My family is on a budget. It was never our intention for me to be a stay at home mom, or to put my career on hold, but as we all know... sometimes life happens. Three weeks after the arrival of my son, I was informed that I wouldn't have a job to return to. Coupled with a difficult economy with scarce opportunities, a new plan was forged. And with it, a new budget where meal planning on a budget became key.
I know there are lots of families out there in similar situations, or perhaps you are looking at your food costs and thinking "did I really spend that much on groceries this month?" You might also be looking in your compost or green bin and thinking "did we really just throw out all of that food because it went bad before we used it?" If so, the 10 tips below on how to save money by using meal planning are for you!
First you need to begin by creating perfecting your weekly meal plan. It doesn't have to be fancy! Start with recipes you know, have breakfast for dinner (these Cheddar Cheese Pancakes are easy, fast & perfect for savoury dinners), or make sandwiches or wraps with a small sprinkle of a fun cheese or your favourite pickles on the side. If you are looking for more meal planning tips to get started, check out my post on 5 Essential Tips You Need to Meal Plan for Your Family and start by creating a list of your family's favourite meals, and then rotating those ideas across a month.
Next, you need to create your grocery list based on your meal plan. Often, once you know exactly what food you plan to make each week, that will help to drastically reduce grocery costs. But there are also some other things for you to consider when you are making your meal plan, and as you encounter leftovers or extra food throughout the week.
Below are ten tips to consider when creating that perfect meal plan that will help you to shave some money off your grocery bill!
1. Meal plan using what you have in your pantry or freezer.
At the beginning of meal planning every week or two, I will quickly take a look in my freezer and pantry to see what I already have on hand. Dried beans, grains, meats, things that simply need to be used up in the freezer, and freezer meals for those upcoming busy nights. I'll jot down a few ingredients and use these as my foundation for building a meal plan.
2. Have a plan for any leftovers.
There's nothing sadder to me than food waste. One obvious answer to dealing with leftover fruits and vegetables is to freeze them! If you're wondering how to prepare them for freezing, check out this great resource called What are Foods that Freeze Well.
You could also consider using leftovers creatively in a second meal. For example, we often will have a roast of beef and have used leftover in a pot roast soup, tacos, or even as a pizza topping. If we have leftover roasted chicken, we might use it in a chicken pot pie, soup or even as a salad or nacho dinner topping. Extra produce is great in stir fries, or design-your-own omelette nights for the family (which are lots of fun when kids can make their own custom creation).
If you really want to start thinking about creative ways to use leftover foods in everything from new recipes to household cleaners to save even more money, check out Tasty or Wasty for some great posts and fun videos on how to do this!
3. Shop the sales and/or use coupons.
Adjust the ingredients of your recipes based on sales that might be on to save even more money. In the winter months if I have a quiche or pizza recipe that asks for peppers, I will often substitute them for something cheaper like spinach or mushrooms to lower my grocery costs.
4. Stick to your grocery list and don't impulse purchase items.
Remember to ask yourself after you grab something impulsively off the shelves, and again before you check out - "do I really need this?" Another way to reduce grabbing impulse items is to shop online if this option is available to you.
5. Always have at least one pantry or freezer "quickie meal" on hand for emergencies to avoid eating out or ordering take-out for when a meal fails.
Everyone has one of those days. Maybe you're running late at work and you just don't have time to make the meal you planned, or perhaps you have a meal that fails right before you need to serve dinner. Think about having at least one emergency quickie meal on hand. We often keep a loaf of bread in the freezer, some frozen veggies, and canned soup. Something that can be pulled together in less than 10 minutes, preferably 5! We often have something like whole wheat grilled cheese with tomato soup, or even whole wheat rotini with fettuccine sauce and some defrosted peas and broccoli tossed in.
6. Batch cook and plan for leftovers (freezer meals).
If we know a busy week is coming up, we will often just double up one or two meals the week prior and then freeze half until they are needed the next week. If you want to see some of our favourite freezer meals, check out the post on How to Make Your Own Freezer Meals: Part 1. The Sloppy Joe's recipe also freezes well, as do the Beef Kofta Burgers.
7. Don't plan to have a meal every single day of the week. Instead, plan a "leftovers meal" at the end of the week to clean out the fridge.
A leftovers meal might look like a multilayered salad, stir fry, nacho platter, quiche, or even an omelette night where all extra produce is used up. Fruit salads also make wonderful accompaniments to the meal, or as part of a weekend breakfast. Freeze breads, meats and hard cheeses before expiry dates. Add these items to your meal plan for the following week and defrost them as needed.
8. Pack food for your family when you go out of the house to eat lunches, snacks or even for a day excursion.
Convenience and take-out foods add up! Think and plan ahead when possible. If your schedule is hectic, plan to batch cook a few items in advance. Granola, a healthier version of Chex Mix, and fresh hand-held fruits are great options. For other ideas, you can check out my post on Kid Approved Snack Ideas for three easy recipes that can be made ahead (the bread and muffins can be frozen until needed).
9. Plan to use ingredients that are in season or are more affordable.
Groceries are expensive, and produce is even more costly when it's not "in season". You might think that fruits and vegetables aren't available year-round because of winter, but many items can be stored for long periods of time in refrigerated facilities making them "in season" longer than the growing season itself. If you're curious about what's available in Ontario, Canada seasonally, you can check out this link to the Availability Guide for Produce by Foodland Ontario.
10. Use ingredients across more than one meal
When you're meal planning, think about what produce you are buying and if you will use each ingredient up in the recipe(s) you are making. For example, if you're buying a bag of baby spinach, you might use it in a quiche, and then use the rest of it as side salad(s), in these amazing Spinach & Cheddar Chive Scones from Weelicious (we use 50% whole wheat flour), or even in this easy Spinach Pesto recipe later in the week.
Meal Planning Resources I Use:
1. 5 Essential Tips You Need to Meal Plan for Your Family (Includes: Weekly Meal Planner with Shopping List)
What are your best tips for saving money when it comes to meal planning? Let us know in the comments below and join the discussion!