We're diving in to some common budgeting dilemmas and sharing some meal planning solutions to help you make the most of your time in the kitchen!

Easy meal planning solutions from Fun Cheap or Free

If you know me, you know I have a love-hate relationship with cooking…there are times when it's definitely more hate, than love.

however…

Whether you love to cook or not, feeding your family is either one of the easiest ways to:

  • A) spend your family into oblivion, or
  • B) save your family thousands throughout the years.

We all know grocery shopping and cooking can make or break the bank! Before we got out of debt, meal planning just wasn't in my vocabulary. We were spending WAAAAY too much money on food. I would grocery shop several times per week, buying whatever I felt like we wanted or needed for dinner that day. I felt like I was “food-poor” but never had anything to eat in our house! (Does that ever happen to you?) Not to mention, tons of food would go bad in my fridge because I would forget I had it.

I have nailed down some super simple tips and tricks when it comes to meal planning in my own home (check out how I do it, the easy and affordable way), 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 way back when I was about to have my 3rd kid in 3 years… for Studio 5 highlighting my favorite Dinner Budget Dilemma solutions.

Enjoy!

Watch the video below:

 

EASY MEAL PLANNING SOLUTIONS TO YOUR DINNER BUDGET DILEMMAS

Easy Meal Planning Solutions - Learn how to meal plan with what you have! Fun Cheap or Free

We're breaking down all the dilemmas that people have everyday that keep them from meal planning and making home-cooked meals at home!

Let's start with a problem that everyone faces! Tracking what food you DO have and can use to make delicious meals. Sounds simple right? Well, there's a super simple solution. I've started using several super easy ways to keep track of food, and plan meals.

Check this out! Grab a cheap magnetic board that you can stick to your fridge or somewhere visible in your kitchen. Make sure there is always a pen attached and plan your meals each week. It will save you BIG!! Literally hundreds of dollars. No joke. Don't forget to think through the stuff that's in your fridge and pantry (learn how to take an inventory HERE) as you're planning meals to help you use up what you already and never let anything go to waste!

You don't have to come up with a meal every day, make one day a leftover day. Just make sure you write it down to cut down on those 5PM scrambles where you end up ordering pizza instead… don't let the pizza chain suck up all your money!

There you have it! This is one of the simplest things I do that saves our family tons of money. It's amazing what a little planning can do.

No matter what your family situation is like, start taking an inventory. It's the first step to successfully meal planning.

Alright! What other problems can we solve?

SINGLE, STUDENT, OR WORKING PROFESSIONAL DINNER BUDGET DILEMMA

I have no time to cook between working and social life, so I tend to eat out/buy food on the go, which really adds up. 

You're right! That can be very expensive! No worries, we have some solutions for you.

MEAL PLANNING SOLUTIONS

  1. Crockpot, crockpot, crockpot! This thing is magical. Toss some food in your crockpot in the morning before work or class, set it on low, and 8 hours later it transforms into a hot and delicious dinner waiting for you when you come home! Every week just choose two or three meals to cook, and focus on the crockpot as your main tool to make this happen! 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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!

MEAL PLANNING SOLUTIONS

Toss chicken breasts (frozen is just fine!) into 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 potcrockpot salsa chicken, or taco soup.

PARENT OF YOUNG CHILDREN DINNER BUDGET DILEMMA

By the end of the day I'm so exhausted and my young kids are so cranky, I just don't have the energy to cook, or I look at the clock and it's already 5pm and we need dinner ASAP. So we go for expensive frozen meals or order pizza.

You're right! That can be very expensive! No worries, we have some solutions for you.

MEAL PLANNING SOLUTIONS

  1. Plan your meals at least 1 week in advance, keep the plan on your fridge where you can see it. Use the printables linked below and laminate them for ease. When meal planning, keep a list of dinner ideas handy! 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.
  2. Only go to the store 1x per week…no matter what!
  3. When you buy meat, cook it up and freeze it pre-cooked to help speed up the dinner process (ground beef and chicken especially).
  4. Don't go to bed until you know what you're going to make the next day, and take the meat or frozen dinner out of the freezer the night before. This speeds up the process in the kitchen! 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.
  5. Prep dinner as early as you can in the day so that by dinner time your cooking process is quick and painless. When you do cook, make your time in the kitchen count by doubling the recipe and freeze 1/2 so you have a stockpile of go-to meals for those extra busy days.

EASY DINNER IDEAS

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.

HOUSE FULL OF TEENAGERS DINNER BUDGET DILEMMA

These teenagers eat me out of house and home! My meal budget has tripled, especially when they invite their friends over!

You're right! That can be very expensive! No worries, we have some solutions for you.

MEAL PLANNING SOLUTIONS

  1. 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!
  2. Stock up when things go on sale! 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.
  3. 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)
  4. 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.

EASY DINNER IDEAS

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.

EMPTY NESTERS DINNER BUDGET DILEMMA

Now that I'm cooking for just two again, I find myself wasting so much food because we just can't seem to eat it all! We get sick of eating the same leftovers day after day and end up throwing it away. I'm still in the habit of cooking for a big family!

You're right! That can be very expensive! No worries, we have some solutions for you.

MEAL PLANNING SOLUTIONS

  1. 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.
  2. When you cook, freeze half so you can have a future meal and keep serving sizes smaller.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.

EASY DINNER IDEAS

Learn how to shelf cook like a pro. For example on Monday night make Rotisserie chicken and potatoes. On Tuesday night, use the same chicken, but serve it over rice and pour a creamy sauce over it. On 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.

Here are some great printables to help!

*Note: These are brand new, updated printables (not the same ones from the video from 2013.)

Check out ShelfCooking.com

Have you checked out ShelfCooking.com yet? Our brand new site dedicated to helping you cook delicious, nutritious and budget friendly meals for your family without slaving away in the kitchen! Basically every parent's dream, right? Join our Shelf Cooking Community today!

Remember, being smart about how you grocery shop (check out these shopping tips) and cooking homemade meals (check out ShelfCooking.com for recipe inspiration and more) 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! 🙂

Jordan Page Signature from Fun Cheap or Free