — you can take advantage of the deals and save money. Here is the cost breakdown with prices from an Aldi marker:

  • 2 32-ounce containers of generic plain Greek yogurt: $3.85 each

  • 2 boxes of Generic Honey Almond Cereal: $2.45 each

  • 1 40-ounce container of peanut butter: $2 (every 3 to 4 weeks)

That’s about $14 for two weeks of breakfast, or a little less than $1 a day for a healthy, nutritious, and delicious breakfast.

If you have children, convincing them to eat the same thing week after week, or even day after day, may not be an option. So you can switch between a meal prep recipe like breakfast egg cups and a favorite cereal. This way, you can still limit your grocery shopping and still give your kids some breakfast variety.

8. Prepare appetizers that do double duty

Choose two or three dishes a week that do double duty. Chickpea and potato curry can be eaten on Sundays and again for lunch or dinner, or until mid-week.

Check out Taste of Home’s 150 Freezer Bake Recipes and you’re sure to find something the family can eat twice a week — once for dinner and another time for lunch at work (or home office) and school. They call them frozen meals, but they can also be eaten the day they’re made while planning to freeze the rest.

pro tip

Here are more tips to help you plan meals that actually work.

9. Limit your snacking

We all love snacks, but buying a variety of snacks for every appetite can also be very expensive. Pick a snack or two that you know you love and stick with it.

Homemade popcorn is an inexpensive option that can easily be made sweet, salty, or savory depending on your mood.

If you’re looking for high-protein snacks that you can make cheaply, try hummus. Just double or triple the ingredients and you’ve got enough snacks for a week. You can also try making pinwheels which are super easy and also very tasty.

10. Skip the special containers

Last but not least, don’t go crazy by affording the fanciest Tupperware for leftovers, lunches, or meal planning. Trust us when we say you really don’t need to spend $20-$50 on in-store meal prep containers. Whatever you have in your pantry — whether that’s hand-made Tupperware or washed and repurposed yogurt cups — will work just fine.

In addition, repurposed jars are a great way to transport salads, pasta or many other dishes. Bonus: the aesthetic is very Pinterest-friendly, too!

The bottom line: keep it simple

Be realistic about what you can and will actually do. If you want takeaway one night a week, do so, but plan on pad thai for four. Don’t go for takeout just because you don’t have anything planned.

If you think you can only cook one big meal a week that doubles the effort, do it. Don’t promise to make three and then give up altogether. Baby steps, not no steps at all.

Consider your family’s lifestyle. Are there several children at sports, music or dance training around dinner? Schedule slow cooker meals that night and get them home as soon as possible after your workout. Stepping into a home filled with the smell of dinner will have you fighting off the hangries—and the temptation of the drive-thru.

Contributor Larissa Runkle writes frequently for The Penny Hoarder on finance, real estate and lifestyle topics. The author Anna Brugmann also contributed to this article.

This was originally published on The Penny Hoarder which helps millions of readers worldwide make and save money by sharing unique job opportunities, personal stories, freebies and more. The Inc. 5000 ranked The Penny Hoarder as the fastest growing private media company in the US in 2017.

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