Meal planning your way to a balanced budget!

“What do you want for dinner?” It’s a common question that a lot of families routinely ask themselves around dinner time. The question by itself is telling, it says that you don’t know what you have in the fridge and pantry and it says that you probably throw away thousands of dollars per year on groceries. We’re not talking going out for meals but just what’s in your house. 

There are various statistics that I’ve seen put the average is that in North America we waste between 1-2lb of food per person per day. I know from experience that we routinely get more food than we need, and it goes to waste and it’s a real shame but more importantly, it is bloody expensive. 

[CUE: Superhero music] 

Meal planning to the rescue!!!

A few people by this point will have a puzzled look on their face wondering ‘what is a meal plan?’ Typically, you plan to eat a meal, that’s got to be it. Right? For the folks that know what a meal plan is they might be napping from excitement. Meal planning isn’t the most exciting activity in the world, quite frankly I don’t like it because I have to figure out what we’re going to eat on what day a whole week ahead. 

This is where we go back to our initial question of what’s for dinner if you think it’s challenging on a Tuesday night try coming up with what’s going to be for dinner on Sunday! Meal planning takes a bit of effort, but it doesn’t always need to be painful. The most important part is that you can save a lot of money, enough to take a vacation or possibly balance your budget. 

Now for the ever-important question: what is a meal plan? Very simply before you go grocery shopping you figure out what meals you plan to make during the upcoming week. Then based on your meal ideas you create your grocery list. This helps with the dreaded daily question of what’s for dinner and when you’re in the grocery store you know exactly what you need instead of just cramming your cart with food that you may or may not eat.  

Growing up food just appeared on the dinner table and I ate it. My parents always made the food and from what I could tell there wasn’t a great deal of meal planning. There was a little but not a ton. Conversely, I never learned about meal plans or even planning out what my weekly groceries would look like and had to learn it the hard way. Groceries were thrown out when they went bad and over the years I got better at planning and answering the dreaded question what’s for dinner, and fewer groceries went to waste. 

In the process of learning to meal plan, I realized that it has some benefits, real tangible benefits. 

  • Save time by only shopping once
  • Reduce the cost of food
  • Reduce the need to eat out
  • Reduce food waste
  • Eat healthier
  • Removes the stress of what’s for dinner

By meal planning, it gives you control over the food you eat rather than simply reacting to being hungry. I have never been one for diets or watching what I eat in detail, but it has let me eat a little healthier. For those people that are more conscious of their diets for whatever reason, meal planning gives you all the control you need to stay on that diet. 

Saving Money with the meal plan

I started meal planning because of the waste and how that impacted the pocketbook. How does it save you money:

  • Cost of food – If you know what you need at the grocery store you can only buy the groceries that you need. To top that off you can pick meals to take advantage of the food that is in your pantry and fridge. 
  • Cost of eating out – It reduces that need to eat out because you have no idea what to eat. I like to eat out so for me it’s not going to stop me from doing it because I enjoy it. But what it will do is it will reduce my need to eat out. 

How do you meal plan?

Meal planning can and should probably be as simple as you can make it, the more complicated that you make it the less benefit you will see in the short term. I keep the meal planning very simple at our household I follow these simple steps:

  1. On 1 sheet of paper, I write down the days of the week
  2. On a separate sheet of paper, I start the grocery list
  3. Next, I start filling in recipes on the first sheet that we’ll make on what day
  4. Finally, I figure out what items I need to make those items

The process takes me about 30-45 minutes, maybe a little longer if we need to find a recipe or want to try something new. Another option is to use a pre-printed list that accomplishes the same thing and you can find them on Amazon or an erasable fridge magnet (both good ideas, I’m just stuck with my notebook)

Sticking with the meal plan

The key like with most items is you need to stick with it to truly see the benefits. If you meal plan once, save 50$ on your grocery bill then go back to the way you always did things defeats the purpose. Meal planning takes some time and effort, it’s not hard and if you’ve never done it, it will seem strange and you will get things wrong (I know I still do).

At the end of the day if you can save yourself even $25 on your grocery bill per week it makes a big difference in the long run. While it seems pretty small that $25 adds up to $1,300 a year and that isn’t anything to ignore especially as times are tougher for a lot of people right now. Do you meal plan? What challenges have you run into? Were you able to save on your groceries?

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