Developing a Meal Plan

One of the best ways to save money is to plan your meals ahead of time.

Planning ahead allows you to save time as well as you only have to hit the grocery store once a week, or once in two weeks depending on what you are planning to cook. This is especially beneficial if you (and your spouse) are working.

However, if you have limited knowledge about cooking and how to use ingredients in multiple ways, you might actually end up spending more money. As such, build up your knowledge slowly by focusing first on staple (and easy) recipes that you (and your family) does not mind eating a few times a week. Some examples include casseroles, lasagna, pasta dishes and roasted meats (e.g., roast chicken).

Everyone does their meal planning differently and my current method can be considered less specific than most. I’ve tried in the past to come up with specific meal plans for each week, but realized that it was kinda stressful having to think of something to cook for the whole week on a Saturday night (we do most of our grocery shopping on Sundays). Also, things happen during the week and I wanted some flexibility in changing what was going to be made. At the same time, since we do our grocery shopping once a week, I had to have my ingredients all present for whatever I was going to cook.

In the past my husband and I developed a food database on Google Docs and each week we would look through the database and decide what we wanted to eat. I don’t really refer to that database anymore, but for beginner planners, this might be a helpful tip. Add to that database each time you try a new recipe and are successful.

At present, I refer more to my recipe binders and cookbooks for inspiration on what to cook. My recipes (sourced from the web and beyond) are sorted according to meats, vegetables, baking/desserts, and others. The binders are easy to access and flip through. In my opinion, it’s easier to flip through a binder than check online. However, if you are more computer/mobile savvy,
Google Docs is a good alternative.

So how do I plan my meals weekly?

This is a sample of how our meal plan looks like for the month.

Our meal plan for the month

As you can see, there are no specific meals planned. This allows me to be flexible and also, even if I can’t come up with exactly what I am going to cook before I grocery shop, at least I have some meat and vegetables in the fridge. I’m not a huge fan of eating the same thing each day (the hubs can do it, but not me) so I vary the types of meat eaten for each week. The amounts for the grocery list are for two people.

Our meal plan in-depth (and how it helps us save money):

  • Our meal plan is based on eating in 6 days a week for 2 people. We usually have one meal out a week and of course limit the amount spent on that
    meal as well.
  • I love to cook and try out new recipes, however, trying new recipes can sometimes mean buying more ingredients. Having this meal plan allows me to try out new recipes in accordance to what has been planned. For example, if I want to try out a new recipe that involves beef, I can only do it during the week we have beef. This helps prevent me from overspending on food.
  • Why chicken every week? Chicken is the cheapest meat where we live, so chicken is usually on the menu each week. Fish isn’t the next cheapest thing (I think pork is), but fish is usually better for you, thus we have fish for two out of the four weeks. Do note that we usually buy our meats in bulk and freeze them for future use. As such, I don’t really need to buy meat every
    single week.
  • 24 serving of vegetables is calculated using this formula: 4 servings a day (2 for lunch, 2 for dinner) × 6 days
  • We usually pack lunch and rotate our lunches to be either cold meats, bread, cheese and salad (my husband’s favorite so he doesn’t mind eating this two weeks out of a month) and a
    casserole/pasta/stew.
  • I don’t include the breakfast items on the meal plan because we have standard breakfast items/choices: cereal (husband’s favorite); smoothies (usually made with milk, yogurt, fruit – all staples; oats with fruit; muffins; toast with jam; full breakfast (pancakes/waffles/eggs/bacon/etc.). Of course we don’t have ALL these on hand all the time. The full breakfasts are usually treats for a Saturday morning. Cereal is what we usually have for breakfast. If we are out of milk, we have toast/muffins.
  • How do I figure out how much I (and my spouse and/or family) eat? This takes lots of observation and trial and error. However, looking at standard serving guides will also help. I’ve found this website from the USDA that lists standard serving sizes that an average person/child should be eating helpful.
  • We buy our “staples” (e.g., milk , eggs, yogurt etc.) twice a month. You might need to buy them more often if you have a larger family.
  • Next to some items on the grocery list, I’ve also noted down where they should be bought based on price/value. For example, we usually buy our salad from Costco because it’s the cheapest option and also because we are able to finish the whole tub of salad. If you are only consuming the salad 2-3 times a week, Costco might not be your best bet since the salad will most likely spoil before you reach your last meal for the week.
  • At the end of the day, we do allow for some flexibility. For example, if we have friends visiting, special occasions like birthdays or when a particular opportunity arises to have something
    different (e.g., lamb is on sale this week!).

I hope our meal plan gives you some inspiration to have one of your own. There are also a number of applications (apps) on phones/tablets/PCs that do meal planning and also give suggested recipes. However, being the type of cook I am (I usually like to cook what I want to cook), I’m not too big on their suggestions.

If you are looking an app that helps with meal and grocery planning, I’ve found Food Planner to be the best. The app allows you to plan meals for the week, store past planned meals and meal plans, buy prepared meal plans and more. I use it mainly for the grocery list as it can sync up on all my electronic devices.

Update July 2016: I now use Google Keep to write down grocery lists as I am able to access it easily on my phone/computer and it isn’t as buggy as Food Planner.

Happy planning!

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