Meal Planning & Saving Money | How We Cut Our Food Budget in Half

I mentioned in my grocery store prep post that I meal plan and create a list before going to the grocery store. We plan dinners about 2 weeks in advance and write down meals from actual dinners to leftovers to eating out. In a 14 day period, we know what is for dinner for 12 days.

Here is a break down of cooking versus non-cooking days for the first 13 days of the month (July).

Cooking Meals: 8

Leftover/Fend: 3

Blank Nights: 2

I tend to leave 2 days blank (per 14 day period) in case something comes up and we have to move a meal around. If we get to the blank day, and we’ve kept on schedule (or I just don’t want to cook), we’ll either have an extra “fend for yourself” night or go out.

Meal prepping has also allowed us to make different meals. We have our go to/staple meals (Taco Tuesday, leftovers, pasta and meat sauce, etc.), but we’ll usually decide on 2 days of what I consider crazy meals.

You should know that I’m a picky eater so crazy meals, to me, are anything that’s not my standard (more bland) meals.

These new “test day” meals have run the gamut and have not always been the greatest tasting. Some things we’ve tried are Kung Pao Chicken, spicy fish dishes, we’ve made pizza on the grill (instead of in the oven), variations of sauces. But again, it forces us to get out of our safe eating zone!

When it comes time to shopping for these meals, it’s a breeze. I buy our beef and chicken in bulk, at the beginning of each month, which saves me time and money. Fish and other meat items (that we don’t eat regularly) are bought gradually, either as we need them or as they go on sale.

Meal planning also forces us to come up with side dishes we’ll want. Carbs, veggies, fruit, condiments. All parts of the meal are thought of as we prep, even if they aren’t named on the calendar.

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I’ll be honest, the first two of months we did this were HARD. We knew that we didn’t want to go out to dinner as often and we wanted to save money. We had our goal, but it was easier said than done. Deciding on what we wanted to eat and when to eat leftovers were frustrating.

By the end of Month One, I knew that I didn’t want to cook every day. We also decided that allowing ourselves X meals out could be trouble because you can easily overspend on a single night out.

By the end of Month Two, we had nailed down that we’d have a warm meal about 4 times a week, leftovers would be finished off on Wednesdays, and the last two days would be month dependent.

Note: we stopped giving ourselves “eat out nights” and started giving a maximum dollar amount to spend. This category is strictly for eating DINNER out. Through trial and error, we’ve learned how to stretch the money so that we can get 2-3 meals out (plus tips).

Before Meal Planning Monthly Cost (Costco Food, breakfast, lunch, and dinner included) $600

Current Monthly Grocery Cost (Costco Food, breakfast, lunch, and dinner included)
$300 – $350

Average Dinner Out + Occasional Alcoholic Beverage
$80

Lastly, and most importantly, stick to the plan! It’ll be challenging, but you’ll throw less food away, eat healthier, and your wallet will thank you!

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