Want to plan some meals with me? I'm showing you how to meal plan on a budget, plus some easy meal planning tips and principles to help you use up what you already have in your fridge and pantry first… AKA Shelf Cooking!
My family has 10 people now and meal planning is a BIG task. We spend very little on our groceries, we eat a lot of homemade food, and we still manage to eat pretty well! People are constantly wondering how we do it. Let me tell ya! I'm about to share some of my meal planning secrets.
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If you have been around here for a while, you may have heard me talk about shelf cooking. This is a method of cooking that I coined and helps me reduce the amount of waste and create healthy homemade meals for my family, AND save money at the same time! It's genius. I'm about to break it down for you. Let's talk about easy and affordable meal planning!
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Check out the video online or watch below:
Alright, that video was awesome and full of so much good info. Here's a recap…
WHY YOU SHOULD MEAL PLAN
Grocery shopping is a hot topic! Seriously, one of the most frequent budgeting questions I get asked is about groceries. And more specifically how much to spend and how to make my recommended budget work for any household. (Check out this post and my recommendation for how much you should be spending on groceries.) Most families spend more on groceries than almost anything, except their mortgage. Crazy right?? One simple way to cut your grocery bill in half… is to MEAL PLAN!
SECRET TO MAKE MEAL PLANNING EASIER
Use technology! It makes your life so much easier. There are several websites and apps I use on my phone (cause I always have my phone with me)!
- Fetch Rewards – Download this app NOW! Like… right now! You can scan your receipts and earn big rewards (gift cards). You can use those rewards to buy more stuff and get even MORE rewards! It's just amazing. It's a free app and a total no-brainer. Use my code “FUNCHEAPFREE” for 3,000 points when you scan your first receipt!
- Find Recipes – There are so many great sites out there to help you find delicious recipes.
- Notes in Your Phone – Keep inventory so you always know what you have. It makes it so easy to see what you've used and what you still need to use up!
- Favoreats App – Use code JORDAN15 for 15% off this sweet app!
MEAL PLANNING STEPS
These are the 3 simple steps to meal planning (the EASY way), that I typically follow. Start implementing these strategies and you'll be a meal planning pro in no time!
STEP 1: TAKE INVENTORY
Take an inventory of everything you have on hand in your fridge, freezer, and pantry. This may sound daunting, but don't freak out on me just yet!
Start with the fridge because it's the stuff that will go bad first! It's also generally the most healthy since it's fresh. From there move to your freezer (I might have a lot of freezers, check them out here) and then your pantry! Check out this post for some awesome printables and more detailed information on how to complete a kitchen inventory.
Keep in mind that you don't need to write down the staples or things that you always have on hand! Check out what I recommend to keep in stock in your kitchen to make shelf cooking so much easier.
FIND OUT WHAT'S ON SALE
If you don't have a lot in your inventory or you still need to supplement with a shopping trip. Check the ingredients that are on sale for the week. I like to use the app Flipp or I really love Deals to Meals (I have used and loved them for years, plus they give good information about stocking up on food and how much you need).
You can also use the ads that you get in the mail. But here's a little tip for you – only check the front and back pages. That's where the real deals will be. The stuff in the middle is just fluff to make it look thicker!
STEP 2: RECIPE TIME
This is where most people end up doing their meal planning backwards. Instead of hunting down the perfect recipe first, plan your meals using the ingredients that you already have. Figure out what you need to use up and have on hand, and then try to find the items that you need from the store on sale.
Glance at your inventory. I recommend starting with the protein! I have veggie patties, chicken and ground beef. Those are all things I can plan a meal around. I also see that I have bell pepper, onions, corn, tomatoes, jalapeno, lettuce, tostada shells, etc. I'm picturing something with Mexican food like tostados or taco casserole. I don't necessarily need a recipe for that.
