I used to think that meal planning is only for the "overly organized". Since our food budget has tightened considerably, however, I have realized that meal planning, apart from saving you from the pre-dinner scramble to put together a meal on the fly, can help you save a considerable amount of money
1. Planning Around Sales
When you plan your meals for the week, use your sales papers from your favorite store(s). If chicken is on sale, look around the ad to see what you could prepare to go with it to make a full meal. If there is a better than average sale on something, buy enough to make a double batch of the meal, and freeze the extra portion to use as a filler in another week's plan.
2. Avoid Over Spending in the Grocery Store
By planning ahead, you know exactly what groceries you need and how much you need to buy. If you stick to the grocery list you make from your meal plan, you will not over buy. Also, since you have a plan for everything you buy, you won't end up with food that has ruined before you can use it, which will reduce your food waste considerably.
3. Use What you Have
Everyone has weeks that are a little tighter than others. For those weeks, make your meal plans from what you have on hand. Go through the freezer, pantry, and refrigerator. If you have any of the extra batches of pre-made dinners we talked about when planning around sales, then you can experience not only a lighter food bill that week but also an easier week in the kitchen as those frozen meals turn into delightful homemade convenience meals.
4. Plan a Weekly Leftover Night
Plan on at least one leftover night per week. I usually plan mine for after a pasta night. That way, I can reheat the sauce, make fresh noodles, and have a leftover night that doesn't taste like a leftover night. Busy nights make great leftover days.
5. Eat Out Less Often
If you have a plan for dinner each night you will be much less likely to make impromptu restaurant trips. Before I started meal planning, it was very tempting to just load the kids into the car and go out to eat on those nights when I was having trouble deciding what to fix. We have gone from eating out once a week to only once a month, saving around $75 per month.
There are many methods you can use to keep up with your meal plans. I started out using the notebook method, where you simply write out your plan for the week on a piece of notebook paper. For me, this wasn't nearly ''official'' enough, and I found myself breaking plan more often than not. There are many great printables around for free (check Pinterest) and they seemed to work much better for me. Recently though, I found a meal planner from CarrieElle.com that has everything I look or in a planner.
Here is a picture of my new meal planner. It has weekly planner pages with built in shopping list that can be torn off and a monthly planner.