Are you wasting money, time and food every week? Do you go into a shop without a list and grab items that look good, but when you get home they make no sense together? I got you! Let’s fix it together! I’ll show you how with a beginners guide to meal planning on a budget- step by step! And there's a free planner too, so make sure you grab it!
Getting started meal planning
Meal planning on a budget is the fastest and easiest way to get food spending and food waste under control. As we seem to be entering "unprecedented time" after "unprecedented time" week after week, like most people you're probably looking for some certainty, familiarity and comfort. As well as being able to reduce/eliminate any and all stress possible. My go-to remedy for troubled times has always been food. Specifically healthy food that still comforts my body and soul.
Healthy recipes made from scratch, but easy and with small ingredient lists. Preferably all from one shop because time is precious these days. So, Savvy Bites was born to fill this exact need for us.
I fell into meal planning because I needed budget family meals that everyone would love. Growing up in a single-parent household on a fixed income, I watched my Mum clip coupons, and go from shop to shop getting the best deal on healthy food. I always loved cooking so started doing it for us from a very young age. I always cooked from scratch. But I was a kid, so simple meals and recipes were what I cooked. This set me up with some skills that have served me very well over time.
*Savvy Bites is currently running a reader survey so I know what to make going forward. So far recipe inspiration, help with meal planning and recipes with minimal equipment and are your top reasons for visiting SB.
If I haven’t convinced you yet, here are some more top reasons to meal plan.
Beginners Guide To Meal Planning On A Budget
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5 KILLER REASONS TO MEAL PLAN
- Eat healthier- This one’s kind of a no-brainer really. When you meal plan, you are in complete control of what you eat. No more grabbing a takeaway or ordering pizza on the fly. You know exactly what you’re having and you know that you’ve got all the ingredients to make it.
- Helps you achieve your weight loss and fitness goals faster- When you meal plan you are saying yes to whole healthy foods and no to preservative-laden ready meals. Meal planning will save you tons of empty and accidental calories. The kinds of calories you don’t realise are in a lot of our go-to ready meals. And tinned soups etc.
- Great variety- When you take the time to meal plan (about 30 minutes a week) it gives you the chance to space out your food. To find some creative recipes that you haven’t tried before. You also have the time to think about the ingredients that you need. I bet when you don’t meal plan, you find yourself making the same 4 recipes every week. Am I right?
- Save you buckets of time- This one may be one of the biggest wins in the meal plan game. These days time is literally MORE important than money. So, when you plan, go through your recipes. Make a list of all the ingredients that you’ll need for your recipes. That way you are going grocery shopping 1 time!!!! Yes. One shopping trip to the grocery store is the meal planning limit. There is a bit of a caveat here though. You go shopping 1 time for your main items. You split fruit and veg up into a Saturday night trip and a mid-week trip, just to ensure you’ve always got fresh stuff on hand. This isn’t necessary, but it helps keep veggies and fruit fresh. That way nothing goes to wastes. Keep a sheet on the fridge for anything you may run out of or need topping up, but keep it limited to things like milk and bread, and your mid-week fruit and veg.
- Save money- Because it’s not like we’re all not looking to save some cash every day right? The more money you have in your pocket and less money you drop at your local grocery store the better you’re going to feel about things. When my meal planning game slipped, I was going to the grocery store 3-4 times a week and spending the equivalent of a weekly shop each time. The big kicker in this was that I wasn’t really thinking about what was already in the fridge that I could use up, so at the end of the week there was lots of bits and pieces that would potentially get wasted. Now that my meal planning game is strong, every night is stressless. Because I know what I’m making and I already know I’ve got the ingredients to get on with it right away.
6 SIMPLE STEPS OF MEAL PLANNING: HOW EXACTLY DOES THIS WORK, ANYWAY???
When I sit down on Saturday to make my meal plan and shopping list I do the following 6 things…
- Make a list of all of your activities for the week- Do the kids have activities, do you have a date night, or are you entertaining? (in our current time of COVID I know that all of these questions will be a no, but I pray we can all start filling up our calendars again soon!) These questions will inform the pace of the week and the style of dinner you need to have ready. If it’s a quiet week, then you can take a little more time cooking if you feel like it. If it’s a super hectic week, you need to be sure you’ve got simple meals to get on the table in a hurry.
