Learn How Meal Planning Can Save You Time and Money

By: Krissi Ann

I consider myself a fairly frugal person, except when it comes to the grocery bill. I pay pretty close attention to my family's budget, and the one category that has always bothered me is our food bill. Not eating out, but the grocery bill. We're a small family, but you'd think we feed a family of ten as much as we spend on groceries!
So when a friend taught me how to do meal planning, I knew this would be the answer to our outrageous grocery bill.
There are many benefits to weekly menu planning, but the greatest benefit to my family is how much money we save on groceries. By planning our meals in advance (I usually plan our meals one week at a time), I know exactly what I need to buy at the store, and I avoid buying food that we won't eat that week. Before I started planning our meals, we wasted a lot of food because it spoiled before I got around to cooking it. Meal planning also reduces the number of times I go to the grocery store (I used to go almost every day!), which means fewer impulse buys. I don't know about you, but every time I go to the store to pick up one or two items, I've spent $50 or $60 before I know it. Weekly meal planning helps reduce unnecessary purchases, which means huge savings over the long run. Cutting out the daily grocery trips probably saves me the most in our grocery budget.
The next advantage to weekly menu planning is the time it saves you. First, because you spend less time figuring out what to cook for dinner (or surfing the web for ideas). Second, since you already have everything you need to cook dinner (for the whole week!) you won't have to run by the store after picking the kids up or on your way from work. Imagine how much time you'll save just from eliminating daily trips to the store. If you're like me and go to the store several times a week, you could save a couple of hours of time just by planning your meals ahead of time.
Meal planning can also help improve your health by eating fresher, healthier foods. If one of your goals is to eat healthier, meal planning is a great way to do that. When you do meal planning, it's easier (and you're much more likely) to use fresh, healthy ingredients instead of processed foods. You're also much less likely to run through the drive through on your way home, which is a huge health benefit all by itself. People who do meal planning tend to eat much healthier than the rest of us because they plan their meals using healthy ingredients, and they spend less time at restaurants and fast food drive throughs.
So now that you can see the benefits of weekly meal planning, how do you do it? Here's a quick example of how to do meal planning:
1. Pay attention to your family's favorite dishes and start writing them down. This will be a huge life saver when you can't think of anything for dinner. By having a recipe book or computer file with your family's favorites listed, you can come up with dinner ideas in a snap.
2. The next step is to look through the sale ads from one or two grocery stores in your area. You have two goals here. First, to find dinner ideas. Second, to plan your meal around items that are on sale that week. This is one way that meal planning saves you money.
3. Take a look at the food you already have in your fridge and pantry. One of the great things about weekly meal planning is that you waste less food because you only buy what you plan on using that week, and you actually use what's in your refrigerator before it has time to spoil.
4. You've got a good idea of what you want to cook for the week, so the next step is to write it all down. Write down the meals, recipes and the day you want to serve them. You also need to make your grocery list. There are many free worksheets available on the Internet to help you with your meal planning and shopping list.
5. You're almost done! Post your menu on the fridge, cook your meals each day (or cook them ahead of time and freeze them), then enjoy the rest of your week. Your week should go much more smoothly now that you don't have to worry about "what's for dinner" at the end of each day.

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Krissi Ann loves to cook and loves to save money. Learn how to save money with meal planning and download free worksheets and other menu planning tools.

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