Learn how to save money on groceries with a few minutes of meal planning each week. Learn why it works, how to do it most effectively, some cool websites and apps to help, and grab your FREE Meal Planner printable at the end of this post.
How to Save Money on Groceries with Meal Planning
Last month, when I asked you on Instagram what your biggest hurdle was when it came to sticking to a budget, over 50% of you pointed to groceries, food or eating out. After housing expenses and childcare, food is the largest item in most family budgets - this also makes it your one of the largest areas you can find savings! And meal planning is the most effective way to do it.
How to Save Money on Groceries
In 25+ Way to Save $500, groceries was an entire category of its own. I shared 7 different ways to reduce your grocery bill:
- Consolidate your grocery trips
- Meal plan
- Make a list
- Buy whole foods
- Shop seasonally and specials
- Buy in bulk
- Make your own cleaning products
Effective meal planning actually allows you to incorporate 6 out of the 7 ways to save money on groceries. Here's how it works...
How Meal Planning Saves Money on Groceries
Right now, your food routine goes something like this. You go to the grocery store for one big trip once every week or two, and then when you actually think about what to cook on a given day, you have to make an extra trip for an ingredient or two you're missing. You waste time and money, because of course you don't only buy the couple ingredients you need.
Or maybe, you don't bother making the extra trip at all, and just throw in the towel and order take out. This costs about twice as much as cooking at home, plus the cost of the food in your fridge now likely to end up in the trash.
Meal planning eliminates all of the above. By sitting down for 15 minutes each week, you can plan out a week's worth of meals that use what you have on hand first, generate a list to fill in the missing ingredients, and make one trip to the store for all of it.
Not only do you save money, you also save time, brain power and maybe even a few extra pounds.
5 Steps to Efficient Meal Planning
You want to establish meal planning as a regular, weekly habit. Set a specific day of the week and time you will sit down to make your plan. Set aside 15-30 minutes to plan. Then follow these 5 steps to meal plan and save the most money on groceries.
Check Your Inventory
Before you do anything else, survey your fridge, freezer and pantry for what you have on hand. Use what you already have first to eliminate waste.
Most grocery stores distribute weekly circulars either via the local newspaper, mail and most also post them online. They list the best deals available each week. When getting ready to meal plan, focus on the week's meat and produce specials.
I'm also a huge fan of online grocery ordering - whether you do delivery or pick-up - because it makes shopping specials so easy. They are often called out for you separately.
Know What's in Season
While seasonal produce is often what's on special, in-season produce is in overall less expensive that produce imported over long distances or grown in greenhouses offseason. Not only is it less expensive, it also has higher nutrition content. The USDA provides a great seasonal produce chart you can reference for this purpose.
If it's not in season, buy frozen. This is a great money saving tip shared by one of my followers, Nourished with Emily, who is also a registered dietician:
Buy frozen fruits and vegetables to save money on produce when they aren't in season. Frozen produce is picked at the peak of freshness and has higher nutrient content than the out of season produce, as well as being cheaper
Plan Your Menu
Now, after taking into account your existing inventory, online specials and what's in season, it's time to start looking for recipes. It's also advantageous to your budget to look for recipes that use similar ingredients you can combine in different ways so you can buy in bulk.
As an example, you might make bolognese sauce one night, and use the leftovers to make lasagna the next. Or consider having the same side grain or vegetable a few nights each week to buy large quantities for less.
You don't have to cook every night, if your schedule doesn't permit for it. But by thinking ahead, you can plan meals to have leftovers for nights you are short on time, or batch cook things like protein and produce to make for quick meals later in the week. It's also perfectly fine to plan a night you eat out every week - but the key is to plan and budget for it, so you don't leave food (and money) to go to waste.
Many families start just by planning out dinners, but you can also do the same process for all three meals each day.
Make Your Grocery List
As you add meals to your weekly meal plan, add the ingredients you don't already have in inventory to your grocery list. I like to make my list by category, so I don't miss anything as I walk through the store.
With your menu made and your list complete, it's time to head for the store.
Meal Planning Resources
To help you plan your menu, be sure to grab your free weekly menu planner and grocery list below.
FREE Weekly Menu Planner Printable
Click below to access it from the
FREE Family Finance Mom library.
Here you will find the printable PDF with the Weekly Menu Planner & Grocery List to help you get started with meal planning and lowering your grocery bill!
If planning your own menu each week and figuring out the grocery list seems overwhelming, there are some other online resources available that can help make the process easier.
FREE Weekly Meal Plans from Real Moms
Last year, I worked with a few of my favorite fellow mom bloggers to put together a few weeks' worth of meal plans. These are great examples to help you get started. See all the Real Moms Best Weekly Meal Plans here.
Sample Menus from the USDA
The US Department of Agriculture publishes several helpful resources to help you get started as well. Check out these sample 2-week menus for those on a budget, as well as their Tasty and Low-Cost Recipe database. Each recipe is ranked by cost, and you can assemble your favorites into a printable cookbook!
The USDA also publishes monthly food cost summaries. It breaks down the average food cost for families at four different budget levels, from thrifty to liberal budgets, and by size of your family and age of your kids. See how your monthly grocery budget compares!
Build a Menu
My cousin, who is a super mom of 4, uber-frugal and one of my biggest followers, swears by BuildAMenu.com. You can choose from two different subscription options - build your own plan or have pre-made meal plans and shopping lists sent directly to you. In the build your own plan, you choose from their large recipe database to build your weekly plan, and then they spit out a grocery list for you.
If you shop at Fred Meyer, HEB, Kroger, Publix, Safeway or Wal-Mart, they even price the ingredients in your shopping list. If not, you can choose the "any grocery store" option and still get menus and shopping lists.
They are currently running a special for $4.99 / month for their monthly subscription service. Thanks for the tip, Kristina!
Paprika was also recommended to me by a follower. It's an app you can use on your computer or your phone. You can save recipes from anywhere on the internet to add to your weekly menu plans, and it will import the ingredients to your grocery list.
You can create meal plans for a week or a month, sync data across your devices, and have your plan and grocery list emailed to you for printing or to save.
Do you have a favorite meal planning resource? Comment below and help all your fellow Family Finance Moms. You can also add to your weekly meal plan recipe arsenal by checking out my Real Mom Meals recipe board and find more Meal Planning resources here on Pinterest.