There is one sure-fire way to save money on the groceries week after week and that is meal planning.
All the other grocery savings tips fall second to planning meals in advance. In fact, without the foundation of a good meal plan, you won’t get the full benefit of other tips like eating in season or shopping at Aldi.
Here’s an overview of why menu planning is so super and how to do it easily and effectively.
5 BENEFITS OF MENU PLANNING
1. MENU PLANNING SAVES YOU MONEY
Up to 20% of household food ends up in the bin! Avoid waste by planning your meals and you could save hundreds of dollars every year. You can also use meal planning to save money by planning around supermarket specials, what’s in season, what’s in your pantry or how tight your budget is.
Meal planning also reduces the number of trips you take to the supermarket or takeaway shop, saving you money on petrol and reducing the temptation to impulse buy extra food.
2. MENU PLANNING SAVES YOU TIME
Not only does menu planning save time by reducing the number of times you run to the shop, you can also use it to prepare food in advance and batch cook meals – maximising efficiency.
You also eliminate the “what’s for dinner” dilemma, reducing brain-drain at the end of a long day.
3. MENU PLANNING REDUCES WASTE
Use food up before it expires by planning meals based on what you have on hand. If you’re planning a meal that uses cream, plan another meal to use up the rest before it goes off.
4. MENU PLANNING IMPROVES NUTRITION AND DIET
Planning your meals can help you ensure you eat a balance of foods across the week. If you’re on a diet or trying to change your diet, planning will make you more successful because you know what to cook and eat in advance and your pantry is stocked full of the right foods.
5. MENU PLANNING INCREASES CREATIVITY
It’s easy to cook the old mainstays week after week. But trying something new requires new ingredients and extra time. By menu planning a new meal each week, you’re exercising your creativity and expanding your skills and repertoire and you’re making sure you’ve got all the right ingredients on hand to make cooking your new dish as easy as possible.
[For the complete meal planning strategy, check out my eBook below.]
6 STEPS TO MEAL PLANNING
1. WRITE A MASTER MEAL LIST
If you want to make meal planning as easy as possible, write a list of family favourite meals first so that you can refer to it when you plan.
2. CHECK YOUR SUPPLIES
Use up food in the fridge and the pantry before it goes bad. Check what foods need using up before menu planning and plan meals around what you have.
3. THEME YOUR DAYS
Give each day of the week a ‘theme’. Wednesday might be pasta night, for example, and Friday might be fish night. Now all you have to do is plug your one of your family favourite meals from that theme into your menu plan for that day. It’s super easy and it still allows for lots of variety. For more information, check out the article on Using a Meal Rotation.
4. CHECK SUPERMARKET CATALOGUES
Let’s say Tuesday is meat and veg night. Check your supermarket catalogue to see what meat is on sale and save. Also, check the catalogue for pantry items that you can bulk buy at a reduced price.
5. CHECK YOUR SCHEDULE
Plan easy meals for nights you know you’re going to be busy. One of the best ways to do this is to use your meal plan to double batch meals to freeze for those busy nights. You can also use your meal plan to do prep work in advance, saving you time during the week.
6. WRITE YOUR SHOPPING LIST
As you’re planning your meals, write your shopping list to make sure you’ve got all the ingredients. The aim is to shop only once! Don’t forget to check your pantry, bathroom and laundry for staples that need replenishing. Now you’re ready to go shopping. Throw your green bags in the boot and remember the golden rule: STICK TO YOUR LIST.
5 EXTRA TIPS FOR GETTING THE MOST OUT OF MENU PLANNING
1. RECYCLE YOUR MENU PLANS
There’s no need to reinvent the wheel each week – reuse your plans! If eating the same thing every week is too boring, recycle your plans by season and have a couple of Winter, Spring, Summer and Autumn menu plans.
2. KEEP IT VISIBLE
Keep your menu plan on the fridge to remind you to defrost food as necessary. Having your menu plan visible also reduces the nag factor from family and can even encourage them to take charge and cook dinner for you!
3. PLAN A LEFTOVER NIGHT
Even with the tightest planning, there’s going to be leftovers and food you don’t use. Plan a night each week or fortnight to use up these leftovers so they don’t go to waste.
4. PLAN A NIGHT FOR NEW RECIPES
If you’re anything like me, you have a whole bunch of recipe books and magazines but you’re still cooking the same old meals week after week. By planning a new recipe ahead of time, you make sure you’ve got the necessary ingredients on hand, making it easier to be creative in the kitchen.
5. HAVE A ‘CAN’T BE STUFFED’ STANDBY
We all have a moment when we don’t feel like cooking or don’t feel like eating what we planned to cook. At these times it’s good to have a quick and easy standby like toasted sandwiches or a frozen pie and veg that you can slap on the table with little effort but you’re still saving money on takeaway.
You could save hundreds of dollars a year on your groceries and hours in the kitchen with just 5 minutes of planning. What’s on your menu plan for the week?
Melissa Goodwin is a writer and the creator of Frugal and Thriving who has a passion for living frugally and encouraging people to thrive on any budget. The blog is nine years old and is almost like her eldest baby. Prior to being a blogger and mum (but not a mummy blogger), she worked as an accountant doing other people’s budgets, books and tax.