If the thought of meal planning stresses you out, you’re not alone. Creating a meal plan on a budget can be even harder.
But, sorry to say, you need one. Why? Well, let me take you back. Probably to last week or so.
Have you ever been wandering around the grocery store desperately trying to figure out what to buy for dinners the following week & you notice chicken thighs are on sale? Then you grab some ingredients for that one chicken recipe you saw a few weeks ago. Then you get home and realize you don’t have the right stuff. And you forgot to get enough to last through the week. And you end up getting pizza. Yeah. Me too.
Meal planning stresses me out. It just does. My husband is picky, my daughter is starting to eat solids, we’re on a budget, & I’m preparing to attempt to move towards clean eating.
So every other week when I went shopping for our groceries I’d wander aimlessly around the aisles of Walmart grabbing this or that with no real plan. I ended up buying stuff I didn’t need, never had the ingredients I actually needed, & way too many times just told my husband to pick up some takeout. Yikes. Talk about bad for the budget!
If this sounds all too familiar, then I’m ecstatic to share a few sanity-saving tips with you that have made dinner time a breeze… at least as much as it can be with kiddos!
Meal planning can seem daunting! But I have learned that a good usable meal plan should be 3 things:
Are you ready to change your dinner time struggles? Let’s do it!
Setting a Budget
First & foremost, a grocery budget needs to be set. If you already have a budget going, fantastic!
If not, I generally follow Dave Ramsey’s ideologies & he recommends the food budget (which I include toiletries & household goods in this number as well) be set between 5 – 15% of your total income.
For example, if your household’s bi-weekly paycheck is $2000, you can set your food budget anywhere between $100 – 300 for that pay period.
Okay, so you may be sitting here thinking “there’s no way I can bring my grocery bill that low.”
Well, don’t click away just yet because I’m going to help you get there!
I spend approximately $80-120 every two weeks on groceries for two adults & one baby eating solids. But HOW???
Meal planning, online grocery pickup, & determination to maintain our budget.
How to Shop Bi-Weekly
Since my husband gets paid every two weeks, I buy groceries biweekly.
Biweekly grocery shopping may seem like an impossible chore, but with well-laid plans along with a few simple tips, it can be done!
- Buy in bulk
- Purchase family packs of meat, divide portions into ziplock bags, & freeze
- Use frozen vegetables for sides (all the goodness of preservation without the canned taste)
- Plan meals that are better with fresh produce for the 1st week (roasted veggies, for example)
- Figure up how much your family drinks in a day (bottles of water, glasses of tea, etc.) & ensure you purchase enough to last the 2 weeks
Setting Up your Meal Planner
Okay, now for the true task at hand: setting up the planner.
I’ve tried several methods of meal planning, but my favorite & current method is a Trello board.
If you haven’t tried Trello, it’s a fabulous organization tool available online & as an app. And it’s free!
This is what my personal meal planner looks like:
I have listed all of my favorite meals under their respective categories. The categories I personally use are:
- Miscellaneous (for things such as red beans & rice)
- Special Occasion Dinners
For each recipe I add, I’m able to type up the ingredients needed, link to the recipe online, & add photos.
This saves so much time when it comes time to make up my grocery list!
If you prefer pen & paper, write out a master recipe list in a planner or bullet journal using your preferred categories. If you go this route, I do recommend creating a Pinterest board solely for your meal plan recipes to reduce time spent searching for them.
Need help setting your planner up? Here’s how I do it!
Putting Your Meal Plan to Use
Each payday, I sit down & decide which 10 meals I want to cook for the next two weeks.
- Chicken quesadillas w/ corn
- Slow cooker potato soup & grilled cheese
- Taco stuffed shells
- Baked chicken breasts w/ potatoes & green beans
- Meatballs & tortellini pasta
- Cheesy chicken & rice casserole
- Pork loin chops w/ navy beans
- Beef tips w/ gravy
- Mississippi pot roast
- Chicken fried rice
This gives me meals for 10 days. The remaining four days are two leftover days & two eat out days.
In my Trello board, I drag the 10 recipes I choose to my “Bi-Weekly Meals” column for quick reference throughout the two weeks.
I try to plan meals that use similar ingredients or make enough for leftovers. I buy big bags of frozen chicken breasts for a majority of my chicken meals! a 3-lb bag in my area costs approximately $7 and lasts me 3-4 meals.
Meal Planning for Breakfast
I typically eat the same 3 things for breakfast & graze for lunches. My daughter eats off of my plate along with organic baby food or Greek yogurt with smashed berries.
My breakfast options consist of Special K cereal with sliced bananas, 2 fried eggs with diced sweet potatoes & chicken apple sausage, or scrambled eggs with half a salt & peppered avocado.
And coffee. Always some coffee.
Meal Planning for Lunches
For lunches, I tend to buy things I can grab & eat while swarming around the house like a madwoman.
My top picks are salami, string cheese, Cuties, & occasionally I’ll make myself a sandwich or eat leftovers.
I realize I’ll have to make more substantial lunches soon once my daughter begins to solely eat table food, but for now, this works.
If you prefer a more sit down lunch, you can do salads (buy a big bag of lettuce & put a paper towel in the container to prevent soggy greens), grilled cheeses, sandwiches with fruit, or wraps.
Staying in the Budget
Now for the tough part: staying within your budget!
I struggled with this big time until I decided to give the miracle of grocery pickup a try.
Y’all! Not only do I not have to fight a crowded store with a baby, but I’m also able to see exactly how much I’m spending as I add items to my cart!
No more fighting with my calculator on my phone while pushing a buggy & wondering if I left something off my total!
No more temptations of deviating from my set grocery list!
Hal – le – lu – jah!!!
Here are some other tips & tricks I use to stay in budget
- As mentioned earlier, buy meat in family packs, separate in baggies, & freeze
- See what proteins are on sale that week & plan meals around those
- Buy cheaper cuts of meat; check Pinterest for ideas on how to use them well
- Use cheap fillers to make a full meal such as beans, rice, grits, or frozen vegetables
- If you find yourself dumping sour milk too often, buy organic milk. It’s more expensive, but it lasts for nearly 2 months before souring
- Repurpose leftovers into other meals (leftover veggies can be added to eggs for a yummy omelet)
- Do not fear the store brand!!
Implementing the Meal Plan
The meals for the week(s) have been chosen. The proper groceries bought & put away. What now?
Use the thing!
Obvious? Probably. But I for one am so guilty of making things to help my productivity & immediately forgetting they exist.
If you use a Trello board, put the app on your phone next to your most used app. Set a reminder every morning to plan that evening’s dinner.
If you use paper, whip out a magnet and slap that thing on the fridge! Even better if you slip it into a page protector to use with a dry erase marker.
Feeling motivated? Good! Get going & make dinner time just one less thing you have to stress over!
If you need more good mama motivation, be sure to sign up for my email list!
What is your biggest struggle when it comes to organization at home? Leave a comment & let me know!
Until next time!