Meal Planning on a Budget

Groceries and eating out has been the most difficult expenses to budget for our family.  Busy schedules for a family of five have led to many fast-food meals.  Meal prep is time consuming especially if you are trying to cook healthy meals from scratch which includes limiting or not using processed foods.  Preparing food on a budget can work, though, but it takes a little bit of preparation.

First, decide how much you can and want to spend on groceries and eating out.  Groceries and eating/dining out should be two separate expenses in your budget; although, they are closely related.  Many people want to know the ideal dollar amount to spend on groceries for a family.  It is difficult to state an ideal number because everyone has different dietary needs and preferences.  Our family has food allergies which changes what foods we can eat.  Much of our food is made from scratch.  On the flip side, some families have picky eaters who will only eat certain foods such as Kraft Mac & Cheese.  Everyone has different parenting philosophies about how to deal with picky eaters, but the point is that every family is different in size and dietary needs; therefore, there isn’t a one-size budget groceries number that will work for everyone.

Second, determine the influences that cause your budget to go off track.  The following questions may help you discover ways to fix your meal planning to save money:

·         Are ambitious meals planned on hectic nights?

·         Does the fridge get overloaded with left-overs, but the meal plan doesn’t include a left-over night?

·         Does preparing a meal become overwhelming after long days?

·         Is an important ingredient missing in the middle of the meal preparation?

Can you think of other incidents that lead to frustration when preparing meals for your family?

Third, creating a weekly meal plan is key.  How many times have you awakened in the morning trying to think of what to make for dinner?  Mornings are busy with getting yourself and kids ready, making breakfast, possibly packing lunches or getting everyone focused on projects.  It’s difficult to focus on dinner especially when you’re not quite sure what is in the freezer, fridge, and pantry.  It is easier to plan meals that fit into a budget when planning ahead.  Also, coming up with ideas for cooking for supper is easier when it is not hectic.

Fourth, before sitting down to create a weekly meal plan, take an inventory of what is in the freezer, fridge, and pantry.  Note what you have on hand.  Then, when you sit down to create your meal plan for the week, it will be easy to develop a grocery list.

Fifth, it’s okay to make mid-week stops to the grocery store.  Does your family tend to waste certain foods on a consistent basis?  My family tended not to eat the fresh fruit and veggies fast enough, and they would rot.  I stopped buying perishables to last a week and instead opted for buying enough for a few days.  Using this tactic cut down on wasting food and added a little variety because I would change what I would buy.     

Sixth, buy non-perishable items in bulk when they are on sale.  Some products are marked down, and that is the time to buy them in bulk.  It doesn’t do much good financially to stock up on products when they are at regular price unless you live in an area where you could get stuck at home for a week or so due to weather.  We tend to stock up on rice, oats, and dried beans for the winter months.

Seventh, get the kids involved.  Some of the best experiences of having fun with my kids are the times when I cooked and baked with them.  Let them give input on the weekly menu by selecting items.  Also, let them help with taking inventory and creating the grocery list.  Getting kids involved will help them with adulting later in life. 

Eight, making eating out part of the meal planning.  Do you enjoy eating out?  Is there a day in the week or month that is more hectic than others?  Our family used to love to dine out until we began having issues with food allergies.  If your family loves to eat out, make it a special treat and schedule it in the meal plan.  Scheduling special dining out trips eliminates the feeling of depriving yourself of something you enjoy and gives your family something to look forward to doing.  Dining costs can be decreased by having everyone drink water, planning to eat out on nights when restaurants offer free meals to kids, skipping the appetizers, and having younger children share a larger meal rather than buying two small meals.

I hope these tips will help you with your meal planning on a budget.  I created a fillable Weekly Meal Planner to assist with creating a meal plan and it includes food ideas, recipe links, and a place to make a grocery list.  It is available for FREE on the PAFS website.!