How to start meal planning to save money

Are you reading this story while eating a lunch you packed at home?

Good for you, good for you. You don’t need anyone to tell you how much you can save by making meals at home and packing lunches for work or school.

But this is a question:

How many sandwiches can you make with the bread you currently have?

If you don’t know the answer, you may wake up one day and realize you only have enough bread for one sandwich.

So you’ll spend the next few days paying $12 on takeout or delivery — money you didn’t actually plan to spend.

In 2019, the average American consumer spent Over $3500 a year about “food away from home,” according to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics. And even in the midst of an epidemic-dominated year, the cost of food was far from home 3.8% higher in April 2021 compared to the same period last year.

Meal planning can save you extra cash on emergency lunches or late-night dining. You’ll eat healthier, save money, and enjoy your meals more when they’re planned!

How to get started with meal planning so that it works

The first thing you need to do is figure out how many meals you are responsible for each week.

If it were only you, your answer might be 21: Seven breakfasts, lunches, and dinners. Remember to bring up meals you don’t normally need – for example if your boss buys bread for everyone on Fridays or you go to your parents for Sunday dinner.

If you have a family, count the number of meals per person – dinner for three counts as three dinners, even if you all ate the same.

Now start thinking about the meals you prepare often: sandwiches, canned soups, salads, and taco nights that make up a typical week.

How many servings can you get from one loaf of bread? Do packaged salads usually last for several servings? Or does your family eat the entire bag in one night? And don’t forget to count how many servings are actually served – is there usually enough chicken left for another meal?

Once you start to get an idea of ​​how long your food will last, you can start planning ahead. You can look at a can of pork chops and think, “That’s four lunches.”

Once you start translating food into “number of meals,” you’re well on your way to meal planning.

At this point, there are two ways to go.

Some people like to plan every meal in advance: you’ll eat a ham sandwich on Mondays, Tuesdays, and Wednesdays. Then you’ll run out of ham and you’ll have a peanut butter sandwich on Thursday and your office moves to pizza on Friday.

Other people like to think, “Well, I have bacon and I have peanut butter, and I know I can make it through the weekend.”

That’s the whole point of meal planning, after all: knowing how much food you need to buy until your next grocery trip. Once you can do that, you’ll find yourself ordering emergency junk food a lot.

Try a meal planning app or calendar

No need to pressure yourself to keep track of your meal plans – we’ve found easy ways to keep track of your meals – and plan your grocery lists.

Here are some applications to consider:

  • $5 meal plan He sends you a weekly meal menu that includes five dinner entrees with one lunch and one breakfast. It will also include “candy” which can be a dessert, a drink or a snack. There is also an option for gluten-free diets. cost: Try it free for 14 days, then $5 per month.
  • Eating plan It features recipes and a drag-and-drop meal planning interface that automatically creates a grocery list. cost: Try it free for 30 days, then $4.95 a month or $39 a year.

Or stick to the basics with pen and paper or a simple wall calendar—the dry erase type will let you change plans with an old-school swipe.

Take your meal plan to the grocery store

Once you get to the grocery store, it’s time to put your meal plan into action.

Make a list with a meal plan app or with pen and paper – and only buy what’s on the list.

Meal planning can make grocery shopping a lot easier because you know exactly what to buy and where to find it.

When you start buying the same items frequently, you’ll discover the sales cycles in your regular stores. You can then stock up on your favorite items when they go on sale.

Stocking up on discounted items also helps you plan ahead and freeze meals for the future. If you can Buy in bulk And preparing the foods you eat more often, you’ll save more.

What about coupons? If you see a lot of things that you buy frequently, go for it.

But when you see coupons for items that don’t fit into your meal plan at all, your “savings” will be lost if you don’t end up using them.

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Eat what you buy (that’s the key)

Americans get rid of Much of food.

American families They waste approximately 32% of the food they buyAccording to a study released in 2020, it is worth about $240 billion in food waste.

You don’t want to waste money throwing groceries in the trash. This means that the last step in meal planning is to make sure you eat what you buy.

How do you do this? It’s not just about making a meal plan but sticking to it.

Here are some tips:

  • Pack lunches the night before, so you won’t be “too tired” or “too rushed” in the morning.
  • Always make sure to eat something different for lunch and dinner. If you’re making lasagna, don’t eat it for dinner, then lunch, and then dinner again. Split up your lasagna dinner and add variety with sandwiches or soup lunches.
  • Give yourself options. When you make your meal plan, tell yourself, “This week, I’m going to have a homemade frozen sandwich or burrito for lunch.” Then, you won’t feel trapped in front of any specific entry.
  • Make the same favorite appetizer over and over again To help you stick to your plan. You know everyone loves them, how to make them quickly and how long they last.
  • Make snacksLike almonds and cheese, so you don’t get hungry and eat one of the appetizers you save for later in the week.
  • Use the slow cooker strategically. You will save yourself from the “too tired” of cooking in the evening if you start cooking in the morning. Add all the ingredients when you get ready for work and school, set them low and go home for a hot meal.
  • Keep emergency meals frozen. On a tumultuous night, knowing you have a meal ready to cook in the fridge may be enough to help you avoid junk food.

And be sure to stick to eating foods before they spoil.

This means that if you say, “I’m going to eat either a salad or slices of an orange with dinner,” and the lettuce starts to look a little wilted, stick to eating it first. The orange will still be there when the lettuce is gone.

You can take your commitment to the next level by taking over Store Challenge.

Determining a meal plan that works for you may require a little trial and error. So don’t be discouraged if you think a weeknight casserole is eaten in a couple of days and you’re stuck ordering fast food… repeatedly!

The more you know about your family’s eating habits, the better you can form your meal plans and prepare for a full refrigerator stocked with all the food you need.

Nicole Decker is a contributor to The Penny Hoarder.

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