For the past few months, our family has used a monthly meal planner to make meal planning on a budget easy. And let me tell you, it has truly helped make dinner time less stressful for everyone involved!
Writing a meal plan each month is easy when you follow these 5 steps:
- Check your pantry and freezer
- Pick easy recipes you can repeat
- Prepare for days you don’t want to cook
- Search for easy recipes to try
- Head to the store with a list
Before we dive into these 5 steps, let’s focus on why meal planning can be helpful for you and your family.
Why Meal Planning Works For Our Family
Earlier this month I admitted on Instagram that I don’t like cooking. Actually, that’s putting it lightly. I detest cooking. I just don’t enjoy it. Throw in the fact that for 10 years I was using ALL my energy as a teacher… the last thing I wanted to do at the end of each day was stand in the kitchen and cook my family a delicious meal.
I’m ashamed to admit that my dislike for cooking at home led us to overspend at restaurants each month. Before we started meal planning, we would spend upwards of $800 EACH MONTH on restaurants. And that was just for two adults. I don’t know about you, but I’d much rather create a monthly meal plan on a budget and have the extra money in my pocket!
Once we sat down and actually added up how much money we were spending on restaurants each month, I knew something had to change. That’s when I started using my monthly meal planner to plan out my meals at home.
What You Need To Know About Creating A Monthly Meal Plan
The idea of writing an entire monthly meal plan can be overwhelming. To help make this process easier, here are a few things you need to know before you get started:
- You don’t HAVE to plan out every single meal. When I first started filling out my monthly meal planner, I thought I had to plan out the entire month in one sitting. That is NOT the case. You can plan out 2 weeks of meals, or even a week at a time.
- Pick days that you’ll go out to eat! Just because you’re trying to follow a monthly meal plan does not mean that you aren’t allowed to go out to eat every now and then! In fact, you can still go out to eat as many times as you’d like. Simply choose which days you want to go out to eat and mark it down on your monthly meal plan.
- Keep your meals simple. Like, stupid simple! You don’t have to serve a 5-course meal. Heck, you don’t even have to serve a 3-course meal! The key to budget meal planning is to prepare simple meals with few ingredients.
- Order your groceries online to save money. If you tend to overspend at the grocery store, then consider ordering your groceries online. You’ll be able to see exactly how much you’re spending before you checkout online. If you’re over budget, simply take items out of your cart. Ordering your groceries online not only save your budget, but will also save you a ton of time!
How To Write A Monthly Meal Plan On A Budget
Are you ready to make your life easier, save more money, and start meal planning? Follow these steps to make meal planning easy and doable!
1. Go through your pantry and freezer to check what you already have on hand.
Chances are you have food that you need to use up before it expires. So take note of everything you have that you can use during the month. If possible, plan recipes around what you have in the house so that you can save on food at the grocery store!
2. Pick out a few easy recipes that you can repeat during the month.
No one expects you to make something once and never cook it again. In fact, it’s totally okay to repeat recipes every single week! Make meal planning on a budget easy by choosing a few recipes that everyone in your house enjoys. For instance, we always have breakfast for dinner or our favorite Crock Pot Ranch Chicken. They are easy and budget-friendly!
3. Be prepared for the days you don’t want to cook.
This tip might be my favorite! Here’s the truth…there are going to be days when you just don’t feel like cooking. The day will come when all you want to do is come home, lay on the sofa, and order pizza. Instead of picking up take-out or ordering a pizza, make a plan for these types of days!
Have a few frozen pizzas or lasagna on hand. Be prepared with frozen chicken nuggets and fries. You won’t regret having a back-up meal ready to go!
4. Search for easy recipes to try.
Once you know what food you have on hand, it’s time to search for easy recipes to try! Head over to Pinterest where you can search for recipes by ingredient or diet. Save them so you can go back and find the recipe later. I tend to try one new recipe a week. The rest of the meals I make are ones that my family has enjoyed in the past.
5. Head to the store with a list.
Never ever go into the grocery store without that list! You’ll likely forget to pick something up or add something to your cart that you don’t even need. The list is key! Also, be sure to check your store’s flyer so that you’re using ingredients that are on sale.
Benefits Of Meal Planning
Taking time to fill out your monthly meal planner has so many benefits! Will it take time and energy? Yes, but you’ll be surprised not only by how much money you’ll save but how much time you’ll save too!
Below are some of the many benefits that our family has experienced since we started using our monthly meal planner.
- We’ve saved a ton of money on groceries and restaurants. When we have a plan in place, we are less likely to overspend or grab things in the grocery store that we don’t actually need.
- I am less stressed! I don’t have to worry about dinner or wait until the last minute to figure out what I need to make. Having a plan in place has lowered my stress level significantly at the end of the day.
- Our kids don’t ask “what’s for dinner” every 5 minutes. Thankfully, my older son can read so he knows exactly how to find out what we’re eating that night.
- We waste less food. In the past, I’d go to the grocery store and buy items because I thought I would cook them. But in the end, I was buying too much food. And over time I would end up throwing away food that had expired. What a waste! We still aren’t perfect when it comes to food waste, but we have definitely seen an improvement!
Our Monthly Meal Plan
Ready to see exactly what we ate for an entire month? I’m sharing all our meals below.
What we ate for breakfast
For breakfast, my kids either have eggs and bacon or cereal. My husband usually heats up a frozen breakfast sandwich and eats it on the way to work (he leaves super early each morning). I either skip breakfast or have eggs and bacon.
Every Saturday we pick up donuts for the family and every Sunday I make cinnamon rolls for the kids. I love our simple weekend morning routines.
What we ate for lunch
For lunch, our kids usually bring hot dogs, Canadian bacon, or sandwiches to school. We also give them fruit and crackers. My husband almost always takes leftovers for lunch. Before I serve us dinner, I usually set aside leftovers for his lunch. This helps ensure that he has lunch for the next day! I usually make myself a salad or eat leftovers for lunch as well.
What we ate for dinner
The picture below shows exactly what we had for dinner each night in January.
See how we repeat some meals over and over? That’s because they are a family favorite or easy to make! The key to sticking to your monthly meal plan is to keep your meals simple. We will eat breakfast for dinner, spaghetti and meatballs, and hamburgers several times a month.
Below are the recipes that I followed in January:
- Baked Chicken Thighs
- Baked Chicken Parmesan – I’ve been making this recipe for YEARS
- Chili (This chili recipe is keto and low carb. Plus, my husband LOVES it)
- Crockpot Butter Ranch Chicken (This is my kid’s favorite and only has 3 ingredients!)
- Instant Pot Lemon Chicken
- Mississippi Roast (I’ll buy 2 or 3 roasts when they go on sale and keep them in my freezer. This recipe has only a few ingredients and is a crowd pleaser!)
- Crockpot Crispy Chicken Thighs
How Much Should You Spend Each Month On Groceries?
There are a lot of opinions on how much you should be spending on groceries each month. However, the amount you spend will depend on a lot of factors. Your family size, the age of your children, where you live, and how often you eat at home will change your grocery costs.
Our family includes ALL household purchases in our grocery budget. This includes dog food, cat food, toilet paper, and even my makeup! I’d rather make one trip to the grocery store and grab everything I need, so we budget everything under groceries.
We are a family of 4 ( with two growing boys) and spend about $130-$150 each week on groceries. This might seem like a lot to others, but it’s reasonable for us.
The Bottom Line
Writing a monthly meal plan has changed the way I cook for our family. My kids no longer assume that we will pick up Chick-fil-a or McDonald’s several times each week. Overall, we are saving money and eating healthier on a budget!