I have nailed down some super simple tips and tricks when it comes to meal planning in my own home, and thought I'd share them with you in case it helps solve some of YOUR dinner budget dilemmas, too!Here's a TV segment I did recently for Studio 5 highlighting my favorite Dinner Budget Dilemma solutions.
Click HERE to watch the video online, or simply click and watch it below:
- Crock-pot, crock-pot, crock-pot!
- Every week just choose two or three meals to cook, and focus on the crockpot as your main tool. Toss the food in the crockpot before work or class, set it on low, and 8 hours later you have a hot meal ready and waiting for you when you come home.
- This will encourage you to come home to the food that is cooking (don't want to burn your house down, do you??) rather than run through the drive-through after a long day.
- If you have roommates, rotate days where you cook for the whole house. That way you have a home-cooked meal every night, but only have to cook 1 or 2 times per week. This will help lessen your grocery bill as well.
- Schedule time to eat out into your week. Let's be realistic here, people! If you schedule in dinner or lunch with friends 1 or 2 times each week, you'll be able to keep it to a reasonable minimum rather than trying to deprive yourself of eating out and being miserable while your friends all go out without you. No bueno!
- Dinner idea: Toss chicken breasts (frozen is just fine!) in the crockpot, dump BBQ sauce over it (no need to measure!), cook 8 hours on low, and shred and eat on buns or eat whole with rice or veggies. BBQ chicken in 30 seconds! Other ideas: Baked potatoes in the crock pot, crockpot salsa chicken, or taco soup.
- Plan your meals at least 1 week in advance, keep the plan on your fridge where you can see it. Use our printables below and laminate them for ease.
- Only go to the store 1x per week…no matter what!
- Price-match at Walmart to cut down on exhausting grocery trips (see how I do all this HERE).
- When you buy meat, cook it up and freeze it pre-cooked to help speed up the dinner process (ground beef and chicken especially).
- Set a “theme” for each day of the week. Ex: Monday = Mexican. Tuesday = Tuscan. Wednesday = Chicken, etc. This will make coming up with what's for dinner much easier.
- Don't go to bed until you know what you're going to make the next day, and take the meat out of the freezer the night before. Use your phone to help you with this; whether it's setting a calendar reminder, or simply keeping a meal list. I like the free app Evernote for making lists.
- Prep dinner as early as you can in the day so that by dinner time your cooking process is quick and painless.
- When you cook, double the recipe and freeze 1/2 so you have a stockpile of go-to meals for those extra busy days.
- Dinner idea: Anything that can be baked in a 9×13 pan (casseroles, lasagna, baked pastas, chicken and rice, etc.). This usually means it can be prepped as early as the night before, and 9×13's are easy to freeze…just stick the lid on, freeze, then pop in the oven – still frozen – when you need a quick meal.
- Stock up when things go on sale!
- Each week plan your meals around what's on sale that week. You can look at store ads that come in the mail (only take note of the front and back pages, the middle isn't worth your time). OR…I prefer to use Deals to Meals because they do it all for you, you can print your shopping list right from the website, and they create meal plans each week that are centered around the items that are on sale that week. It's genius!
- When there's a good deal, stock up like crazy. Stick the excess in the pantry or freezer so you don't have to run to the store and pay top-dollar every time you need to cook a meal.
- Budget: $100 per person per month, including toiletries. Set the budget and stick with it! It will force you to focus on cheaper (but still healthy) meals. You can do it, I promise!!! (see how HERE, see how I track that budget HERE)
- Keep an inventory of what's in your pantry and freezer so you use up what you have before running to the store. See our printables below to help you with this.
- Dinner idea: Stick to “filler” meals that break down and serve lots of people. Ex: rather than serve everyone single chicken breasts for dinner, chop up chicken breasts and make a stir fry filled with veggies and rice. It will stretch your meat farther, which tends to be the most expensive part of a meal.
- Plan your meals 1 week in advance, and use your leftovers to go toward the next meal. That way you'll use every drop of the food you cook, but you won't notice you're “repurposing” it.
- When you cook, freeze half so you can have a future meal and keep serving sizes smaller.
- Use allrecipes.com and search for recipes by ingredient to help you use up what you have. You can also adjust serving size in each recipe and it will automatically adjust to scale it down, if you don't want to make a large meal and freeze the excess.
- Avoid buying bulk, stick with sale items at smaller stores. We all love Costco, but you'll probably end up wasting more than you save.
- Dinner idea: Monday night: Rotisserie chicken and potatoes. Tuesday: Use the same chicken, but serve it over rice and pour a creamy sauce over it. Wednesday: Use the same rotisserie leftovers, but chop it up and make chicken enchiladas, and add taco seasoning to the rice to make mexican rice.
Everyone can use all of these tips at ANY stage of life, but hopefully this helps solve some of your sticky dinner budget dilemmas.
Remember, grocery shopping/cooking/eating is one of the simplest ways to either SPEND a ton, or SAVE a ton for your family. The decision is yours, do the right thing and be wise with your meals. Good luck! 🙂