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If you are like me and need to cut down on that food budget, we need to talk simple meal planning tips.
Realistic & simple meal planning is the ONLY way I have been able to figure out how to save money on food and I think I have a few ideas for beginners that will help you get started!
Does Meal Planning Save Time, Money, and Stress?
I’ve written about meal planning a handful of times in the past as a way to sort of document my journey, and I have to say, YES. Meal planning does help you save time, money, and stress.
Let’s talk meal planning and time & stress.
Meal planning can seem daunting because it takes a chunk of time right then and that in itself steers some people away.
But if you give yourself that 30-minute chunk of time to plan out what your food will look like for your family for the upcoming week, you will be thanking yourself every single day afterward.
Especially if you are not a morning person.
I have three key breakfasts that I have on deck for my twins. I replenish what I need for those three meals with each grocery trip and always know what we will have.
No need for early morning decision making with not enough coffee or sleep while surrounded by loud fighting and too much energy.
Then throughout the day, I know exactly what there is for lunch, dinner, and snacks. I can get going at meal times and don’t have to spend time listening to hangry kids while trying to figure out wtf to make when I can’t even hear my own thoughts.
Meal planning: the time and stress saving God.
Now meal planning and money.
What does your grocery budget look like? Do you have one? I’ll be honest, even with having somewhat of a grocery budget, it is so hard for me to stick to not buying “extras”.
You know, the pit stops for McDonald’s or coffee. Or that quick snack at the checkout because why not?
I now understand why the jokes about “there’s food at home” are a thing. The stops add up FAST!
Meal planning helps limit those sorts of snack stops because you either already have the snacks or coffee with you, or you know what you have at home is ready to go.
In sort, meal planning helps you stick to that grocery budget you set for yourself and not buy too much extra.
Meal Planning for Single Moms
Tying back into the food budget, I know a lot of us here just don’t have a plethora of money to spend.
And at that, don’t want any of what we spend to go to waste.
I’ve really struggled with the food budget since becoming a single mom for multiple reasons, but most of them come back to the money & food waste.
I have split custody with my kid’s dad, which means I have my twins three nights one week and four nights the next. I never would have thought how difficult this would make meal planning while trying to save money.
I’ve found that I have to include a lot of “variable” meals because sometimes plans change, or we don’t get to certain meals, or there is extra food that they would have eaten while at my house.
It can be really frustrating because food always seems to be going to waste. I’ve gotten a lot better at freezing things right away (which I HIGHLY suggest) to try and minimize the food waste, but sometimes I’ll send the extra oranges with the kids to their dads because they’ll go bad before they have a chance to get eaten at my house.
It seems to be a never ending battle, BUT I’ve gotten down a pretty solid routine that has helped me save time and money with meal planning.
My biggest tip for single moms (or any kind of family with alternating schedules) when it comes to meal planning is to start with how many people you will be feeding for that individual meal.
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Simple Meal Planning Tips for Beginners
I am going to start off by sharing my best tips for meal planning that come in BEFORE diving into the actual meal plan itself.
These things do not take long after getting them set up and make for simple ways that make meal planning easy AF.
Create an Easy Meals Cheat Sheet
This one is probably my best tip out of all of my simple meal planning tips.
I have a piece of recycled paper on the side of my fridge with my “staple meals”. These meals are essentially quick meals I always have on hand for when things don’t go as planned. Whether I can’t make it to the store for a full trip, a planned meal goes wrong, or I just need a meal I can put together with my eyes closed, these meals are a serious lifesaver.
They also make for an awesome way to make it through a week with an unexpected big expense or a “pantry week”.
My easy meals list is pretty bland, so don’t come at me for that. But they are cheap and easy to keep stocked and that’s all I’m about here.
These are what some of my easy staple meals look like:
A few recipes I love:
Create a Pantry and Fridge Staples List
This plays into my previous meal planning tip. For those staple meals, you are going to need to have staple foods.
Things like condiments and eggs might be on this list for you and you don’t even know it yet.
I use the Meal Board app to keep a quick to glance at list of what I like to on hand.
You can take that a step further and use the app to it’s full capacity by updating how much of each thing (think canned soup) you have on hand.
I don’t go that hard with it. I just use it as a way to double check that I have xyz on hand after each grocery trip, especially those few things I like to have on hand for staple meals.
Another way the staples list helps is when it comes to kids snacks.
I don’t know about you, but my twins snacks are something I always forget when grocery shopping. I just assume there are plenty and forget that they are bottomless pits half the time and make their way through so much in a given week.
The grocery staples list I keep up with saves me from that.
Here is an example of what my personal pantry and fridge staples looks like:
The Best Snack System for Kids (and moms!)
