Meal planning is often touted as being the number one way to save money.
Make too many meal planning mistakes and not only will it cost you money, you’ll give up on planning your meals.
And I don’t want that because trust me, you can save a lot of money when you know how to meal plan successfully.
The key is learning from mistakes – both yours and other peoples and finding the right meal planning system that works for you.
I’m actually a bit of a late comer to meal planning.
Which might seem strange given I’ve been frugal for many years.
Somehow I managed to bumble through many years of trying to be frugal without a structured weekly menu plan.
In fairness, I had an outline plan on a scrap of paper, but I was never as organized as I could have been/ should have been.
My saving grace that kept my grocery bill low was my focus was on the cost of each meal. I had a set of rules that I stuck to.
Self imposed rules that stop you spending too much are always a good idea in my book.
Menu Planning Rules
My rules included:
- Pay no more than £1 for a pack of mince/ground beef or pork
- Stretch each pack of mince to 2 family meals (for 4 people each)
- Each meal to cost no more than £2 in total for a family of 4 (includes all ingredients)
I stuck to these rules even when prices kept going up.
To the point that I didn’t buy minced beef for 3 months because I couldn’t get it for £1 any more!
I did update my rules after that because the idea of never having spaghetti bolognese again was not acceptable!
I’d have saved my poor brain and my constant mathematical workings if I had learned how to meal plan and taken time to work work through some of the more common mistakes.
Of course once I started trying to plan our meals in a more structured way I made mistakes.
Meal planning mistakes are part of the natural learning process. We learn through our mistakes.
And that’s the thing, learning what works and what doesn’t helps you find the right system that works for you, your family and your life.
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How To Meal Plan
Planning your meals can be as simple or as hard as you make it.
In a nutshell, how to meal plan effectively is about knowing what meals you are going to be making for the coming week.
It’s about menu planning.
What is on each day’s menu to keep you all fed and watered.
However many meal planning mistakes will come out of your menu planning, especially if you are still a relative beginner.
Overwhelmed By Meal Planning?
It is very easy to feel overwhelmed by the idea of meal planning and worried that you just won’t be able to do it.
When you are juggling jobs, kids, home and chores overwhelmed can be a constant feeling.
Being able to meal plan successfully can really help you with menu planning and getting to grips with your grocery budget.
When you are feeling the overwhelm, don’t try and do it alone. Take the chance to use a meal planning service that suits you.
My favorite is Myfreezeasy because I love having my freezer full of meals ready to go when I need them.
And I have the time to prep in advance (10 meals in 1 hour!).
You can grab yourself a free sample meal plan when you watch the free Freezer Cooking 101 Workshop.
However, if I still had children at home and their activities to plan around then I would be opting for Eat At Home Meal Plans in a flash.
They offer a full meal plan – I’m talking 3 meals a day, 7 days a week.
Having someone help you plan all your meals will give you a fantastic boost.
You can choose meals from all 4 different menu options: Plant based, Traditional, Slow Cooker/Instant Pot and No Flour/No Sugar.
And the cost?
On the annual Eat At Home Meal Plan you pay just $1.61 a week. You’ll save that in the first week when you don’t end up with takeout because plans went wrong.
Or save it on wine and chocolate not bought as your stress levels are that much lower!
Meal Planning Mistakes And How To Fix Them
1.You Don’t Have Time & It’s Too Difficult
A weekly meal plan can be done in 30 minutes.
What may or may not take time is the act of cooking your meals.
And this is where you want to get tactical with planning your menu.
- Opt for recipes that you know off by heart.
- Choose meals that take less than 30 minutes from prep to table
- Aim for fewer ingredients – less prep time and cheaper.
- Cook once, eat twice – making double the portion gives you a night off cooking another time. Freeze that second meal for the following week.
- Batch cook at the weekends to save time.
- Use myfreezeasy to prep 10 freezer meals in just an hour
- Watch the free Freezer Cooking 101 workshop and get a free meal plan to try it out.
2. Start All Over Every Week
There is no meal planning law that says you must create a brand new meal plan so don’t do it.
If your family love tacos, have them every week.
A friend of mine has spaghetti and meatballs every Saturday night, without fail. It’s her husbands signature dish and his opportunity to cook the family a meal.
Some people have the same meals week in week out and that is OK.
Stick to family favorites, switch them around to suit what’s going on in your week.
Try out new recipes when you know you have a little extra time to experiment.
Tacos can have different flavors and spaghetti can be made with different sauces.
My meal plan had family favorites and staples each week then other recipes to fill out the week.
Family favorites like:
- Spaghetti and meatballs
- Tuna pasta bake
- Chicken casserole
- Chilli and rice
I can make these meals with my eyes closed.
They don’t take long and I always have the ingredients in my cupboards and freezer.
3. Don’t Take Advantage Of Systems That Can Help
It can be easy to feel overwhelmed by meal planning and it might seem simpler to not try if you are worried you are going to make a hash of it.
Firstly, practice makes perfect and if you follow your meal plan for 3 days out of 7 then that is a great start.
Secondly, learning how to meal plan is about finding out what meal planning systems work for you.
The best meal planning system might be that you plan a menu for a whole month.
Or maybe take advantage of someone else’s menu planning expertise to get rid of your overwhelm.
If spending just $7 a month on the Eat At Home Meal Plans eliminates your overwhelm and ensures you stick to the plan then you are going to be saving money.
Because the Eat At Home Meal Plans can do it all for you.
