15 Meal Planning Tips to Save Money and Time

Looking to save money (aren’t we all)? Perhaps TIME? ✋ Me too. If you’re like me… you don’t mind cooking, you just don’t like thinking about it. Luckily, with the meal planning tips below, you’ll be able to think less and save more when it comes to grocery shopping and cooking.

Meal planning for beginners

I’ve struggled with dinner time for pretty much entire married life (that’s 22 years people). If I had a live-in cook, I would be thrilled (any takers?). BUT I have found that when I actually take the time to MAKE A MEAL PLAN, I don’t dread that thought (or question from 5 out of 8 of my kids) “What’s for dinner!?”.

The irony of it all is that it’s not hard to learn how to make a meal plan. You just need to DO IT – and consistently!

So pull out your calendar and pick a day each week and make an appointment with yourself to menu plan! To help out, we’re going to show you how to meal plan on a budget AND save time with our favorite meal planning tips. 

Note: I do NOT profess to be 100% consistent at this… BUT I can 100% attest that meal planning certainly makes life easier. Plus it saves time (no last-minute 5 pm runs to the grocery store) AND money (no last-minute 5 pm runs to the grocery store where you end up purchasing more than you went in for). Do you get me? 😉 (yes, I know you do. Thank you).

15 Meal Planning Tips to Save Money and Sanity

1. Schedule a time to plan

It all starts with a plan, right? The number one rule to meal planning for beginners is to schedule out your meal planning time every week. The more consistent you can be, the more smoothly this will go.

So take some time to write down your planI love this cute pad (pictured above)… I don’t know why, but when you’ve got something cute to work with, it seems to make the meal planning more fun! 

While you’re making your plan, look at your schedule and decide how many meals you need to plan – some meals will yield leftovers, so you can plan fewer meals (Yay leftovers!), or you may have dinner plans with other people or other activities some nights.

2. Pick easy recipes

Estimate how much time will you have to prepare your meals and choose recipes that fit in your schedule. If you know you’re going to be busy, don’t plan elaborate meals for the week. Be realistic… are you really going to have TIME to create a meal that takes two hours to prep, 5 nights a week? If you can do that… props to you! But I know for a fact that I can’t!

Instead, pick some easy recipes that require little effort. Slow cooker recipes, instant pot recipes, and 30-minute meals are going to be the bread and butter of your meal schedule. Learn to love them!

Also, try to make the first meal of the week the most simple meal – start things off nice and easy for yourself so you will have a better chance of keeping the motivation going all week long.

3. List out your favorite recipes

Continuing on from the tip above, it’s a lot easier and faster to pick your recipes when you already have them listed out. Trying to come up with ideas out of your head is just over-complicated.

By creating a list of your and your family’s favorite recipes, when it comes time to make your meal schedule, you can just look at the list and pick out the ones you want to make that week!

One way to make this even easier is to use an app I LOVE called Prepear. It’s a free app that you can use to store your favorite recipes, find new recipes from friends, and more. It can even make a shopping list for you! AND, you can find Fabulessly Frugal recipes on there too.

If you want to learn more, check out our Prepear review. The app is free to use, but they have a 40% off sale going on right now until the end of January for Prepear Gold.

Jars full of food

4. Shop your stock first

Before you make your meal plan, look around your home and see what you already have. Are there any meals you can make out of what you have? If the answer is no, see if you are just a few ingredients short of making a meal.

This can be a great way to save money meal planning by avoiding the store. It will also help you avoid food waste. You might have more food at home than you think! This is a vital tip if you’re meal planning on a budget.

5. Have themes

Another fun way to make recipe picking easier is to assign a theme to each day of the week (i.e. breakfast for dinner, salad night, Mexican night).

6. Check the weather

Speaking of recipes, before you decide your meal schedule for the week, check the weather forecast. Different conditions can put you in the mood for certain foods.

For example, if it is going to be a rainy week you might want to plan for soup one night. If it will be warm you might want to grill something, and so on.

