Save Time and Money with Simple Meal Planning Tips and Tools

Planning our family’s meals is one chore that’s right up there with cleaning the bathroom… It’s one of those necessary chores I just can’t let myself skip. Without adequate meal planning, we’re more likely to open up the fridge, say nothing sounds good, and order out. Both our health and our wallet take the brunt of not having a good meal plan. Meal planning not only saves time and money, but it also leads to healthier, more nutritious meals. 

I’ve been there, though… Planning a week’s (or a month’s) worth of meals can seem like a daunting task, especially when you’re at the end of a long day when your brain is tired. But there are a few things you can do to both simplify the process and make mealtime something to look forward to with your family.

These tried and true tips and tools are shared from my own experience planning meals for our family.

First, You Need the Right Tools

Your first step is to gather your tools.

Notebook or Notepad and Pencil - It can be as simple as grabbing a notebook and pencil. I say pencil because you can erase pencil; it allows you to change your mind as you’re planning out meals, thinking about what your family has going on that particular week.


Meal Planning Forms – If you don’t want to use a notebook, there are so many free printable menu forms online. I actually added menu planning to my planner this year; I make copies (or tear out) my menu plans and post them on the fridge. If you’re looking for some great printable options, here are a few resources:

Of course, even a simple Pinterest search will lead to all sorts of options for meal planning printables.

Magazines, Pin Board, Recipe Box, Etc. - Gather 1 or 2 resources to help provide inspiration for meal ideas. I tend to keep it really simple when meal planning. I have both a secret Weekly Menu pin board and a public Dinner Time board for collecting meal ideas for our family. I also subscribe to Taste of Home magazine, one of my favorite places to get new recipes. I also sometimes refer to my recipe box or cookbooks.

Grocery Store Sales Ads - Planning meals around store sales can help save money. It can also provide inspiration for meal ideas you might not otherwise think about.

An App, like Grocery IQ - This is a handy app that allows you to create grocery lists, organize different types of shopping lists, share your lists, find coupons, and more.


8 Tips for Meal Planning

1. Pick a specific day of the week to plan your menu and go grocery shopping.

2. Check your pantry, fridge, freezer, and cabinets while creating both your menu and grocery list. You may find items you forgot you had for a specific meal; you may also find inspiration for meals, meaning you won’t need to buy as much at the store. This also gives you the opportunity to find items you’re out of that need to go on the grocery list.

3. Talk to your husband and kids; find out what they’re hungry for and what they want to eat. They may even want to plan and cook a certain meal.

4. Plan quick, easy meals for busy nights; I’m talking chicken salad or bacon, egg, and cheese kind of easy. This ensures you’re not tempted to hit the drive thru.

5. Focus mainly on planning dinner meals, along with just a few ideas for breakfast, lunch, and snacks. You can switch it up when it comes to dinner, but just a few ideas for other meals works. We usually have the same breakfast every single morning, except on weekends; it simplifies both our grocery budget and our mornings. And lunch can be as simple as leftovers, depending on the types of meals you plan.

6. Try to plan at least 1 new meal per week. Add a little variety to the menu.

7. Keep old menus for quick meal planning inspiration.

8. Try theme nights. We don’t really do this, but I know a lot of people who love having a Mexican night, pasta night, Meatless Monday, etc.


Bonus Grocery Shopping Tip

Of course, menu planning’s only half the battle when it comes to family meals. Grocery shopping’s the other half.

When it comes to grocery shopping, plan your shopping list out by your store’s floor plan. My husband thinks I’m hilarious for doing this (he just shakes his head), but it honestly works for me. It was something I learned to do back when our older two boys were little; it made grocery shopping with rambunctious boys a LOT simpler of a process.

What are your tried and true meal planning tips? We wanna hear them! Share in the comments below.

By The Women Bloggers member Mel Lockcuff of Adventures of Mel.