You won’t find couponing on this list.
Everyone has a different style when it comes to meal planning. Some people wing it, visiting the grocery store every day and whipping up dinner from what they find. However, if you want to save money and time, a little advance planning goes a long way.
1. Shop in your house
Take inventory to avoid repeat purchases and to see how you can stretch the grocery budget for one more week. Discard what’s gone bad and make a note to replace it. Plan a meal or two from the things you have on hand, with the help of a few fresh items that you will pick up this trip.
2. Make your grocery list online
The worst is when you make The Best List Ever, and then forget to take it to the store and buy on memory. This happened to me one time too many. I was saved from having an ugly public cursing fit at the deli counter when I realized I had composed the list in a document on Google Drive that I could just access from my phone.
3. Play favorites
If you return to the same market every week, you’ll get to know the store’s layout and the prices of the items you buy often. That way it will be easier to know what a good sale price is.
4. Buy in bulk
I know, everyone says that. Yawn, right? But to do it right you have to think it through. When the items you use all the time go on sale, buy as much of them as you think makes sense to store. If your freezer is small, you can’t keep 10 whole chickens at 99 cents a pound, but maybe three would go a long way.
If you live alone, you have only yourself to blame. But if you just did the weekly shopping for your family and your spouse comes home with another gallon of milk, that’s a waste of time and money. Also consider labeling the food items you have earmarked for recipes later in the week or someone will have eaten the garbanzo beans that were meant for your three-bean salad.
6. Don’t fear discounts or generic
Most grocers have discounted meat, canned food and bakery items that are about to expire. The discounts are typically substantial and the food is still safe to eat. And don’t forget generic brands – – cheaper and often just as good!
7. Store food correctly
Nothing sucks more than buying a whole week’s worth of food only to toss half of it in the garbage because it went bad too soon. Learn the best ways to keep your food fresh for longer, like standing fresh herbs in a jar of water. Pretty, yet practical.
8. Use apps
Services like The Fresh 20 and Emeals do the thinking for you, providing a weekly menu list, recipes, and a grocery shopping list. Do what they say and you’ll never worry about dinner again. Apps like Plan to Eat and Spoonacular are recipe organizers that take the recipes you love and turn them into meal schedules and shopping lists.
9. Invest your time
You’ve all heard the myths about those people who set aside Sundays to make a week’s worth of meals and then freeze them. Those people really exist! You can do this at home, or for a fee, services like Dream Dinners or Wildtree workshops will provide the space and ingredients for you. Works for fresh meals too – check out these Salad in a Jar ideas.
10. Let your family choose
If I rule the menu with an iron fist, nobody would eat anything. So we compromise. Your kids might have better taste, so give them some cookbooks or a tablet and let them surf recipes. Hopefully this works better for you – mine chose a homemade donut recipe. Baby steps.
Out of ideas? Dinner happens every-freaking-day, so it can suck all the creativity out of meal planning. One of my friends just set up a closed Facebook group where everyone shares their weekly meal plans, drawing inspiration from each other.
12. Return engagement
Create a repeating theme like Taco Tuesday, Spaghetti Night or Breakfast For Dinner meals that you know everyone loves.
13. Go big
Another rare beast is the household head who plans her meals for an entire YEAR. Yeah, that’s what I said. It’s genius actually.
What are your genius tricks for making meal planning better? Share them in the comments!
Kim Tracy Prince is a freelance writer in Los Angeles. She spends 3-4 hours every week planning meals and grocery shopping for her family of 4.