How to Plan a Week's Worth of Meals and Actually Stick to It

dinner

After shelter, food is usually the biggest item on your budget. So how do you cut costs on food?

The biggest weapon in the war against overspending on food is menu planning. How do you do it? Well, you’re on the internet right now and that truly is half the battle. And since you're here, we've got some easy tips to make sure you plan your weekly menu and stick to it.

1. Check out the weekly ads for a few grocery stores in your area.

Write down produce that you like that’s on sale and do the same for the meat and fish.

2. See what you already have.

Next up, take a look into your fridge and cupboards. Write down anything that you’ve got and need to use up. Also make a note of anything that you’ll need like milk, eggs, etc.

3. Plan which days you aren't cooking/bringing lunch.

Now, take a look at your calendar for the week. Working late on Tuesday? Try to find a slow cooker recipe that you can start in the morning. Having dinner out on Friday? Don’t plan anything for that day. Catered lunch at work on Monday? Ditto.

4. Be disciplined when you are grocery shopping for the week.

Now, the hardest part: Go to the store and only buy what’s on the list. If you’re really cutting back and really don’t trust yourself then only take cash. I did it for years! And more than once I’ve suffered the indignity of having to put an item back because I didn’t have enough money. It happens, you’ll live, I promise.

5. Try theme nights to make planning easier.

After you’ve gotten the hang of basic menu planning, you can opt for theme nights like Taco Tuesday or Mushroom Monday to take the "what do we make tomorrow" out of it all. We have had breakfast for dinner on Tuesday for many, many years.

6. Make one basic meal you can re-heat.

I also do my best to incorporate one very low cost meal per week, usually a riff on beans and rice like…uh…beans and rice with tortilla chips and salsa or mujadara with pita and hummus. You’ll find what works for you and your family.