How meal planning can help you save money
by Jennifer Ong Tone MHSc RD
Have you ever been in any of the following situations?
- You unload your groceries and are annoyed that you bought another head of cauliflower when one was already in your fridge.
- You return home from work with ravenous kids and are all left wondering, “What’s for dinner?”
- You look in your fridge and feel uninspired by the small selection of meal options. You order take-out.
- Your groceries are running low mid-week and you take an emergency trip to the store.
We all find ourselves in these situations at one point in time and that’s perfectly normal. But my question to you is, how often does this happen? If your answer is, most days of the week, it’s time to introduce you to meal planning.
Meal planning doesn’t have to be extravagant. It doesn’t need to take hours of your time. In fact, it can take only seconds at the beginning. Yes, seconds! It can be as simple as writing one or two new meal ideas each week. Meal planning is a skill, an important one, but one that takes time to develop. Why should you meal plan? Because it saves both time and money. You’ll be less likely to purchase unnecessary items at the grocery store. You’ll be more likely to have enough food to last you the week. You’ll be less likely to order take-out meals. And you’ll be more prepared and less stressed about mealtime. Are you sold yet?
If you’re new to meal planning, here’s a few tips to get you started:
Step 1: Look for specials on produce in store flyers and plan your meals around those items.
Planning your meals around store specials is my #1 tip to help you save money. It’s also a fun way to change up your meals each week. Unfamiliar with some fruits and veggies in the store flyer? Learn how to select, store, and prepare them with Half Your Plate’s fruit and veggie factsheets. That papaya or rutabaga on sale may end up being one of your new favourite staple items at home.
Step 2: Look inside your fridge and pantry and incorporate those fruits and veggies into your meal plan.
If you’re due for another grocery trip, chances are you’re probably running low on fresh fruits and vegetables. But it’s a good idea to take note of the fresh fruits and vegetables you have on hand, so you don’t end up overbuying food you don’t need. Try to also eat the fruits and veggies on hand sooner rather than later, so they don’t go bad. Wasted food is indeed wasted money.
Step 3: Write down a few meals you’d like to prepare for the week and involve your household.
It can be daunting to have the sole responsibility of planning meals for the week. But, once that responsibility is shared, it can really feel like a weight’s been lifted off your shoulders. Involve your partner or kids in meal planning. Give them a specific day of the week where they’re in charge of deciding what’s for dinner. Pull out old cookbooks, magazines, get inspired on Pinterest, set up a food theme night (e.g., Taco Tuesday), or do a recipe exchange with friends. There’s also a ton of healthy and tasty recipes filled with produce at www.HalfYourPlate.ca.
Step 4: Make a grocery list based on your meal plan
Once you’ve nailed down your meals for the week, make a grocery list. This will help you avoid impulse buys and help you stick to your budget. I also find it helpful to keep a running grocery list when essential food items are getting low, like potatoes, ginger, and garlic.
Step 5: Be flexible in your meal plan
Don’t feel obliged to have specific meals planned for each meal everyday of the week. Plan a few meals and allow for flexibility throughout the rest of the week. We are human. Plans get derailed. But, by having a flexible meal plan, you’ll be prepared if the week goes a little off track and you’ll save money in the process.