It is no secret that we love to cook in our house.
We also love to eat out. Really we just love good food no matter where it comes from.
As our family has grown we have found it more and more difficult, and EXPENSIVE, to eat out very frequently. Packing up the kids, dealing with their noise and messes at the restaurant, and finally looking at a bill that can be higher than our weekly grocery budget just gets to be too much.
Over the past year, we have really begun to embrace meal planning to save money
With that, we have also learned to enjoy cooking more and more as we dive into recipes that used to be outside our comfort zone.
One of the best benefits of cooking frequently is you begin to acquire random ingredients that really expand your recipe opportunities.
Fish sauce, ginger, chili garlic sauce, spices, etc. Having these ingredients on hand make cooking a variety of dishes that may be outside your normal zone a lot more accessible.
How to get Started Meal Planning
The basics of meal planning for us really comes down to choosing recipes that we like, being smart about ingredients and cooking larger meals.
Choosing Recipes for Meal Planning
I will be the first to admit that we are really bad about keeping track of recipes we like. Often we’ll want to make a dish we had a month or two ago and have to go down the Google rabbit hole to find it again.
Luckily there are a few websites that we just love and put out some incredible recipes that are great both for dinner to pack up for lunches for a few days.
- Pinch of Yum – This is one of the best-known food blogs out there and for good reason. They have a section on bowls that we choose a recipe from almost every week. The great thing about bowls is how easy they are to make in bulk and pack up for lunches for the week.
- Serious Eats – Serious Eats gets a bit more into the nerdy side of cooking and breaks down recipes and iterations they have tested in-depth. We cook their pan pizza recipe at least once a month I get a lot of inspiration just by browsing the site once a month or so.
- Mealprepify – We love Mealprepify as it is focused solely on meal prep recipes. One of our go-to’s on the site is their lunch meal prep ideas.
- Pinterest – This option is the obvious selection for finding recipes and inspiration. We honestly don’t use it much but every time we do we are able to quickly find a lot of great ideas.
Thinking About Ingredients for Your Meal Plan
Considering your ingredient list is one of the easiest ways to cut your grocery bill. Finding recipes that use the same ingredients in multiple dishes both helps to cut down your prep time and will save you money.
We love to cook large cuts of meat and use that in multiple dishes. As an example, we might buy a 3-pound pork shoulder and smoke or slow-cook it on a Sunday. The meat can then be used in pulled pork sandwiches, tacos, breakfast burritos, etc.
This also works for specialty items like kimchi, miso paste, cheeses, etc. Its amazing how many innovative recipes you can find just by Googling two ingredients that you may have on hand.
A few weeks ago we had a bunch of cucumbers and green beans so I Googles recipes with those two ingredients and found this one. That is a recipe that we absolutely loved and I would never have thought of or found without following this method.
Meal Planning Tools
There are a ton of apps, spreadsheets, printables, etc you can use to plan out your meals!
Personally we gravitate towards a simple route of finding a recipe we like, writing out the ingredient list, and looking for other recipes that have complementary ingredients.
Apps for Meal Planning
There are a number of great meal planning apps available that will help you organize your meals plans, set up grocery lists and suggest recipes based on your cooking history.
Here are a few that we can recommend:
- Mealime – Mealime lets you set up customized meal guidelines for individuals so this is a great app for people with dietary restrictions or those who love to host dinner parties. It also focuses on quick to make meals so this a great option for weeknight dinner planning.
- FoodPlanner – FoodPlanner is an app that lets you import recipes from around the web, track your ingredients and build out weekly meal plans.
- Paprika – Similar to FoodPlanner, Paprika also is an app that can import recipes from around the web, build grocery lists, and set up customized meal plans.
- MealPlan – MealPlan offers a super friendly drag and drop interface so you can easily set up meals for each day of the week. After using it for a few weeks it will also start building recipe recommendations for future weeks.
Printable Meal Planners
There are a thousand different option out there for printable meal prep planners.
We really like the options on Family Fresh Meals as they include grocery lists, pantry inventory, meal plan calendars, and lunch idea checklists.
We also have a Pinterest board with some amazing meal prep printable options.
Meal Planning Tools
One final item to consider for successful meal planning is a good set of storage containers.
We love glassware sets that stack and are easy to pop into the microwave at work or at home.
Amazon has some great options in both glass and plastic for those who are looking to cut down on the weight and storage space requirements.
Glass Meal Prep Containers
These glass containers are available without or with internal compartments and are super easy to stack and organize in the fridge or freezer. We used to have a set that came with 3 different shapes of containers and they were always a pain to stack and keep track of all the different lids.
Plastic Meal Prep Containers
These plastic meal prep containers are a great option as well as they weight a lot less than glass, are still dishwasher/freezer/microwave safe and take up a lot less storage space.
Final Thoughts on Meal Planning to Save Money
By meal planning to save money, you can dramatically cut down on your monthly food budget and set yourself on a path for a healthier lifestyle. Let us know what your favorite recipes are for your weekly meal planning!