Looking for meal planning ideas? Here are 101 easy ideas to help show you how to meal plan and get dinner on the table with less stress while you are saving money.
Meal planning is something that everyone should use to help keep their grocery budget in check and their weeknights easier to manage. Meal planning is one of the most simple ways to save money. Money that you can then spend on other things that are important to you! You don’t have to feel overwhelmed by meal planning. There are tons of great tips out there for making your menu amazing, cheap, and something everyone in your family will love. These tips are a great beginning to an amazing meal planning routine for your kitchen. If you are looking for a meal plan template or printable meal planner, be sure to sign up for this how-to meal plan checklist including a weekly menu planning printable sheet. I also include a special offer for a meal planning book.
With back to school, I thought this would be a great time to think more about meal planning and how it can save you time, money and stress.
101 Tips For Meal Planning Success – Meal Planning Tips
This list of tips includes links to our own posts with more details, as well as some basic concepts that work great for any menu type you choose.
- Utilize already prepared menu plans to help you get ideas and have a grocery list on hand easily. One of our favorites is Eat at Home.
- Shop once a month for main ingredients and weekly for fresh fruits and vegetables
- Limit new recipes to only 2-3 times per month
- Invest in quality food storage like a Food Saver or Pyrex Freezer Bowls. See more must have meal planning tools here.
- Always label all freezer meals with date prepared, recipe name, and ingredients
- Get your family involved in decision making to learn their favorite meals.
- Add easy to prepare meals for your kids and spouse to make.
- Don’t forget adding breakfast for dinner is a great option.
- Use liners in your Crockpot to save time on cleanup.
- Make double batches of breads, cakes, cookies, and brownies to freeze for future snacks or additions to meals.
- Use limited leftovers to create casseroles by adding a pasta or rice and a cream soup base. Great with small amounts of veggies and chicken.
- Make your own seasoning blends to cut back on expense and sodium in your meals.
- Stick with seasonal foods to cut back on costs. Buy when on sale and freeze for future meals during off-season.
- Use your Crockpot or Instant Pot for cooking in summer to avoid heating the house with the oven.
- Don’t overcrowd your freezer. Foods freeze faster and healthier when there is air to circulate around them.
- Use your Instant Pot for easy and fast last minute meals including roasts, chicken, soups, stews, and pastas.
- Plan to use leftovers for lunches by creating larger portions.
- Use theme nights to make planning easier: Taco Tuesday, Soup Sunday, etc.
- Complete the full meal planning calendar by planning ahead for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.
- Make dessert a once per week treat instead of daily menu option.
- Create easy breakfast freezer items like breakfast burritos, muffins, breakfast sandwiches, and smoothie packs that work on any meal plan.
- Never grocery shop without a list.
- Break your grocery list down by aisles of the store with notes of prices in sales papers.
- Take help with you to make grocery shopping easier, and to keep on track so you don’t make unnecessary purchases.
- Add leftover vegetables to a freezer bag to be thrown into soups or stews or later easy meals.
- Don’t throw away marinades. Reduce and boil to kill bacteria and use as a sauce for meats and vegetables.
- Double check your pantry and freezer before shopping so you don’t buy something you already have on hand.
- Clean your kitchen in advance when preparing multiple meals at once so you have all tools available and an empty counter and sink to work with.
- Create freezer meals in big batches for less time in the kitchen throughout the month
- Host a meal planning swap with friends who also use freezer meals. This gives you extra hands to prepare meals and a variety of foods.
- Create the ultimate meal planning pantry by stocking up on regularly used meal staple items like pasta, sauces, rice, and canned goods.
- Organize your pantry for easy access and viewing so you aren’t wasting money on last-minute grocery items.
- Buy extra shelves and baskets for your deep freeze for better storage
- Defrost your freezer regularly so freezer meals are properly stored and you have more room for frozen foods.
- Use the same ingredients in multiple recipes to cut back on costs.
- Buy in bulk and portion items to save money when meal planning. Meats, bulk grains, dry beans, and spices are often the best deals.
- Take advantage of seasonal sales to stock your pantry and freezer with produce and meats at lowest prices.
- Make double batches for easy leftovers.
- Amp up flavors with fresh herbs.
- If making freezer casseroles, invest in quality dishes that can go from freezer to refrigerator to oven with no problems.
- Add healthier options gradually so not to overwhelm picky eaters and create wasted food.
- Prep fruits and vegetables as soon as you get home with them so none go bad in your refrigerator drawers.
- Batch cook meats and freeze in recipe portion sizes for faster meal preparation.
- Cook dry beans in your Crockpot then portion and freeze for easy use in recipes. This saves time, money, and reduces sodium.
- Learn what foods freeze well to take advantage of sales (eggs, bananas, cheese, etc.)
- Keep a menu plan visible in the kitchen for reference.
- Make sandwich nights a regular easy meal to give you a break from cooking.
- Use your grill for batch cooking meats and vegetables easily.
- Freeze meats in a marinade for even more flavor when cooking.
- Create hamburger patties and separate with wax paper before freezing for fast meals. This can also be used for homemade breakfast sausages.
- Allow foods to cool before putting into the freezer to prevent condensation that creates freezer burn.
- Lay bags of soup flat on a cookie sheet to freeze then stack like books to save space in the freezer.
