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Meal planning can be a GREAT way to save big bucks.
It doesn’t have to be painful, either! There are ways to make meal planning super-simple, and so doable that it quickly becomes a habit. (It might even be fun to do your meal prep for the week.)
Why meal plan? For one thing, groceries and eating out can take a HUGE chunk of the budget each month. We spent an average of $679 per month on it ourselves last year. (Can you tell
we I love eating out?)
But that kind of spending isn’t really out of the ordinary.
Groceries and meals out are big budget busters
According to The Economics Daily, Americans spent an average of 11.2 to 15.4 percent of their household income on food in 2015.
That’s a LOT. It breaks down to somewhere between $3,767 and $12,350 per year on average, with lower income households naturally needing to spend a larger percentage of their income on food. (Of course some people spend more, and some spend less.)
But it’s not just about saving money.
The things you and your family eat matter
If you are what you eat, what would you be? (I might be a giant pizza right now, which is a problem.) The point is, eating the right things can improve your health and help reduce or eliminate issues.
Living better + spending less money on healthcare is another huge win if you ask me. Meal planning can make that easier too.
I’m a big believer in making things easy on yourself. The easier something is to do, the more likely it is that you’ll actually do it. Meal planning is one of those areas where this is especially true.
3 simple ways to meal plan
With that said, let’s talk about 3 simple ways to meal plan that can put you on the path to saving money and feeling better.
(Because not everyone likes to meal plan the same way!)
Take a look at each of them to see which feels like the best fit for you and your life. Then get started!
Meal planning method #1: Use the DIY Magnet Method
Years ago, I created a DIY meal planning system called the Magnet Method. It worked great for our family!
It’s simple to use. Best of all, it lets you easily reorganize meals if you’re not feeling what’s on the schedule for that night, while eliminating the problem of not being able to think of what to make for dinner.
How to get started with the Magnet Method
To get started, you’ll want to sit down and make a list of meals that:
- Your family likes all or part of
- Are quick and easy to make
- Include a variety of ingredients (ingredients that could also be used as the base for additional meals)
- Are tasty
- Include healthy food
(Get your family to help with this if you need ideas.) I came up with 24 different meals, along with appropriate sides. These should be things that you already make and eat fairly often.
Once you’ve got list of potential meals, you only need 3 things:
- Magnets you can write on
- A marker
- A fridge to put them on :)
I used these SPONTAN magnets from IKEA, but you can use any magnet that’s got enough space.
How the Magnet Method makes meal planning easier
Magnets are nice because they’re durable and easy to move around. (Because let’s face it, sometimes we just don’t feel like eating what we’d originally planned.) This way it’s no trouble to choose something else instead without eating out.
The magnets also make it a piece of cake to move things around so that similar ingredients are used up, making it easier to shop smart when you’re looking at the week ahead. Shopping smart reduces waste and saves you money.
Once you have your magnets, take out your marker and write down one meal per magnet. I did mine with a Sharpie, because I didn’t want them being accidentally wiped off. Realistically we tend to eat the same kinds of things anyway, so it’s not as though they’re likely to change.
Place them on the fridge in the order you’d like to eat them and you’re good to go. It’s a simple method that works well.
Meal planning method #2: Use a meal planning service
Most of us are strapped for time and energy, and that may be part of the reason you’re interested in meal planning anyway! (Plus, who doesn’t want to save money?)
So if it’s something you’d rather not do but feel like it could help, why not have someone else do it for you? Freeing yourself up to do other things (including relaxing, maybe?) is a good thing. Meal planning services don’t have to be expensive, either.
Note: I’m not talking about a meal box subscription. Those are another thing entirely, and I’ve never tried them because 1) I’m a picky eater and would throw half the fresh ingredients away, and 2) all that packaging seems really wasteful to me.
I’m talking about an actual meal planning service, like my friend Erin’s $5 Meal Plan service.
I recently sprang for it and it’s got a whole lot of things going for it.
What makes the $5 Meal Plan service great?
First of all, the $5 Meal Plan is only $5 per month. (Plus she has a limited number of 2-week free trials available, so there’s nothing at all to lose if you want to check it out.)
The meals themselves are both appealing AND inexpensive. They can typically be made for about $2 per person or less. (Erin makes these meals for her family of 6 for $5 per meal!)
There’s a huge variety of foods available. The plans use seasonal produce, frozen veggies & fruits, items you typically have on your shelves already, and more. You can even get a gluten free meal plan subscription there instead of the regular one if that’s something you want or need.
You can easily put together breakfast meal prep ideas, lunches, dinners, and snacks. It’s super easy to mix and match from the things you like and will actually eat.
Let me just make a list of some of the other benefits I’ve already seen with the service real quick, so this article doesn’t get too crazy long.
$5 Meal Plan benefits:
- Each weekly meal plan comes with nutritional information, which is a huge time-saver if you track that kind of thing like I do.
