By Kelly Hodges
There’s no getting around it, the cost of food eats up a big chunk of the budget. On average 12.7% of household spending goes towards food purchases each year, and with the price of food steadily creeping up it’s likely that this percentage will grow larger in the years ahead. I’ve discussed ways to cut down on grocery bills by using coupons and other tricks, but many people seem to get tripped up on one of the most important money saving strategies, the meal plan. Because I’ve gotten so many questions about how exactly to make and stick with a weekly meal plan, I thought I’d break it down here into more digestible pieces.
1. Get out the calendar. This step should be very easy. Look at the calendar and go through the week ahead to figure out how many meals you will need to prepare. If Tuesday you are meeting a friend for dinner and Sunday you’re going to your nephew’s birthday party, then you will need to have 5 other dinners for the week. (You can do this with breakfasts and lunches as well if you want to be really thorough.)
2. Choose the meals. This part will be specific for each individual or family. If you are adventurous with a bit of time you can try fancy things. If you’re busy, not overly talented in the kitchen, and have picky eaters to deal with (me), choose easy to prepare crowd pleasers. For the first few weeks it will likely be easy to come up with recipes, but after time you may feel you’re making the same thing over and over. Turn to the internet for inspiration, there are literally millions of recipes online available for you to try (I just Googled “Chicken Alfredo” and got 1.35 million results!) If you have ingredients already on hand but aren’t sure what to do with them, there are also websites such as RecipeMatcher where you can type in your random ingredients and it will magically produce a recipe for you to use them in.
3. Make the grocery list. Now that you have your meals for the week, simply go through the recipes and write down all the ingredients you’ll need. Purchase them all in a single trip to the grocery store so that they’re ready for you when you need them. This eliminates the 5pm panic of realizing that everyone’s getting hungry and there’s nothing in the house to eat! You know what’s for dinner, you have the ingredients, now you just need to throw it together.
4. Cheat if you want. If you like the idea of having a weekly meal plan but can’t see yourself sticking to the steps above, you’re in luck. E-mealz is a meal planning website that does the work for you. The site provides 7 meal recipes each week including side dishes with complete grocery list. Simply print out the list and take it to the store and you’re good to go (they even organize the list by section of the store!) The site does charge a monthly $5 subscription fee, but it seems that you would still realize a significant savings by using this service over not having a meal plan at all.
Having a meal plan will save you money. It will keep you from running to the grocery store every other day or more costly, going out to eat when there’s no food at home. It will take a little bit of effort, but the savings that it ensures will be well worth it! Happy planning.
Any opinions expressed herein are solely those of the author, and do not in any way represent the views or opinions of her employer or any other person or entity.