I’ve always been a planner, and although there are many times this has worked to my detriment, one area it has helped me considerably is in planning our family’s weekly meals. After years of providing foster care and having as many as six kids in our home, I’ve learned some tips for how to save money and make meals that go a little farther.

  1. Make a weekly meal plan. This sounds like a lot of work, but I find that it actually saves me time throughout the week. By planning my grocery list and 5 Tips for Meal Planning (and Saving)!meals in advance, I only have to make one trip to the grocery store (usually). I make a list of everything we’ll need that week for breakfasts and lunches, which in our house is pretty basic, and then I plan four evening meals for the week, adding any ingredients I need for these four meals. Of course, we have more than four meals a week, but often weekend meals are difficult to plan as our activities are always changing. I consistently plan four meals for Monday through Thursday, and the rest we make up as we go.
  2. Only buy what’s on your list. If you make a grocery list ahead of time, it’s easy to stick to the list. This also makes it easy to pass up things I might just want to put in my cart because they sound good while I’m at the store. I usually have self-control not to buy things that aren’t healthy, but once it’s in my house all bets are off. It’s better if I don’t have it in the house to tempt me! Sticking to my list also helps me stick to my weekly grocery budget.
  3. Keep a folder filled with meal ideas that your family loves and others you’d like to try. For some reason when I sit down to make my weekly meal list, my mind goes blank. To help combat my inability to remember what meals we love and to save on time, I’ve created a folder with a list of all the meals my family enjoys, and I also keep the recipes for meals in the folder as well. This makes my meal planning quick and easy to accomplish in little time.
  4. Mix more expensive meals with cheaper meals. Each week I try to balance more expensive meals with cheaper meals. For example, if we have tilapia and quinoa one night, we’ll have grilled cheese and tomato soup on another night. If we have beef tenderloin and potatoes one evening, we’ll have BLT’s and fresh fruit the next. Other ideas for less expensive meals are breakfast (eggs and bread are pretty cheap), quesadillas, and vegetable soups.
  5. Add extras to make a meal go further. We love meat, but it can be expensive and so we find that adding other things to our meals helps stretch the main dish of the meal. For example, we add beans to our taco meat, extra chicken broth and vegetables to Crock-Pot meals, and use rice (wild, white, or brown), orzo, or quinoa as a side dish with most meals. We also always have a vegetable or fruit as a side dish. I’ve found that by doing this I can use meat for more than one meal. If I make tacos one night, I make quesadillas later in the week and use the leftover taco meat. If we have chicken one night, I make a soup later in the week and use the leftover chicken.

It may seem like extra work at first, but once you get into the habit of planning weekly meals you may find that it consumes less time (and money!) with just a little bit of planning.

What tips do you use when planning your weekly meals?