Meal plan, recipe instructions and color-coded grocery list.
21 meals a week every week, that you get to choose.
Tailor your Eat At Home Meal Plans according to family preferences and mix and match between the different plans (plant based, traditional, slow cooker/instant pot and no flour/no sugar).
Or perhaps what might work best for you is planning your meals based on theme nights (e.g. Mexican, Italian, curry night, pizza night etc).
What about meal kit delivery services? Read about the pros and cons and how you might still save money using a meal kit service.
4. Having No Backup Freezer Meals
No matter how good you are at planning your meals, the fact is life never goes according to plan.
Your cupboards and your freezer can save you from resorting to more expensive options like takeout and restaurant meals.
Cupboards can often provide you with a meal that you can make from scratch, such as pasta and sauce.
However your freezer can go one step further and provide you with a meal that you have already prepared.
If you don’t already I would encourage you to build up a stock of pre-prepped meals in your freezer that you can pull out and eat at short notice.
Your stock can be built up in a couple of ways.
Using Myfreezeasy will provide you with the recipes and tools you need to prepare 10 freezer meals in an hour. And many different meal plans to suit everyone’s taste.
You can also create freezer meals by batch cooking, perhaps on your day off, and by preparing double quantities when cooking.
5. You Just Don’t Do It
I can’t help you get meal planning if you don’t do it!
I know the idea of planning food a week in advance could be seen as not spontaneous enough.
And perhaps you have always gone with food you feel like having on the day.
The problem with what you feel like is that is usually ends up costing you much more money.
- You feel like pizza – so you have takeout
- You feel like meatballs but don’t have any so you go to the store and spend $40 on meatballs and other bits
- You don’t feel like cooking – so you go out for a meal
Deciding what to eat when you are coming home from work does not help you lower your grocery bill.
The meals you plan can easily be switched around during the week.
Just because your plan says meatballs on Tuesday doesn’t mean you can’t have them on Monday instead.
Creating a 7 day meal plan allows you to have all the ingredients in the cupboard.
It stops you from having to decide what to cook and then wonder if you have the ingredients.
And most importantly it stops you from spending extra that wasn’t part of your original plan.
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6. Not Checking Existing Food Stocks
Creating a successful meal plan does not start with you sitting down thinking about what recipes you might cook next week.
It should start with you checking what you already have in your cupboards, freezer and refrigerator.
You’ve already spent the money on your existing food supplies so starting there is key to keeping your costs down.
Choose recipes that utilize what you already have. Otherwise why did you buy those ingredients if you are not going to use them?
Your refrigerator is your first port of call because food in there has a limited shelf life.
If you haven’t used it yet then you can safely bet it will need using next week.
7. You Don’t Focus On The Simple (Recipes)
I’m not a great cook, I don’t love doing it and I dislike complicated recipes calling for exotic ingredients.
They are off putting for most people and seriously off putting when you’re trying to get food onto the dinner table after work.
The trick to successfully meal planning week after week is to focus on simple recipes.
Simple doesn’t mean basic or boring. Just less complicated.
Simple dinners like:
- One pot meals
- Slow cooker meals
- Pasta or noodles
- Tray bakes
- 5 ingredient or less recipes
8. Don’t Build Flex Into Your Plan
It doesn’t matter how carefully you plan your week, something invariable happens to change things.
If your menu planning is too rigid, it can fail when change creeps in.
A weekly meal plan rather than a strict daily one helps you with having flexibility built in.
Spaghetti might have been planned for Thursday but you’re late from work so you have Friday’s tacos instead.
If you don’t have that flexibility and willingness to deviate form the plan a little then you are much more likely to end up going out for a meal.
Which costs money that you don’t have.
You may also like: How To Reduce Your Grocery Bill: 10 Steps To Cut Right Back
9. Having Failed Means You Can’t Do It
Getting the perfect meal planning system is a skill that takes practice to get good at.
You’ve probably tried meal planning previously. If it doesn’t go right first time you can feel put off by it.
Not achieving the perfect week of meals immediately is all part of the learning.
It’s like cooking a new recipe for the first time, it doesn’t always go according to plan. Doesn’t stop you from ever making it again though does it?
Don’t let a not-so-perfect experience make you think you can’t do it.
As you know there’s no such word as can’t (!)
You can do, it just takes a little practice.
Meal planning ideas:
- Focus on family favorites
- Cook once, eat twice
- Be flexible with meals and days
- Start with existing supplies
- Use simple recipes with fewer ingredients
- Stick to 30 minutes prep to table meals
- Check your calendar for planned activities and plan around them
Your Successful Meal Planning
I’m a great believer in doing what works for you. As long as it doesn’t mean getting into debt of course!
When Mr2p is in charge of cooking, as he often is these days, he does not stick to my plan. Because he is all about spontaneous.
But his spontaneity doesn’t cost us more money because he only ever cooks from the fridge, freezer and cupboard.
If we don’t have it, he doesn’t use it.
And as I am still in charge of the shopping our grocery bill does not increase when he is chef.
Meal planning mistakes are meant to be learned from.
If finding new recipes takes way too much time then stick to a list of favorites or use the Eat At Home Meal Plans to ensure you stick within budget each week.
If you prefer theme nights as a way to guide your meals then use them.
Any system is better than making these meal planning mistakes or regularly resorting to takeout or another trip to the store.
For more help in reducing your grocery bill why not sign up for my free 7 day email course?
Last Updated on 11th June 2021 by Emma