Want to save money and time? Creating a menu plan and shopping list each week could save you both. A menu plan can help you save money and time by helping you avoid eating out because dinner hasn’t been properly planned. A shopping list can help you save time and money by keeping you organized and on track in fewer trips to the grocery store.
The key to building a successful menu plan and shopping list is to build your plan around food already in your pantry and freezer and then to buy only what you need at the grocery store once per week (or once every two weeks, which is typically my goal). I cannot promise that you won’t ever have to visit the grocery store mid-week again. But if you are visiting the grocery store twice or more each week, you can save money and time if you create a menu plan and stick with it.
So how can menu planning save you time and money?
- If you have a definite plan for dinner with no ingredients for it missing from your cabinets, you will be less likely to decide that you just want to pick up some fast food for dinner, saving you tens or even hundreds of dollars every month. Think about “The Middle.” How much money do you think the Heck family could save each month by eating at home rather than paying for five to eat take-out?
- If you have a specific food that needs to be used in the near future, you can plan to use the food in your menu plan early that week so that food is not wasted, saving your family money and avoiding food waste. (Did you know that the average American family throws out approximately $640 in food each year?)
- When you create your menu plan, you can methodically review ads for sales and your coupon binder for valid coupons. Then you can menu plan accordingly to take advantage of those deals, saving you even more money. For example, if peppers are on sale for half their typical cost, I plan multiple meals with them that week.
- If you add only what you need to your shopping list and stay on track at the store, you can avoid impulse buys, saving even more money.
Saving money is clearly the primary benefit of menu planning. But if you shave off just one shopping trip a month, you’ve saved yourself some time and hassle, too! Winning!
How to create a menu plan and shopping list:
- The first step in creating a menu plan is is to obtain a menu plan template. Fortunately, I have a fillable, editable, savable PDF menu plan form on this blog! You need to be a subscriber to access it, so click here to subscribe if you haven’t already done so. Download the PDF to your computer, and open it in Adobe Acrobat Reader. You should be able to type your plans for dinner, breakfasts, lunches, and snacks right in the form. If you would rather just write in your meals, you can just print a blank copy, too. You could even laminate one printed page and write on it with a dry erase marker, saving money and ink.
- The next step is to determine what meals you will have over the next week and type those meals into the menu plan template. As I said previously, I base my weekly meals largely on what food I have on hand. For example, a few weeks ago, I had carrots and potatoes that needed to be used, so I planned to make chicken noodle soup and baked potato casserole to use those. I also review the sales circulars/ads and incorporate any major sales I see. If I know Zaycon is delivering boneless, skinless chicken breasts for $1.69 per pound this week, I will work to incorporate varied chicken recipes into our diet more often than typical: chicken Parmigiana, chicken tacos, white chili, sauteed Worcestershire chicken, etc. Finally, I do add in meals based on food we don’t have on hand but would enjoy having–grilled steak, for example.
- Check out the food you have available in your refrigerator, freezer, and pantry, comparing it to your menu plan. Determine what you need to buy. List what you need on your shopping list.
A few more tips on menu planning and shopping lists:
- Consider using a weekly menu planning theme. You can create any kind of theme you desire, from dinners based on a specific meat (chicken night) to dinners based on who chooses what will be made for dinner (kids’ choice) to other random themes (breakfast for dinner night). Some ideas:
- Soup Sunday.
- Mexican food Monday.
- Meatless Monday.
- Taco Tuesday.
- Slow cooker Wednesday. (Use your slow cooker when you know you won’t have a lot of time to create something from scratch. I use my slow cooker on Wednesdays because I volunteer at AWANA on those nights.)
- Pizza Friday.
- Grill night. (We grill on Saturdays when we have more time to grill and are more likely to go out if we don’t have an enticing meal on tap.)
- I suggest keeping convenience foods on hand in case you’re too tired to cook a full meal or you get home late. Make sure these are meals that are easily prepared and don’t take a lot of time to make either. Also, make sure they are cheaper than your typical fast food meal. For quite some time, we kept frozen pizzas in the freezer for this purpose. Now we have substituted a few quick, easy, go-to meals instead:
- We have multiple sets of burger patties stored in the freezer for quick defrosting and grilling or broiling. For sake of convenience, we always have pickles, onions, mustard, and ketchup on hand for burgers.
- We also keep plenty of spaghetti, frozen veggies, frozen chicken, and soy sauce on hand for a quick, easy stir-fry. I buy onions and peppers when they are on sale and then wash, chop, and freeze them. I also poach, shred, and freeze chicken for easy preparation on busy nights.
- Finally, we keep browned beef in the freezer for quick pots of spaghetti or stroganoff.
- I print our weekly menu plan and keep a copy in my home management binder for a month so. Reviewing it when I’m menu planning shows me what meals my family is going to tire of.
The process is simple. If you make menu planning and creating a shopping list a routine, you’ll save yourself money, time, and stress!
I want to know!
What are your go-to meals? Do you have any exciting and fun menu planning themes I haven’t mentioned above? Leave me a note in the comments!
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