Eat in February: Meal Planning 101

Monthly Meal Planning

Everyone has a solution to meal planning. There are programs you can buy to meal plan, there are classes you can attend to learn to meal plan (HEY I teach one if you are interested). I think there is information overload in this area of personal finance. BUT I do think there is validity in meal planning to lower your grocery bill and save time. I also think there are certain foundations that I like to teach that no matter HOW you choose to actually plan you can use them.

Today we are going to dive head first into:

Meal Planning 101

You may ask what sets The Nifty Thrifty Lady's approach apart from the other 1000.... Blogs, books, and systems. Well, in all honestly nothing. I do not have a quick fix to planning meals but I do have a system that I have been using for 4 years and these are the benefits: 
  • Stay on a $300.00/month grocery budget for a family of 4
  • Limit household food waste
  • Eat healthy
  • Not dread meal times and be prepared
  • Entertain friends and family on the same budget
That sounds like a good system right? Even better I am not telling you MY system is the best and the only one you should use! I am simply showing you how I plan and  mainly WHY it is important to plan. Let's get started.

Spend some quality time with your family and cookbooks

How to Meal Plan
  • Create a Family Staples List: One night at dinner ask everyone to share their favorite meals/snacks. Jot them down so you can create a Family Staples List Knowing what your family likes to eat and doesn't like to eat will cut down on unnecessary food purchases and make meal planning faster.
  • Find Inspiration: After you have figured out what your family likes to eat, grab your favorite cookbooks (Pinterest board or website) and get inspired! CONFESSION: I (may) hoard cookbooks! I love cooking and everyone knows. Friends and Family randomly pick me up a new one here or there and I have turned into a "problem". 
  • Planning TIP: I like to pick one cookbook, mark the recipes I know my family would like or I could make for a special occasion and work through it. The recipes I like go in a binder and then I pass along the whole cookbook. 
  •  Try New Things, But not TOO Many. Why? Many new recipes have ingredients that I don't always have on hand. That means either leaving them out (which can sometimes be just fine!) or buying them.  Buying a bunch of new ingredients at once is a budgeting NO-NO! Stick to 2-4 new ingredients a month!
Setting up a Meal Plan

Creating your meal plan

  • Inventory list's
  • Meal Planning layout
  • Family Staples
  • Favorite Recipes
  • Colored Pens/pencils
  • Family Calendar
I know you're probably ready to jump ship with the supplies list but let's look at it a little better:

  • Inventory list: These are a quick way to reference what you have on hand without getting up every 5 seconds to look
  • Meal Planning Layout: I plan monthly and use a basic word calendar. You can choose to plan monthly, bi-weekly, or weekly and with whatever layout you like. There are some great apps and Pinterest is again flooded with free printables! As long as you are planning and 95% sticking to that plan that is all that matters. 
  • Family Staples: This list will be the meat of your planning so it is important to have completed
  • Favorite Recipes: It is so much easier to meal plan when you have your favorite recipes with you and are not searching hi and low for them!
  • Colored Pens/pencils: Yes I am old school and I color code my meal plan. You can do the same on many apps or you can choose a layout that breaks up breakfast, lunch, or dinner.
  • Family Calendar: Knowing your families schedule plays a HUGE part in meal planning. If you have to pick up the kids, run home to change, and spend the evening at multiple practices you are NOT going to be cooking in the spare 15 minutes you have. BUT you can warm up leftovers from the larger meal you prepared the night before or dish out a bowl of soup from the crockpot add some fruit, bread, and have dinner at home!

My Personal Process
  1. Mark off any special events or appt. that may interrupt a meal time. The boxed number denotes this on the calendar below.
  2. Plan out all your breakfasts for the month
    Planning for Breakfast
  3. Plan all of your lunches
    How to Plan for Lunches
  4. Plan all of your dinners including any freezer meals you would like to make to freeze
    Meal planning for Dinners
  5. Plan your Snacks for the month
    Planning Snacks into meal plans

 The Finished Product

Monthly Meal Plans
  1. We use themes to help narrow down the thought processes and this helps me know how much meat I use in a month for stocking up.
  2. I color code so it is easier for me to focus on each meal at a time.
  3. I like to highlight the day we events and mark what the event is so I can quickly remind myself when planning a meal
  4. We like to have leftovers once a week this helps to not waste food. If we don't have any leftovers we usually have grilled cheese or homemade pizza.
  5. Planning my snacks out for the month is important. Sometimes I get in a rut and just want to buy chips and soda. I prepare all my weekly snacks on Monday's so this task is done and I can focus on more important things like this post.
Okay, guys! It's your turn get your cookbooks, get your pretty pens, grab your family and start meal planning!


Monthly Meal Planning
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  1. The idea can save me a lot of time and money. Thanks for the tips.

    1. My pleasure! Planning a imperative to save money. It also keeps a crazy house sane!

  2. These are a lot of great tips. My family likes pretty much the same thing, so it is hard to menu plan because there isn't much variety. They are very hesitant about trying new things, so it is difficult to add new things.

    Stopping in from SITS!

  3. Great tips! I haven't been meal planning lately and have been in such a rut at dinnertime. Looks like you've got a stash of great cookbooks to work with. I'd love to pull up a seat at your table :)