- Decide How many times would you like to cook/ eat out/ have leftovers- This one step can instantly reduce overwhelm when it comes to meal planning. It’s easy to get overwhelmed when you think you need to get 7 different dinners each week. But if you know that one night you’ll be out, 2 nights you plan on having leftovers, that only leaves you 4 nights to cook. And if you make them all 15-30 minute meals, that’s a week’s worth of dinners in 2 hours or less. See? You totally got this!
- How long do you have each night to make dinner? So, like we just talked about in the above point. How long can you afford to spend each night cooking dinner? Personally, I love a 30-minute meal, but sometimes I just want to spend time in my kitchen. I love to meditate on the rhythm of cooking. Chop, dice, sizzle, stir. Repeat. For some of us cooking is therapeutic and we enjoy the process. For others of us, we want to get in and out as fast as possible. So decide what you’re in the mood for and find recipes that fit the bill. Eg. 15 minutes, 30 minutes, 1 hour or slow cooker.
- Make the days visible- Marking out the days on the weekly calendar are a huge help. It lets you quickly glance at the day and you know exactly what’s going on. Mark the days that will be tight on time with an “X” and the days that you’ll be out with an “O”. Leftovers can be marked with an “L”. You can use these for actual leftovers the following night, or you can use it as lunch the following day.
- One Meal at a Time- As most people’s dilemma really comes from dinner planning, put breakfast and lunch on autopilot until you master dinner. That way you’re only getting to grips with one meal and we can add in breakfast and lunch a bit later. Cereals, smoothies and packed salads or leftovers are the way to go for the first couple of weeks of meal planning.
- KISS Methodology- Keep the dinners simple. In order to stay on the meal plan train, start with simple recipes that are limited on ingredients. May I suggest you use this website for such recipes! Use recipes that make the best of seasonal ingredients to keep costs down.
The Perfect (cheap) Tools For Meal Planning
Being good at meal planning only takes a bit of practice and a couple of tools that will make your life so. much. easier. I’ve listed everything that would be on my wishlist, but you can certainly just choose what works for you. I've included some plastic and some pyrex options for every budget.
These glass containers are a dream to use. They can go from freezer to fridge, to oven and microwave.
I love these plastic containers. They're dishwasher and microwave safe!
These rectangle glass, oven-safe containers are perfect for making lasagnas and shepherds pie. They’ve got their own lids, so no need to waste plastic.
LUNCH MEAL PREP CONTAINERS
These lunch prep containers have locking lids, so you can be sure that there will be no leaks all over your bags or desk!
MEAL PREP STORAGE
Silicone food storage bags are the perfect solution to single-use zipper bags. I love mine and have really never looked back once buying these ones.
Food safe labels are a must when you meal prep. These labels make have space for you to record when you made the recipe or prepped the ingredients and when it needs to be used by.
A sharpie is a must in the kitchen when food prepping like a Queen. Instead of running around looking for a pen on meal prep days I leave these in the kitchen so I’ve always got ’em.
If you’ve got a favourite meal prep recipe drop it below, or if you’ve got some tips and tricks that I didn’t mention let me know. Meal planning, the art of organising meals, and meal prepping, the nuts and bolts of chopping, blending and mixing ingredients to use throughout the week are two sides of the same coin. You can barely have one without the other.
Be sure you download the planner and use it help you keep control over your fridge and your grocery budget.
Happy prepping = Happy cooking. Enjoy, Everyone!
THANKS SO MUCH FOR READING AND COOKING ALONG WITH ME! IF YOU MAKE THIS RECIPE OR HAVE A QUESTION, I’D LOVE IT IF YOU LEFT A COMMENT AND A RATING. YOU CAN ALSO FOLLOW ALONG ON PINTEREST, FACEBOOK AND INSTAGRAM TO SEE WHAT WE’RE EATING, PINNING AND A LITTLE BEHIND THE SCENES TOO!