Meal Planning For Beginners

One of my absolute top tips for living a frugal life and paying off debt is to meal plan! "Yeah, yeah, okay, Kels. But how?" Well my darling, here is how I meal plan from start to finish, every time I grocery shop!

1. Decide When/Where to Shop

This is my number one for good reason. If you don't know where you'll be shopping and how often, you won't be able to execute the rest of the plan. Try to shop somewhere that is close, has good prices, and has what you need. As much as I love buying organic, shopping locally, and eating healthy, my budget for groceries is not Whole Foods approved. I do love Aldi for inexpensive, healthy food, but my sons have restrictive diets and I end up having to go to Walmart to grab a few things anyways, so we just shop solely at Walmart and Costco now. If we have a week where we only need a few things (like during our pantry challenge weeks), we do go to Aldi for produce and snacks.

The other part of this, is to decide how often to shop. For years, we got paid bi-weekly, so it made sense to shop bi-weekly. Now, we get paid weekly, but it was harder to maintain my budget with weekly grocery shopping. I was buying smaller quantity items and it ended up costing more overall, so I went back to what I know. I actually do a full monthly meal plan, then shop bi-weekly. It just works for me! Do what works for you!

2. Shop Your Pantry

Just as you should pay yourself every month (savings), you should also use the food you have on hand. Not only will you save money, but you will reduce food waste and avoid a cluttered pantry. Start by going through your fridge, freezer, and pantry with a notebook. Write down all the meals you can make completely with what you have on hand. Then, see what ingredients you have that can be made into a meal with supplements from the grocery store. Not the other way around! Got some pasta & sauce on hand? Add a salad or frozen veggies with some bread and BAM! Got some noodles, frozen peppers and soy sauce? BAM, stir fry. See where I'm going with this? Please don't make me say bam again.

3. Check Your Calendar/Theme Your Meal Plan

When I begin my monthly meal plan, I pull out my calendar. Any special events like birthdays or holidays this month? Date nights? 5 weeks to plan for instead of 4?  This will help you know how many days you actually have to plan for!

I like to use a theme for each day of the week. For instance, Sunday's are crock pot days. I want the least amount of work as possible Sunday, as it is our day of rest. Something I can throw in the crock pot before church and have dinner ready around 5. Saturday's are pizza and salad, complete with a movie and popcorn. You get the picture. This will help you to narrow down your recipes, see how much time you have on each day, and get a nice variety. No one wants to eat the same thing all week long.

4. Start Plugging In Pantry Meals

Once I have my calendar set up, I start plugging in the meals I have in my pantry. Pretty much every single month, the first week is full of pantry meals. You get busy, something comes up, life happens. It's nice to have a week of meals already in your cupboard, that helps cut down on your bill.

5. Shop Sales + In Season

After you've shopped your pantry, next you will need to see what is on sale. Now, if you shop at Aldi, Kroger, places that have weekly sales, this is gonna save quite a bit. If you're like us, who shops at Walmart, they don't exactly have sale, BUT if you're buying what's in season, it will be much cheaper! So, if chicken is on sale at Aldi, make the majority of your meals with chicken. Summertime? Buy berries and melons as your snacks.

Compile your list of sale items and in season items and start coming up with a list of meals to match your themes. For instance, if there is chicken on sale, for taco night we will do chicken ranch tacos. For crock pot night, chicken noodle soup. For sheet pan night, chicken and veggies, etc. Try to use as many of the sale/in season items to complete your meal plan.

Don't forget to plan your breakfasts, lunches, and snacks as well! We pretty much eat the same things each week, like cereal, eggs, PB sandwiches, snack veggies and fruit. They're inexpensive, healthy, and fairly quick to throw together!

6. Leftovers + Eating Out

Something I never included in my meal plans in the very beginning was a meal out and leftovers. Even if you're paying off debt, you should still have a few bucks in the budget each week for a meal out. Even if it's just a burger and fries once or twice a month. If you have it on the calendar, it is something to look forward to and pushes you to get to that day.

Leftovers are a stupid easy one! I usually double my recipes because its only a few pennies more. If I am making taco soup, I add in a few extra cans of beans and tomatoes and BOOM, a whole other meal. We also take them for lunches. I usually have breakfast/leftovers one night a week on my meal plans. If we have leftovers, we eat them. If not, just eat some eggs or waffles and fruit.

7. Compile Your List

Now, you have all your meals, time to make your grocery list. Remember to never go to the store hungry and stick to your list. Or, if you're like me, and obsessed with Walmart Grocery pick up, for it's easiness and avoids impulse shopping, plug that puppy in and get your groceries ordered.

8. Coupons/Reward Apps

I'm not a huge coupon user. I used to be, before things got all extreme, but now the majority of what I buy does not have coupons. However, once you have your list, be sure to check and make sure there aren't coupons or offers on what you're already buying or brands to consider. If you shop at places like Kroger, they have tons of coupons linked right to your Kroger card. They have tons of store brand coupons. Also, check Coupons.Com Sometimes, with the coupon, the name brand is cheaper than the store brand.

Be sure to check iBotta too! If you buy items that are featured, you scan, upload your receipt, and get money back. They even now have Aldi on there, as well as Walmart Grocery Pick Up! I just got $3 back on my pick up order.

Okay guys, that's all I've got for meal planning! I hope this was helpful to you! Do you meal plan? What tips do you have? Leave them in the comments below!