It’s getting tougher and tougher to find new ways to save when grocery shopping these days. We all know and understand that prices are skyrocketing even though your paycheck may have gone up in 2022. It’s just not keeping pace with the price increases. Enter meal planning.
Just stop and think about this for a second. We plan and eat about 1,095 meals every year (365 days X 3 meals a day). That’s a lot of decisions! But what if you could narrow that down to just 52 decisions? Can weekly meal planning really save you money and fight inflation?
What Happens When You Actually “Meal Plan”?
Nothing but good things happen to you and your family when you meal plan each week. It’s healthier and it gives you the chance to save money, too.
When meals aren’t planned, chances are high that we’ll eat something more expensive and less healthy. Weekly meal planning lets you be more organized, eat healthier, avoid wasting food, and save money…quite a bunch of pluses in your ledger.
While it takes a little extra time in planning for each week, the results are well worth it. By creating a custom menu to choose from and seeing what inexpensive ingredients are out there and even on hand in your own pantry, it’s easy to plan your way to real savings.
Creating a New Custom Menu
The first step is to make a list of potential meals that you and your family actually like. Call it your very own custom menu.
Oftentimes when we’re trying to decide what to have for a meal, we fall into the same old rut. But having an evolving list of choices planned ahead of time helps mix things up and makes sure we’re eating a wide variety of foods.
Whether you create your list on paper, on your computer, or using a meal planning app, get input from other members of your family so everyone’s preferences are considered. Then divide your list into dinners (subdivided into poultry, pork, fish, beef, vegetarian, etc.), side dishes, dessert options, and lunches and breakfasts if you’ll be planning those too. As you find new recipes your family likes, be sure to add those to your menu as well!
The “What’s on Sale” Savings Method
Each week, even during inflationary times, there are still sales going on at your supermarket. There are still coupons to use, loyalty discounts to maximize, and all the rest of the ways to shop and save. With higher prices, that is even more important right now to monitor and use.
As you prepare your grocery shopping list, notice what’s on sale in your store circulars or check online. If you’ve been tracking prices, like I have recommended time and time again, you’ll know whether the sales you see are a good deal and worth stocking up on. If you have the storage space to keep a pantry, great. But if not, consider making an area in your closet or even garage for dry and canned goods that you can stock without harm to the products. Any storage is a money saver for you.
Avoid Wasting Food
According to RTS, Recycle Tracking Systems, the world wastes about 1.4 billion tons of food every year and the United States discards nearly 40 million tons of it (80 billion pounds) every year. In 2022, it is estimated we will waste 30%-40% of the entire U.S. food supply and that equates to 219 pounds of food wasted per person.
When you’re ready to actually plan your weekly meals, the sale and stored items will form the basis of your meals. But pay special attention and use your perishable items, such as produce and dairy, and don’t waste money and have to throw any away.
What’s in the Pantry/Fridge/Freezer?
Once you’ve got a handle on what sale items you’ll be buying this week, it’s time to look around the kitchen and see what’s already there. First thing to check is leftovers that need to be used up and any perishable items that need to be used by a certain date.
While those items get the priority, you’ll also want to look at what’s on your refrigerator shelves or in the freezer to see what other ingredients (or even pre-made meals) you already have on hand.
The Weekly Schedule
Now you can make your menu and with your list of available and soon-to-be-purchased ingredients, have a plan for the week.
Check to see which meals on your menu match up to the ingredients you want to use. If you want to find some new recipes, you can either search using your main ingredients, or try a site like supercook.com which suggests recipes based on the ingredients you have on hand. Double-check that you have all the ingredients on your list or in your kitchen to prepare them.
Choose a variety of different proteins and include meatless dishes too, a real money saver and a good idea for our health and the environment. Depending on your schedule and/or budget, you may want to schedule a night just for leftovers. Even a well-planned coupon-filled cost-saving “take-out” meal is occasionally alright to do. But to avoid too many of those, try to have some quick, easy-to-make meals on hand just in case.
Keeping things flexible, you can wait to decide which meals will be on which day. But if you have a busy schedule or you’d prefer to be more organized, you can go ahead and assign each day’s meals in advance. There are plenty of templates available online for your plan or you can simply write it on the calendar or post it on the fridge where the whole family can see what’s going on.
The “After You Shop” Organizational Skills
After you go grocery shopping, you may have a stockpile of a particular ingredient, such as chicken. Split up the packages into dinner-sized portions in the fridge if you will be using it in the next day or two, and use freezer bag packaging for the rest in meal portions to freeze.
The Regular Daily Plans
Each night do mini-meal planning: take a moment to consider which meals you’ll have for the next day and what you’ll need for them. Double-check if your schedule has changed and meals need to be switched around. If anything needs to be defrosted, take it out of the freezer to thaw. If any ingredients need advance preparation, for example soaking beans (dry beans cost less and have less salt than canned), get those ready. If you need particular pots or utensils, make sure they’re clean and ready. And if you’ll need a reminder during the day to start a slow cooker meal or marinate ingredients in advance, set up a reminder on your phone or computer, or simply leave yourself a low-tech sticky note.
You have to get creative and you need to defend your wallet during inflationary times. It seems like this is going to be important at least through 2022 and maybe even beyond. But it isn’t the first inflationary cycle or the worst we’ve experienced, and we can get through this with a plan!
Meal planning doesn’t need to be difficult and there are a number of ways you can do it depending on your preferences. By checking what’s on sale and what’s already in your kitchen before you make your plan, you will save money and time, and avoid wasting food. The hardest part is to just get started, so start planning today.
Are you a meal planner? Can you take on this way to save and eat healthy for you and your family? How much can you shave off your weekly food bill if you shop better, smarter, and plan all your meals all year long?