Check out this simple guide to meal planning on a budget. Start saving money on groceries, saving time, and eating healthy with these free meal planning printables.
A few years ago, I had a problem. I was wasting food like crazy.
Every couple of weeks, I’d find shriveled cucumbers in the back of my fridge, an unopened leaking package of chicken breasts, far too many old deli meats to count, moldy bell peppers…you get the picture.
Each Sunday I was spending my hard earned money at the grocery store only to throw the food into the trash a few weeks later. I was also spending a lot of money at restaurants (despite spending a fortune at the grocery store).
I knew something had to change because I wanted to get on a stricter budget to start aggressively paying off my debt. Food was always one of my biggest expenses. It was also an expense that I could change overnight. So this was a great starting point.
I tried every food saving tip I could think of. They certainly helped. But the single most effective way to save money on food was to meal plan. That’s right. I became a 25-year old meal planning nut.
I was shocked at how easy it was and I was shocked at how much money it saved. I hope to share this easy way to save money with you today.
Why should you meal plan?
- It saves you time! Meal planning is NOT a 2-hour Sunday activity. You can do it in minutes (especially with my free printables…keep scrolling!).
- A few minutes spent each week (or month) can save you so much time by eliminating the “what should we eat today” debates and the extra trips to the grocery store for missing ingredients.
- It saves you money! You’re not going to be throwing away food (aka money) when you meal plan. There isn’t going to be any unplanned trips to a restaurant or drive-through.
- It reduces your stress! I love knowing what I’m going to eat each day. Can you imagine not having the stress of figuring out what to eat every day…especially when you’re exhausted after a full day of work? Let me tell you, it’s great.
- It makes you healthier! Meal planning makes it easy to introduce healthier meals into your life. Also, you aren’t grabbing that pizza on your way home from work.
- Must I go on?
Who should meal plan?
One of the biggest misconceptions I had about meal planning was that it was only for a home-schooling mom with 8 kids. So not true!
I’ve successfully meal planned as a single person living alone. And I now successfully meal plan as a married person for just my husband and me.
Everybody can (and should) meal plan, especially if they are trying to save money and time.
**Step-by-step guide to meal planning**
1. Download my free meal planning templates
You can’t meal plan in your head (trust me, I’ve tried). You need to write it down. Sign up in the box below and you’ll get the following printables emailed to you (1 each day):
1st Printable/Day: Weekly Meal Planner Template with Grocery List – A template to help you plan breakfast, lunch, dinner, and snacks each day of the week. Also includes space for a grocery list.
2nd Printable/Day: Favorite Recipes – This is the *key* to meal planning. This printable encourages you to write down your favorite recipes so that you can refer to them when meal planning
3rd Printable/Day: Weekly Food Journal – Get healthier by tracking your food, calories, and water intake with this handy printable.
Grab 3 Meal-Planning Printables in 3 days!
Let's make it easy to save money and time! You'll get three worksheets delivered to your inbox over three days: templates for your weekly meal plan, your favorite recipes, and a food journal.
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2. Pick one day each week to meal plan
I weekly meal plan for 5-10 minutes every Sunday right before I go to the grocery store.
Find a day and time that works best for you. Maybe your Monday morning subway commute? Maybe Thursday night when you are watching your favorite shows?
3. Make a list of your favorite meals
Like I mentioned earlier, the key to meal planning is having a list of your favorite meals (breakfast, lunch, and dinner) and using it as a reference as you plan your meals for the week.
You only need to make this list once (don’t do this step each week!). However, as you find new favorite meals, you can add to your favorites list.
If you sign up for the meal planning printables above, on the second day you’ll get a worksheet to help you organize your favorite recipes.
4. Plan each meal for each day of the week using the weekly meal planning printable
For every meal (breakfast, lunch, and dinner), write down what dish you are going to eat. In the printable there is also some room to write down what snacks you want to eat…because snacks are a mandatory part of every day, right?
Don’t forget to include meals that are just leftovers, meals that you eat out, or the super simple meals where you are just heating up a can of soup.
How to meal plan on a budget
Meal planning will save you so much money – it will completely transform your food budget. But, can you take your money savings to the next level? Sure you can…here are some of my suggestions on how to do that:
- Look what’s already in your fridge and pantry first. Before you sit down to meal plan, glance inside your fridge and pantry. Have a couple frozen chicken breasts and a can of corn?…you can certainly make that into a meal (or two) without spending a dime at the store.
- Find affordable recipes. I recently wrote about my favorite budget-friendly food blogs – these sites are life-savers with delicious and cheap recipes.
- Save inside the grocery store. Check out my post on How to Save Money on Groceries: 50 Budget-Friendly Tips.
- Plan your restaurant meals. Planning out my restaurant meals gives me a meal to look forward to and encourages me to actually stick with my meal plan.
- Save your receipts. Use the iBotta app to save money after the grocery store (it’s super easy to sign up, and then all you have to do is take a picture of your receipt and cash will magically appear in your account. no joke.)
- Get your groceries delivered. But doesn’t it cost money to get my groceries delivered? Yes, it does…but think about how much money you’ll save by not stepping into the store! All those extra snacks, last minute grabs at the check-out line, the gas it takes to drive to the store (and, don’t forget about the time it takes to drive and shop).
But what if I’m super lazy and don’t want to meal plan?
We’ve all been there. While meal planning only takes a few minutes, sometimes we don’t have a few minutes. And sometimes, we just need a little inspiration from others. Well I’ve got the perfect for you – the Five Dollar Meal Plan.
Each week, the Five Dollar Meal Plan will send you an email with a pdf. Each meal plan includes 10 meals, with ingredients, simple directions, and the amount of time required to make the meal. There is also a shopping list(!) for each week – I find this a HUGE time saver.
The meals are also very delicious. I simply love how it has expanded my meal options (I used to eat the same 5 meals over and over again).
They also have a fun little feature where you can browse all of their dishes, select the ones you want to make this week, and then they will send you a pdf of your chose meal’s ingredients, directions, AND a shopping list. So cool.
Best part? You can grab a free 14-day free trial to Five Dollar Meal Plans! After that, it’s only five dollars every month. Trust me, it’ll save you way more money (and time) than the $5/month it costs.
Meal planning saves you money
Whether you are trying to pay off debt, save for a big purchase, or stash more money away in your retirement accounts, meal planning will get you there faster (and less stressed, and probably a little healthier).
Simply put, meal planning will save you money. And you can implement this money saving hack RIGHT NOW.
Do you meal plan? Do you find that it saves you money?