Personally, I don’t have a set way to meal plan. Some weeks I’ll rigidly meal plan, other weeks I’ll do some reverse meal planning. When I’m feeling especially brave, I’ll try to meal plan the whole month by freezer cooking. But when I’m rushed for time, I turn to reverse meal planning.
A while ago I wrote a post that went into detail on exactly how I meal plan. If you want an extremely intricate breakdown of how to do this, you might want to read that post. This series is going to highlight different ways of meal planning on a budget.
Reverse Meal Planning on a Budget
Reverse meal planning is likely the easiest way to meal plan. Essentially, you head to the store, buy sale items and a few basics and then come home and plan your meals based on what you purchased. The beauty of this is that there’s no agonizing over every little detail before you head to the store, which I admit can be time consuming. This frees you up to purchase the best deals since you’re not limiting yourself to only shop according to the flyer.
There is one downfall:
You’re more likely to buy things that aren’t on your list – so if you don’t have a general idea of what you’re going to pair together, you may buy things you’re not going to use.
Now onto the good stuff!
Meal Planning Tips:
1. Buy items that make sense together. Remember your meal plan is going to be based on everything that’s in your cart. So if you have things that can’t be paired together, you’re probably going to be having some VERY interesting meals that week. I know that most nights our dinner plate looks like this: meat, veggie, starch. So I know to pick up a few bags of frozen veggies, some rice/potatoes/pasta to go along with the meats.
2. Purchase items that are versatile. You’re going to get the most bang for your buck if you can use the ingredient in more than one meal. Pasta can be served on the side or used in a casserole. Frozen veggies can be thrown in soup, a pot of chili or used in a stir fry. Chicken can be used in just about any dish in almost any way. Unless it’s a screaming good deal, I tend to not buy specialty items that are going to be tough to use in more than one dish when I’m meal planning on a budget.
3. Buy items at rock bottom prices. If you see an item at a stockup price, stock up – even if you don’t need 4 cans of crushed tomatoes for one week’s worth of dinners. It helps you meal plan in the coming weeks.
4. Write down everything you purchase. When you get home, write everything down (or use your receipt) and use a recipe website that lets you search by ingredient. I use Super Cook. Other alternatives are Recipe Matcher and Food Pair. Using one of these sites will make easy work of planning your meals and will help you find new recipes to switch up your dinner routine.
5. Plan your dinners. Use a wall calendar, a printed sheet from Word or good old pen and paper to write down your menu for the entire week. Be sure to account for busy nights and try to plan the quickest meals for those nights. Some people like to group their ingredients together in baskets which I think is a super cool idea. I only wish I could be that organized! It’s a good idea to keep your menu plan in a place you can see it just so you don’t forget about your meal plan midweek (it’s happened to me before!).
Be Honest about your Time and your Habits
Let me get real with you for a second. I’m human. I get tired. I get lazy. Some nights I look at my clean kitchen and don’t want to mess it up by cooking and having to clean it all over again. I don’t have my stuff together every day. It happens. I’m not going to beat myself up if I miss a night of my menu plan.
With that said, the reason I do meal plan is to save money. Going out to dinner or ordering Pizza on these nights isn’t exactly frugal. This is why I’m such a believer in freezer cooking. I try to keep a few meals ready to go in the freezer. This way if I’m tired, lazy or don’t want to mess up my kitchen, I can just pull it out of the freezer and stick it in the oven with very little effort and virtually no clean up.
If this ends up happening, I’ll just tack on the meal I missed that night as an extra day of the menu plan so the food isn’t wasted.
When you’re meal planning on a budget, it’s not about perfection – it’s about saving money. If you miss a night … so what? Just be sure to have a frugal backup plan in advance. And yes, sandwiches do count as a backup plan in my book. But then again, I’m not a fancy cook. I think the biggest factor in successfully meal planning on a budget is knowing your habits as a cook and as a family.
Be sure to tune in to the next post to learn about another meal planning method! If you have any meal planning tips, I’d love for you to share them in the comments! Lets all learn from each other. 🙂