Finding the time to cook healthy meals while balancing a household full of activities is a real challenge for young families. One of the best budgeting tips when you’re trying to save time and get the most out of your money is to create a meal plan.
Using meal planning to know what you are going to eat for dinner in advance can save you from making impulse visits to your favourite restaurant or fast food chain, as well as those last minute trips to the grocery store when your fridge is bare.
Tips to Get Started
Start by making a dinner list. I recommend matching the length of your list to your payday cycle. If you get paid weekly, plan for seven dinners, if it’s bi-weekly then plan for fourteen dinners. I get paid monthly and plan for thirty nightly meals. Stick your list on the fridge or another visible area in the kitchen so you remember to take something out to defrost before you leave for work.
Before you head to the grocery store, take stock of what’s already in your fridge, freezer, and pantry. From there you can use your dinner list to make your shopping list. I make a list for shopping at Costco that includes meat, dairy, frozen fruit and vegetables, and other staples. When I get home I make sure to split up the meat into smaller portions for freezing.
Then I make a list for Safeway or Superstore to shop for fresh produce and anything else we need that doesn’t come in mega-packs. I find the grocery prices at Safeway a bit high so I try and shop there on the 1st Tuesday of the month to take advantage of customer appreciation day (15% off).
Shopping and Cooking in Bulk
Most people shop for convenience rather than looking for the best price. Consider the cost per unit when buying your grocery staples. For example at Costco you can buy a 1.5L bottle of ketchup for $5.99, or you can pay $4.99 for a bottle half the size at another grocery store.
When it comes to cooking, one thing we learned is that if it takes 15 minutes to prepare one meal, it will only take a few more minutes to prepare four meals of the same recipe. Pack the rest up and toss it in the freezer, and later when you need it, getting dinner ready is as simple as popping it in the oven or microwave when you get home from work.
Think of the money you’ll save by always knowing what you’re having for dinner each night or by having already prepared meals on-hand. No more last minute fast food trips or ordering take-out. Even with our small family of three it would cost us at least $40 for dinner at a restaurant. When you plan your meals and cook at home each dinner can cost less than $10.
Be Flexible With Your Plan
Planning your meals in advance can take some getting used to, but your plan doesn’t have to be written in stone. Sometimes life gets in the way. We switch our meals around all the time depending on what the weather is doing if we’re barbequing, if we’re running home late from work, or just to use up perishables before they go bad.
Since we started meal planning a few years ago we have saved around $250 a month. Quite often we end up with leftovers to use for lunch, which saves us even more money. Not only that, my wife and I have lost weight, tried and perfected a variety of new recipes, and have actually become pretty decent cooks. Best of all, we’re eating a lot healthier and enjoy more time with each other.