- You get shopping lists for each plan too, organized by section of the grocery store. These printable grocery checklists are awesome, because you won’t forget a single thing you need to make the meals.
- No thinking required! “What’s for dinner” is simple when the answer comes right to you each week.
- Prep and cook times are usually quick, so there’s no slaving over the stove for hours.
- Variety. There are regular meals, freezer-friendly meals, slow cooker meals, one dish dinners, desserts, you name it.
You also get access to printable coupons AND a huge library of recipes. You can browse through and pick recipes by meal of the day, cooking method, ingredients, and dietary preference.
The online library lets you save your favorites and modify your weekly plan by dragging and dropping the meals you want to the My Meal Plan section. Then you just download the meal plans & shopping list. It’s really cool.
About those $5 Meal Plan recipes…
I usually look at recipes wishing that I actually liked the ingredients or that they weren’t so complicated, but with this plan there’s stuff I can actually MAKE — not just stare at in a magazine.
It’s recipes for real families, using reasonably-priced ingredients, with the steps & shopping lists you need to make it happen.
Definitely give the $5 Meal Plan a free try, at the very least. (Go sign up right now, and then come back to read the rest of the article.)
The bonuses you get during the free trial are outstanding. For example, one of the (several!) bonuses right now is a 21-meal Costco freezer cooking plan + shopping list. (The stuff Erin gives away as part of the free trial is kind of mind-blowing, really.)
So now that I’ve gushed enough about the $5 Meal Plan service, let’s go on to the third meal planning method.
Meal planning method #3: Use theme nights
Humans are creatures of habit, and you can use that to your advantage to make meal planning really simple. All you need to do is create a theme for each day of the week.
For example, you might have:
- Meatless Monday
- Taco Tuesday
- Wing Wednesday
- Slow Cooker Thursdays
- Fish-Fry Fridays
- Saturday Surprise (this could be leftovers, frozen dinners, or whatever someone other than you volunteers to make)
- Sunday Fun Day (aka eating out)
Make the themes very specific, and they’re ridiculously easy to plan and shop for each week. (Use a free app like Our Groceries to keep track of what you need at the store.)
Make the themes pretty general, and you get more variety. (But you’ll also need to put a little more thought into each meal, and make sure you’ve got the right ingredients on hand.)
The upside to using themes for meal planning is it’s very quick and repeatable. Of course, the downside is that your entire family has to be good with weekly repeats. If they love knowing exactly what they’ll be eating on which day, it can work really well.
(Especially if you also enjoy leftovers, because you can have those for lunch the next day. Here are some cool Amazon meal prep containers that could come in handy for those.)
Theming can be great for the right family, or you can mix and match with the other methods.
Finally, no matter what meal planning method you use, get intentional.
Of course, by definition meal planning itself is intentional, but to really improve things you may want to go beyond that.
For example, if you want to change your eating habits, lose or gain weight, or figure out how your body reacts to certain foods, you’ve got to get really intentional.
That means paying attention to:
- What and how much you eat
- What’s IN the foods you eat
- When you feel full/hungry
- And how those foods and your body interact
Getting intentional doesn’t have to be complicated
To make sure I don’t eat too many calories (or sometimes even too little if I’m super busy or traveling) I use the free version of the Lose it! app. Once you’ve gotten all your typical meals in there, you can quickly select what you’ve eaten and see where you stand for the day or week.
Lately though, I’ve realized that just tracking calories isn’t enough. While I’ve always known that certain foods really affect me (chocolate gives me migraines, for example) it goes beyond that. EVERYTHING you put into your body affects it one way or another.
I went through a multi-year bout of adhesive capsulitis (aka frozen shoulder) a few years ago, which is a super-painful health condition. I’ve been struggling with a lot of inflammation lately and pain in my other shoulder.
That’s scared me into searching for ways to hopefully prevent additional health issues. I hope I never have to go through that again.
Using the Intentional Bites Meal Planner
I’m just diving into how eating certain foods could be helping or harming me, so receiving a preview copy of the Intentional Bites Planner was great timing.
(If you love paper planners, definitely check it out here.)
The planner has sections for you to journal about how you want to feel about food and how you feel when eating various things in general.
Of course it also includes sections for:
- describing what you eat & drink each day
- journaling on your energy level was and how you feel
- weekly food & exercise journaling
Mindfulness is so important, and it’s already helping me focus and make more thoughtful choices.
The Intentional Bites Planner also has a grocery shopping list with meal plan section that you could use in combination with any of the ways to meal plan. (It includes space for a weekly budget and amount spent.)
Remember, paying attention to what you eat and how you feel about it matters. When you eat intentionally, you can be healthier. (And it often saves you money too.)
Sometimes simply writing things down helps!
So, which of the ways to meal plan will you be trying? Let me know how they go for you!