If you're looking at your ingredients and you're stumped, have no fear! There are a lot of things you can do. Pull out whatever you use to plan meals—cookbooks, recipe binders, or pull out your phone and head to the good ol' web! I love technology, soooo… The Favoreats app is a new discovery that I'm loving. You can plug in the ingredients you have and find delicious new recipes to try out. You can also save those recipes and make a meal plan right in the app if you want!
I use my productivity planner to write down the meals you decide on and then plug it in. These things sell out fast, so we made a digital download you can grab here! As you're planning your menu, think about the order that things need to be eaten in order to reduce the waste! Start with the meal that you need to use up the ingredients up the fastest so they don't go bad. After you've chosen your main dish, plug in any sides you want to include throughout the week. Don't forget to plan for date night and leftover night!
(Pssssttt I also have some free meal planning printables you can use if you're in a bind and have nothing else!)
This is another meal planning video I did a while ago that talks more about the shelf cooking method! Kinda old, but still has some great info in it!
In the past I've loved to use AllRecipes.com (#notsponsored) to find meals I can make. You can search for the ingredients you have and it will find recipes that include those.
I recommend printing off the recipe so you can have it in front of you. Then if it's a winner you can add it to your recipe book to make it easier to find and make again in the future!
STEP 3: TIME TO SHOP
My rule is to shop at only ONE store, ONCE per week. Pick the store that has the best deals and go there. Use online grocery ordering (get $10 off your first order of $50 or more from Walmart!) and curbside pickup to make it quick and easy.
Choose the store that has the best deals for the week OR choose the store that has the supplemental items you need on your grocery list. Some weeks you may just need the basics, like fresh produce, milk, eggs and bread. On weeks where you don't need a lot of ingredients to make your meals, be mindful of what you need to stock up on and grab your non-food items. Time to head to Costco!!
Instacart is also another GREAT way to keep you from splurging or making impulse purchases. A personal shopper does all of your shopping and then delivers your groceries at your door. Talk about convenience! It's great for those days that you really need something, but there's just no way that you're getting out of the house.
EXTRA MEAL PLANNING TIPS
Here are a few tips that will make your meal planning go that extra mile!
- Stock up on sale items (as long as your budget allows). My rule of thumb is one for now and two for later.
- Make a weekly menu and keep it on your fridge or somewhere in your kitchen so that you know which meats to thaw before dinner. A cheap dry erase board is a great way to do this!
- Plan for leftovers and eating out when you're doing your weekly meal planning. This will keep you from buying extra food that you don't need for that week.
- Make double and freeze as you're cooking. This will save you later!
- Make a recipe binder. Any time you make a recipe that you like, put it in your binder so that you end up with a huge cookbook of all your favorite recipes. Use dividers to section it up and you're good to go!
- If you want to see how I specifically meal plan for my family of 8, make sure that you check out this post!
Leave me a comment and let me know how you meal plan and if you have any great tips I'm missing!
Don't forget to download the Fetch app and scan your receipts for rewards!!
Have you checked out ShelfCooking.com yet? Our brand new site is dedicated to helping you cook delicious, nutritious and budget-friendly meals for your family without spending too much time in the kitchen!
Basically every parent's dream, right? Join our Shelf Cooking Community today!
If you need more help with your budget, don't forget about my awesome (if I do say so, myself) online budgeting program, Budget Boot Camp! It's a super fun video program that makes money easy to understand. All you need is a screen and you're set!
And don't forget, if you don't save AT LEAST what you paid for the program, I'll refund every dime. You've got nothing to lose! Use the code FCFBLOG to get an extra 10% off, because I love you 😉
Want more meal planning, grocery shopping and kitchen tips?
- Come organize my pantry with me!! Tips for keeping it clean and for keeping track of what you have so it doesn't go bad.
- Learn how to store groceries, choose a watermelon, and other food hacks!
- Come watch how I grocery shop and stock up on a budget!
- Tired of eating leftovers? Come see all of my leftover hacks.
- Watch me shop inside Walmart, where I'm talking about how to spot the best prices and cheapest products.