One of the best ways to stick to your food budget is to learn how to meal plan for the month.
Creating a simple meal plan for the month allows us to eliminate meal time decision fatigue and stick to a predictable grocery list and budget of $100/week.
It’s not always as easy as creating your meal plan though, you also have to stick to it!
There are a few time saving tips and hacks that we use to make meal planning easier and keep us on budget each month.
I spent the entire weekend cleaning out our pantry and our refrigerator, and I thought it would be a really good time to share what we do for meal planning and some of the things that we eat during the week that keep us on a budget of under $100 per week for groceries.
Before we started our debt-free journey, we used to eat out as entertainment.
We’d go out at least once a week, like every Friday night. Sometimes Friday and Saturday.
We were not strangers to fast food for lunch. Several times a week, we would go, especially with the kids, to McDonald’s or whatever.
Getting on a budget, and completely stopping the eating out, stopping restaurants, stopping fast food has not only made us much healthier, but has saved us hundreds of dollars a month.
We don’t do any crazy extreme couponing or anything like that.
Related: 50+ Ideas for Living Frugal
Plan Ahead before you go to the store
I’m sure that you’ve heard many times that the best way to save money on your groceries is to plan ahead and make a list before you go to the grocery store.
That’s exactly what we do.
I can’t take all the credit. My husband is really awesome at doing the grocery list, and he is the one that went through and initially planned all of our meals out.
Related: One Week of Frugal Meals
Create a Simple Meal Plan for the Month (and repeat!)
Something a little bit weird that we do is we eat pretty much the same thing on a four-week rotation.
So a lot of you might be like, “That’s really boring.” But it’s what works for us because it eliminates a lot of the planning and the wondering what to eat.
Neither of us are a chef at all, so we eat some pretty basic stuff. We have a meal plan that’s about four week. At the end, we go back to the beginning, and we rotate back through.
Related: Meal Planning Ideas on a Budget
Eat Leftovers to Save Time and Money
Another thing that we do that saves us a lot of money and a lot of time during the week is I only cook three times a week.
So on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday night, I cook.
We double the recipe, and the next day, we eat the leftovers.
This is huge time saver because we have three little kids that require a lot of attention in the afternoon, and trying to prepare a huge meal seven nights a week does not work for me.
Plus, I don’t love cooking, so I prefer to do it only every other day.
Then, on Sunday night, we usually have something really simple or just a one-night meal.
Keep Frozen Pizzas or Freezer Meals Handy (Just in Case!)
Another thing that we do is we try to keep frozen pizzas on hand.
If we get in a pinch or have a really busy night or people are sick, we just don’t get around to cooking,
If we have frozen pizzas or sandwich stuff on hand, we aren’t tempted to order out.
Grocery Shop Once a Week for Less Waste
We usually do one big grocery trip a week. Then, we do a second smaller trip to restock on produce, more apples and bananas, bread, milk, little things like that that we run out of really quick.
We go through a lot of milk and apples and bananas.
Luckily, apples and bananas are some of the cheapest fruit. So I don’t mind them going through a bunch of those.
One thing that is really great about our strict meal plan is that it eliminates the amount of groceries that we keep stocked in the house.
The good thing about that is, because we’re in our 1,000-square-foot house, we also have a super small pantry. It does not have room for extra stuff.
It has room for the basics that we need. We have, pretty much, what we need for our meals this week and, then, a couple other things that are always on hand, like cooking spray, sugar, salt, spices, and that kind of stuff.
For the most part, we have what we are going to use to make our meals this week. And, of course, dry ingredients, like pasta, beans, rice. Those things are really inexpensive, and we try to use those in our meals as much as possible.
Portion Large Snack Containers into Bags or Containers for the Kids
Another thing that we do is pre-portion our kids’ snacks so that they’re really quick to grab and go.
This is more like a time-saving hack instead of a money-saving hack.
I guess it does kind of save money because instead of just digging into the chip bag or whatever and eating, you get a little portioned bag.
This saves a lot of time because, when we’re making our kids’ lunches in the morning, we can just grab these.
My son also has to take a snack in the afternoon at school.
It’s ready to go, and I can just throw it in his backpack.
At the top of the cabinet, I usually keep my husband’s snacks or any snacks that are specific to us that we don’t want the kids the get into, like our secret candy stash.
Keep Pantry and Fridge Organized to eliminate Food Waste or Purchasing Duplicate Items
Our pantry is really small, and it’s deep to the back.
I try to keep it as organized as possible. But what happens is a lot of stuff gets shoved to the back.
I think maybe a lazy Susan would be really helpful in organizing our pantry.
For now, this is working, and since I just got it all cleaned out, hopefully I can keep it organized like this for now.
As far as the refrigerator goes, again, it looks really sparce, but that’s just because we only have what we’re going to need for this week.
My husband eats a lot of yogurt and cottage cheese, things like that, for protein for his snack.
We have bread, butter, milk, waters, and a lot of cheese, cheese sticks, things like that.
Then, we actually like to send our kids to school with these LunchMakers.
They are much cheaper than Lunchables, and they are basically the same thing.
Those are a little bit more cost effective. Again, I would love for my kids to eat super-healthy meals, but I’ve tried. It’s just not working for us right now. I’ll keep trying. But no promises there.
Related: Back to School Lunch Ideas for Kids
Tonight, I’m actually making these frozen raviolis. It’s super easy, quick, with pasta sauce.
That ends up being really inexpensive meal. Of course, we’ll make enough for two nights, and we’ll eat it tomorrow as well. And I also make polenta on the side which is new to me, but it’s really good. I don’t know why it’s good. It’s corn meal and water and Parmesan cheese. But, oh, my gosh, it’s really good. So we’ll have that tonight.
Then, tomorrow, we’re going to have sesame chicken with rice. Again, we double it and have it for two nights.
Then, on Friday, we have slow cooker French dip sandwiches which are really good.
This Week’s Meal Plan:
- Monday: Ravioli
- Tuesday: Leftovers
- Wednesday: Sesame Chicken
- Thursday: Leftovers
- Friday: French Dip Sandwiches
- Saturday: Leftovers
- Sunday: Frozen Pizza
One more thing I wanted to show you guys is what we do for breakfast for the kids.
We do frozen, easy chocolate-chip waffles, pancakes, sometimes cinnamon toast. Really, that’s about it.
Purchase Meat in Bulk, Portion, and Freeze
Also, we always get our meat from Costco.
Usually, only once every other month we have to get it. Then, I portion it into four and six-ounce chicken. My husband eats six ounce and I eat four-ounce portions. This saves money because it’s portion controlled.
We put it in baggies, and then we freeze it and use it for our meals, also ground beef.
Pretty much everything we eat is either ground beef or chicken.
We have one meal, pork tacos. It’s so good, but we just buy that in a little thing. It’s super cheap. It ends up being like $3.00 for a thing for two nights of tacos.
Also, for our French dip sandwiches, we get some kind of sirloin meat. I’m not really sure. We use those to make our shredded French dip sandwiches that are so good.
That is our super-small frugal kitchen and our meals that we eat in a week!
We do not budget for eating out anymore while we’re getting out of debt. And, believe me, I look forward to a time when we do go out to eat more frequently because I don’t love cooking. But I think I’m getting a little bit better at it.
Definitely, it’s fun to find new recipes that our family likes and also new ways to save money on groceries.