Grocery store

7. Plan your meal plan around sales

After I’m done looking at what I have around my home, I pull out the weekly ad for my grocery store. This allows me to see what’s on sale during the week to help give me ideas on what to make. I call it frugal meal planning!

Planning your meals around sales will not only save you money, but help give you ideas when you run out! You can also save big money on meat if you buy it in bulk! I used to buy bulk meat from Zaycon Fresh, but now that they’re closed I’m looking to start using the Savory Butcher.

8. Try to overlap ingredients

Choosing recipes for the week with some of the same ingredients will minimize how many things you need to buy. Plus, if you change your mind on a recipe, you can easily switch it up with versatile ingredients.

How to meal plan

9. Do some meal prep in advance

On one of your days off, take some time to prepare the ingredients that you’ve purchased for the week. Cook and season ground beef and/or chicken, chop veggies in advance, etc.

You can even take this time to freeze certain ingredients if you purchased any in bulk.

10. Prepare extra meals

With some recipes (freezer meals!) you can make double (or more), then freeze the portion that you don’t use that night and save it for next week or next month. Having a few freezer meals on hand can save you on really busy nights.

11. Plan for leftovers

One of the downfalls of many meal plans is the inability to plan for leftovers! Whether it’s spaghetti or a casserole, you will usually have leftovers with at least one meal every week. Failing to prepare for these inevitable leftovers will cause you to waste food and spend more money on food you don’t need!

We plan one leftover night every week to eat up our leftovers, and use them for lunches for my husband and me. For beginners new to meal planning, appreciate your leftovers and plan them into your schedule!

3 brown eggs

12. Keep breakfast simple

When looking for something to add to our breakfast portion of the meal plan, we try to keep things simple. When the morning hits the last thing I want to do is whip up something for breakfast, so having something quick on hand helps a lot.

Go for something simple like oatmeal or eggs, which you can buy in bulk and save money! If you’re in the mood for pancakes (check out these easy whole wheat blender pancakes) or waffles, make a bunch on the weekend and freeze them for later.

Smoothies

13. Use up your ingredients

If you have a recipe that calls for spinach, don’t let the leftovers go to waste! Plan for a spinach based salad or put it in a smoothie!

This can help you save on your grocery bill because you’ll only be buying what you need, and using up every last bit of the ingredients you buy. You’ve spent your hard-earned money on them, don’t let them go to waste!

Brown bags clipped shut

14. Pack snacks for when you’re on the go

One of the top reasons people will eat out is because they don’t plan for trips out. If you have a lot of errands to run and can’t make it back home for lunch, you’ll eat out guaranteed.

Before you go out, make sure to pack yourself a protein-packed snack to help keep your energy up and your hunger at bay. This should tide you over until you can finish your errands and get home!

Make sure to drink lots of water as well as being dehydrated can make you feel hungry! I always carry a water bottle when I go out.

15. Use Prepear

I mentioned Prepear above, but I want to mention in one last time as I really do think it’s a game-changing meal planning service. There are also some features it has that I didn’t mention above!

One really amazing thing that you can do in Prepear is build out your weekly meal plan right in the app. Just find your recipes within the app and add them to your schedule! Then, Prepear will make your grocery list for you.

If you have Prepear Gold, things get even easier. You can browse the meal plan marketplace in the app to find hundreds of different pre-built meal plans! You have no idea how much time this will save you.

If you want to try it out, you can save 40% off Prepear Gold until the end of January through this link.

How to meal plan on a budget

Final Thoughts

When done right, meal planning doesn’t have to be tedious. If you plan your meals right, you can save money on your grocery bill every single week, and save yourself the stress of having to come up with something new every day!

Now that you’ve read our super simple meal planning tips and you have an idea on how to make a meal plan, it’s time to take some action! Don’t wait until next week to start meal planning, start today!

Also, remember to try and have some fun with your meal planning. The more fun it is, the more likely you are to stick to it.

What has worked for you when it comes to meal planning? Have any of your own meal planning tips to share?

Meal planning tips to save money

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