How to Meal Plan

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Are you looking to save some money on food this fall? Make a grocery plan to help you get organized, save money, and choose healthy options before you head to the store.

Meal Plan Step One: Take Stock and Plan

Meal Plan Step One: Take Stock and Plan

Eating on a budget requires some advance planning. The best way to do this is to write down the meals you want to make for the week. This will ensure you get all the ingredients you need. It will also save you time because you’ll only have to make one trip each week. Here are some meal planning tips:

See What You Have

Check for ingredients in your fridge, freezer, cabinets, pantry, and shelves. Make a note of what you have and think about what types of meals you can make with your inventory.

Create a Meal Plan Worksheet

Get organized and start a sheet that details what meals you want to make each week, along with the ingredients required so you can figure out what items you need to buy.

Make a List of Recipes 

Find new recipes for the week and beyond, and create a spreadsheet of the dishes you’re interested in making. Try different recipes and look for healthy options. Start a search online at websites like allrecipes.com or myrecipes.com. You can search most sites by ingredient to help find dishes you and your family might enjoy. Many recipe sites also have apps that make bookmarking favorites on your phone a snap.

Take Your Schedule into Account

If you want to make a fancy meal with many ingredients and steps, that’s great, but just remember you may not always have time for more involved dishes. Save those for a weekend or during vacation. Make sure to look at your schedule and select meals you can prepare quickly when you are pressed for time. Consider preparing some meals in advance that can just be heated when you can’t cook.

Plan for Leftovers

When you cook, think about doubling or tripling the recipe so you’ll have enough for multiple meals during the week. Or you can freeze leftovers to pull out when you’re busy. Making more of a single dish may sound like it will cost more money, but it actually won’t cost you a lot more. Most ingredients you buy come in bulk packages.

Meal Plan Step Two: Make Your Grocery List

Meal Plan Step Two: Make Your Grocery List

Now that you’ve done all the prep work, make a grocery list for the week so you stay organized and focused. Here are some tips.

  • Create a list of ingredients you need for the weekly meals you selected, as well as essentials that aren’t part of the recipes – like eggs, milk, fruits, and vegetables. Use a handy app on your phone like Evernote, or simply write it out by hand.
  • To help organize your list, consider breaking it up into different sections or food groups. Here’s a template you can save and print from ChooseMyPlate.gov. 
  • Constantly update your list when you think of things you need, so you don’t forget. A dry erase board on the fridge is a great way to jot down items needed. When you are ready to go to the grocery, take a photo of the list with your phone. There are also a variety of apps available that allow you to add items when you are out and about. Some apps allow you to sync grocery lists with your family members.
  • When you do hit the grocery, stay on the list. Avoid buying foods you don’t need so you keep your shopping within your budget and you don’t buy unhealthy foods you shouldn’t eat.

Meal Plan Step Three: Head to the Store With Saving on the Mind

Meal Plan Step Three: Head to the Store With Saving on the Mind

You’ve made all your lists, you know what you plan to make, now you need to make smart decisions about what you buy. Here are some suggestions for buying ingredients on a budget:

  • Check your grocery store sales flyer before shopping. Flyers are typically released mid-week. You can find flyers on the store website or at the store’s entrance.
  • Check the shelves for savings before selecting an item. Often a certain brand will be on sale, so look for price reduction stickers and compare prices before tossing an item in your cart. Always consider the store brand because prices are typically cheaper.
  • Join your store’s loyalty program to get special offers that non-members don’t.
  • Shop outside your favorite store for better deals. Farmers markets, for example, may offer great produce at discounted prices. Visit the USDA’s National Farmers Market Directory to find locations near you.

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