- Make double batches of soups, stews, and chili in the Crockpot to freeze for a second meal.
- Cook roasts in the Crockpot then shred for BBQ sandwiches, tacos, or casseroles.
- Cook baked regular and sweet potatoes in batches in the Crockpot to keep the kitchen cool in summer.
- Make your own homemade French fries and tater tots by preparing and par-cooking allowing to cool, then freezing for future use. This cuts back on savings and time for preparing fresh foods at mealtime.
- Drain excess grease from cooked ground meat before freezing.
- Use apps for helping stay on top of your grocery list and meal plan.
- Cook bacon in the oven in large batches then freeze for easy use in recipes. This is faster and creates less mess.
- Invest in the right tools for your kitchen like sharp knives, cutting boards, stockpots, non-stick cookware, and casserole dishes with lids.
- Create your meal plans around the sales at the grocery store.
- Plan one week of meals just from your pantry and freezer to properly rotate food stock.
- Limit the addition of meat by adding beans into more casseroles, soups, chili, or tacos.
- Shred vegetables like zucchini, cabbage, and carrots to freeze for future recipes.
- Keep separate storage areas for ingredients some may be allergic to for safety in cooking.
- Create a master recipe list of family favorites then break down ingredients to keep those items on hand at all times.
- Add new recipes your family likes into a cookbook or recipe box marked with how often you will use for easy access later.
- Keep a printed and digital copy of your menu plans for easy access. Evernote and Dropbox are great tools for this.
- Keep a list of ingredients, recipes, or styles of food your family doesn’t like so you won’t repeat in the future.
- Watch the weather for best times to grill outside or bake indoors when the temperatures are lower.
- Use Pinterest and Yummly on the go to create boards focused just on potential recipes for future meal planning. See some of my Pinterest boards here.
- Keep vegetable peels in a freezer bag to later use for creating a flavorful vegetable stock to use in soups and stews.
- Invest in bag holders if creating freezer meals in large freezer bags.
- Use dry erase stickers for freezer containers to save costs long term.
- Wash vegetables and fruits in a vinegar and water rinse to kill germs and clean before cutting
- Freeze cheese before hand grating. This makes it easier to work with softer cheeses in large batches.
- Save the butter wrapper to grease dishes with for baked goods.
- Save water from boiling pasta or potatoes to add back in as you mix with sauces for more flavor.
- Stock your pantry with ingredients for 3 meals that only require non-perishable items for emergencies.
- Only add recipes to your meal planning rotation that are approved by 75% of your family. Food waste isn’t effective in budget meal planning.
- Follow food blogs and recipe groups for new ideas.
- Keep the same day each week or month for meal planning and food prep for consistency so you don’t get off track.
- Add one “clean out the fridge” night each week to help you cut back on leftovers being wasted.
- Add one vegetarian meal to your meal planning each week to cut back on costs and improve health.
- Calculate the expense of a ready-made meal plan prior to purchase. Sometimes the cost far outweighs the frustration of locating recipes on your own and assembling a shopping list.
- Freeze wine in ice cubes for easy portions to add to soups and sauces while cooking.
- Prep fresh fruits and vegetables for freezing to use in recipes by cutting, patting dry, and allowing to freeze on a cookie sheet first. You can then transfer to bags. This removes moisture and prevents freezer burn as well as clumping together in the freezer.
- Portion leftovers when you put food away so reheating is easier for lunches and meals later.
- When creating your grocery shopping list, list all recipes individually, then add duplicate items together to create the final total needed.
- Cook pasta in sauces instead of separately. It takes longer but means less cleanup and the flavor of the pasta is much better.
- Create your own pasta sauce in the Crockpot then can for homemade cheaper sauce using fresh ingredients to stretch your meal planning budget and make meals easier to make.
- Keep your knives sharp so prep is easier to complete.
- Have a separate cutting board for raw veggies and raw meat for safety and faster meal preparation.
- Always empty your dishwasher or wash dishes before cooking so you have less mess to clean up afterward.
- Create semi-homemade meals using ready-made things like canned soups, frozen meatballs, or even cake mixes and add your own ingredients and twists to them.
- Roast whole chickens and turkeys when on sale then shred meat and portion for use in future casseroles and soups.
- Organize your refrigerator for easier use when preparing meals. Keep like items together, and use extra shelves or bins to keep it organized as needed.
- Always keep at least 2-3 bags of frozen vegetables on hand that everyone enjoys for a fast addition to any meat.
- Always thaw frozen meals overnight in your refrigerator. Never thaw foods on the countertop. Follow FDA food safety guidelines for the health of your family.
- Invest in the right tools for the jobs. Things like food processors are great multi-purpose tools for preparation, and slow cookers in multiple sizes make it easy to prepare a large meal while you work or spend time with family.
- Start slowly with just one week of meal planning at a time. Once you get the hang of it, you can move to monthly meal planning.
Jump in with both feet and give meal planning a try using our tips above and in the listed articles we have created to break down some of the more difficult parts of meal planning for your family.
More Meal Planning Resources
How to Create a Meal Planning Pantry
Meal Planning with an Instant Pot
How to Use a Crock Pot for Meal Planning
Meal Planning Tips with Picky Eaters
Meal Planning – Once a Month Meals
Restricted Diets & Food Allergies Meal Planning Tips
Wondering How to Make a Meal Plan?
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