More on those snacks.
Because I know we all hate the “snack snack snack” game our kids play all day long.
I started “prepping” their snacks to save me time and keep my “snack mom” anger at bay.
What I ended up with was a snack bin that is refilled after each grocery shopping trip and then pulled from all week long.
There is always an assortment of snacks in the bin since I regularly add new things to it and my twins love being “big kids” by being able to grab their own snacks.
And I love not having to play “guess what snack you want” with them.
Everything is easily portioned, easy to grab, and easy to put back if they decide on something else because they can zip the snack bag back up and pick something else.
They also make for grab and go snacks for myself on the mornings I’m late for meetings, picking them up from their dads, or a quick work day snack.
How to Make Your Meal Plan
Before you start the meal plan itself, I want you to take out a sheet of paper or open up a note in your phone and list out the days and number of meals for those days that you intend to plan and shop for on one side.
For myself, it looks a bit like this:
Then you will add a quick note for each day of who you will be feeding. I do this by adding a “K” to each meal my twins will be eating with me like this:
Then we are going to go into drafting out those meals and that starts with meal planning with what you have on hand first.
When it comes to making the most of what I have on hand, I’ll take a look at the previous weeks meal plan and add anything we didn’t end up eating (that we still have the ingredients for) to my meal plan.
Also make sure that the ingredients for those meals are still good or if anything needs to be tossed into the freezer for safe measure.
Writing that out makes it seem much more time consuming and complicated than it is, I promise. Here is what my last week meal plan looked like and what I pulled over to this weeks:
I hope that picture gives a better example of what I am getting at with regard to meal planning with what you have on hand.
Aside from the missed meals, I will also do a quick fridge/freezer check to see if there is anything going bad or meat that could be used in a meal. I’ll jot those things down next to a meal spot.
Here is a visual to give you a better idea of what I mean:
Moving onto more of the simple meal planning, I like to stick to “staple meals” for the most part when it comes to breakfast and lunch with one or two special ones added in. For example, I usually make a bigger breakfast for all of us on Saturday mornings. So instead of “staple”, I’d write what that will be.
Here is what my meal planning sheet looks like after:
Now that you have that portion of your sheet started, label the other side with “groceries” and take a look at your pantry staples list and add anything you went through this week.
Finishing up the meal plan with sales and coupons
Now that you have pretty much everything set up with what you have on hand, it’s time to look at your grocery stores weekly ad and digital coupons.
I do the majority of my shopping at Fred Meyer and use their app or website to put together my grocery list with my meal plan in mind.
I like to scan through the weekly ad first and look for any great, can’t miss sales on key meal ingredients (like meat for example).
If chicken breast is on sale, I’ll add that to the grocery side of my meal planning sheet and note “chicken” next to one or two meals (with the mindset of freezing the rest).
I do this for any big sale or coupon’d items and it ends up looking like this:
At this point, you should have a rough outline of what your meal plan will look like for the week and you’ll start filling in the rest.
I do this in two ways.
The first would be looking at that note for “chicken” to be in a meal and looking at what is in my fridge/pantry that I could use for a meal with it.
This week I noticed that I had all of the makings for some easy chicken enchiladas so I wrote that down as a meal option, followed by a left over option for my own lunches.
The other way of finishing up your meal plan would be to browse you or your kids favorite recipes and add some into the mix.
Can’t Miss Meal Planning Tip:
One of my best simple meal planning tips that will help you STICK to the plan is to incorporate meals that you and your kids would actually look forward to.
My twins love making their own little pizzas, so that is a frequent easy meal planned into our week frequently. I also make sure to note one dinner for myself that I will really enjoy. Last week that was homemade wings in the air fryer.
How to Grocery Shop with a Meal Plan
Now when it comes to shopping with this list, things are pretty straight forward. You know exactly what you need and you gotta do what you can to keep it in budget.
Like I said earlier, I use the Fred Meyer website or app to shop and then pick up my groceries later on. That in itself helps me save TONS of money because I am not in the store adding 20 impulse buys to my cart. Not to mention, I am shopping right next to my fridge and pantry, so there is no second guessing if I have string cheese or not.
Another reason I enjoy shopping online for my groceries is because the cart gives an ongoing total and I can easily reassess and ask myself if I NEED whatever the product is, or if I can switch up my meal ideas to stick within my budget.
All in all, the mix of simple meal planning tips and grocery shopping online I’ve shared should help you save SO much money on the food you buy for your family. They should also help you save time and not waste as much food.
Let me know how it goes! I’d love to hear about your meal planning experience with my simple meal planning tips in mind.