5 Tips for Cost-Effective Meal Planning
Who hasn’t returned from the grocery store only to unpack your bags and discover you have picked up an item you already have at home or forgot an item you need? Effective meal planning is important at any time, but especially now if you’re trying to reduce store trips because of the coronavirus. I’ve put together some of my favorite tips to ensure you have a smooth meal planning experience.
- Take inventory of what you have in your home. This includes pantry, refrigerator, and freezer. It may seem tedious but this is a necessary step. In order to know what you need, inventory what you have. The goal is to try to use items you already have in home to be included in your meals. Use the first in, first out approach. If you’re not using some of what you have already there may not be a need to keep adding more in the event it goes bad.
- Look at your store weekly ads for sales. Search for produce sales as they are often in season. They may be running a special on a certain item you can add to your menu. Check store apps for coupons, where you can “clip” them to your loyalty card. If you have not signed up for your store’s loyalty rewards, you’re missing out on rewards and cost savings. Flipp is a free app that makes searching all your local circulars a one-stop shop. You can search for a product to see if it’s on sale near you. If you have extra time, you can use cash savings apps like Ibotta, Checkout 51, Coupons.com, and Shopkick for even more of a discount.
- Make a menu for a designated time frame. This can be for week or two weeks. I don’t suggest menu planning for more than a couple of weeks at a time to keep things simple. You can get as detailed as you would like for example, writing out each breakfast, lunch, dinner, and snack. I prefer to write out 3 meals and snack for each day of the week. Plan to use extra ingredients for another meal to limit food waste.
- Write a grocery list for the menu items you are missing. It’s helpful to write your list out in the same flow as the grocery store. Putting items on the list according to their section in the store helps to create a seamless flow instead of zigzagging back and forth. There are better ways to get your steps in (lol). Don’t be afraid to use substitutions instead of having an item you will only use once. For example: instead of sour cream for tacos try Greek yogurt that can be used as a taco topping, but also added to a smoothie, eaten as a snack, and many other ways. Or if you prefer to keep sour cream add it to another menu item, so that it doesn’t go to waste.
- Remember to take your list with you to the store . You don’t want all your hard work to go to waste. It is nearly impossible to remember everything on your list, unless you have a really good memory. I’ve been there, done that, and do not like wasting my time wandering around trying to recall it. Going in the grocery store without a list is like going on road trip without a map. Your list is the road map to get you in an out in a good time. It’s also true what they say about not shopping hungry, or you may end up with several items your eyes and stomach couldn’t pass up. Be flexible, as some ingredients may not be available. Who says you can’t use black beans instead of red kidney beans?
Bonus tip: You can avoid the grocery store all together and opt for a drive-up or delivery service. Some stores are even waving fees and offering free pick-up during this COVID-19 pandemic. However, the preparation is still the same.
That’s really all it takes to make an effective meal plan that will keep you on track with your health goals and budget.