Smart Meal Planning Tips

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What is meal planning? Meal planning is creating a strategy for shopping and making dishes for the whole week, instead of each night. By planning ahead, you can save time and money, and eat healthier. Here are some tips.

Meal Planning Tip One: Check What You Have

Meal Planning Tip One: Check What You Have
Meal Planning Tip One: Check What You Have

To save money and time you’ll need to do a little planning. The best way to do this is to write down the meals you want to make for the week. This will you time because you’ll only have to make one trip each week, and ensure you pick up all the ingredients you need. Here are some meal planning tips.

See What You Already Have

Look for ingredients in your fridge, freezer, cabinets, pantry, and shelves. Make a note of what you have and think about what types of meals you can make with your inventory.
Make a Meal Plan. Get organized and start a worksheet that details what meals you want to make each week, along with the ingredients required, so you can figure out what items you need to buy.
Research Recipes.

Research Recipes That Are Easy and Cheap

Create a spreadsheet of the dishes you’re interested in making. Start a search online at websites like or You can search most sites by ingredient to help find dishes you and your family might enjoy. Many recipe sites also have apps that make bookmarking favorites on your phone a snap. Try different recipes and look for healthy options.

Work with Your Schedule

Remember that you may not always have time to cook fancy meals. Save those for a weekend or during vacation. Take a look at your schedule and select meals you can prepare quickly when you are pressed for time. Consider prepping some meals in advance that can just be heated when you can’t cook.

Make Extra

When you cook, think about doubling or tripling the recipe so you’ll have enough for multiple meals during the week. Or you can freeze leftovers to pull out when you’re busy. Making an extra amount of food may sound like it will cost more money, but it actually doesn’t. Most ingredients you buy come in bulk packages.

Meal Planning Tip Two: Get Your Grocery List Ready

Meal Planning Tip Two: Get Your Grocery List Ready

Now that you’ve done all the prep work, make a grocery list for the week so you stay organized and focused. Here are some tips:

  • Make a list of ingredients you need for the weekly meals you selected, as well as essentials that aren’t part of the recipes – like eggs, milk, fruits, and vegetables. Use a handy app on your phone like Evernote, or simply write it out by hand.
  • Continually update your list when you think of things you need, so you don’t forget. A dry erase board on the fridge is a great way to jot down items needed. When you are ready to go to the grocery, take a photo of the list with your phone. There are also a variety of apps available that allow you to add items when you are out and about. Some apps allow you to sync grocery lists with your family members.
    To help organize your list, consider breaking it up into different sections or food groups. Here’s a template you can save and print from
  • Avoid buying foods you don’t need so you keep your shopping within your budget and you don’t buy unhealthy foods you shouldn’t eat. Stick to a list!

Meal Planning Tip Three: Look for Sales at Your Store

Meal Planning Tip Three: Look for Sales at Your Store

You’ve made all your lists, you know what you plan to make, now you need to make smart decisions about what you buy. Here are some suggestions for buying ingredients on a budget:

  • Join your store’s loyalty program to get special offers that non-members don’t.
  • Check your grocery store sales flyer before shopping. Flyers are typically released mid-week. You can find flyers on the store website or at the store’s entrance.
  • Check the shelves for savings before selecting an item. Often a certain brand will be on sale, so look for price reduction stickers and compare prices before tossing an item in your cart. Always consider the store brand because prices are typically cheaper.
  • Shop outside your favorite store for better deals. Farmers markets, for example, may offer great produce at discounted prices. Visit the USDA’s National Farmers Market Directory to find locations near you.

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