Guide to Meal Planning on a Budget

We know the benefits of meal planning. More time, less stress, less waste, more money, more variety, healthier eating… But how do you meal plan?
meal planning on a budget

Meal planning has changed a lot at our place.

I used to shop spontaneously. I LOVED walking through the aisles picking random ingredients to create masterpieces my husband and children were going to love. I dreamed up dinners I would cook. I would grab items ‘just in case’. I would stock up on specials – if anyone needed a can of anything, guaranteed I would have 8 stockpiled. My fridge was so full to the point where I’d find myself throwing out perished food at the end of the week. I would forget certain items were even there. Half opened expired sauces in the pantry anyone? I was AWESOME at spending money. I would head to the checkout with zero concept of how much I was spending. 

My weekly spend used to average between $300-$400 per week. Sometimes even more.

Meal planning became something I loved instead. I was so over planning on the fly, cooking multiple meals to cater to different tastes in our home, I was over the waste, I was over my mind being consumed by what I was going to cook and I was SO over how much money I was spending.

We know the benefits of meal planning. More time, less stress, less waste, more money, more variety, healthier eating… But how do you meal plan?

Where do you even start? What if you don’t feel like a certain meal on a particular night? What if something comes up? What if you want takeaway? The answer is that meal planning can be whatever you want it to be. It can mean planning two meals a week or planning a month’s worth of meals. It can mean prepping your meals in one day or prepping on the go. It can mean swapping meals depending on what you feel like. It can mean making a different meal using existing ingredients. It can mean scheduling takeaway or dinners out. We can’t get stuck on rules because there are none!

This is the way I plan, this is what works for our family but remember YOUR plan is always going to be the best plan.

A beginners guide to meal planning:

1. Set yourself an allocated time to plan.

Make sure you’ve eaten (meal planning when hungry is the easiest way to over commit yourself to elaborate meals) and pour yourself a glass of wine or have a cup of tea ready. This doesn’t need to be a stressful process. Think of the evenings you spend in and what you would like your dinners to look like. If it’s a family dinner, a quick dinner or a dinner you can eat out of a bowl in front of the TV – whatever it is, enjoy your process of planning.

2. Start with your fridge/freezer/pantry first.

What items do you have? Write them down. Is there a packet of pasta you could use? What veggies need to be used up? You will base your meals off these items first.

3. Look at your week.

I finalise my meal plan on a Thursday and have my groceries delivered on a Friday or Saturday. I check what events we have during the weekend as well as midweek and schedule my meal plan around these. Sports on Tuesday nights? Perhaps a 15 minute meal is best. More time on Friday mornings? You may decide to pop on the slow cooker before you head out the door. Think about your week.

4. Look at catalogues.

I like to see what’s on special, I base my meals around offers if I need to.

5. Get inspired

Use the Woolies magazines, food blogs (ah hem!), browse online recipes, use Instagram, browse your favourite restaurant menus! The options are limitless. Create meals using the ingredients you have already first.

6. Write down your plan

Once you have worked out what you would like to cook, write it down. I use Google drive. Use a pen and paper, a whiteboard, whatever works.

7. Create a shopping list online and set a realistic budget.

Are you within your budget? Excellent. If not, make the necessary changes to your meal plan. Add another vego meal for example. Not enough cash for baby cucumbers this week? Remove them. Buy regular ones. Simple swaps can make all the difference.

8. Refer to your shopping list

During the week keep note of staple items (like coffee, condiments, cleaning products) as they run out.

9. Remember there are no rules

Swap days based on what you feel like, you may only want to plan for 3 days, you may want to plan 2 weeks or 4 weeks! Do what works for you.

10. Spend smart

Use rewards programs and incentives like Cash Rewards (sign up here and receive an additional $10 off your first qualifying purchase over $20). Make your money work for you, these incentives are free and take zero effort, you just need to remember to use them! I use Cash Rewards to receive 5% off every shop. That’s a minimum saving of $500 a year for us. It’s the equivalent of having free groceries at Christmas.

What happens once I have my groceries?

Once I receive my grocery order I don’t prepare much in advance at all. All of my fruit and veg get a wash and are popped in the fridge whole. Some items like watermelon get chopped up, or cabbage gets shredded and put in a container but that’s about it. Because my meals are planned, it takes me no more than 15 minutes at absolute worst to prep dinner. It stops me ever feeling overwhelmed with cooking (I couldn’t do a whole day cook up like I used to but again you’ve got to find what works for you). The variety keeps me feeling inspired and enjoying cooking for what it is.

Creating experiences at home

The truth is life changed with kids (in the best possible way but also in a way that meant our lifestyle changed… Newborns as we know aren’t keen on restaurants and I could barely function /stay awake in my first year of motherhood!) It’s been amazing to bring that element of food and enjoyment into our home… it’s empowering to know we are capable of creating wonderful experiences in the comfort of our own kitchens. I know this is basic, especially for you seasoned meal planners out there but I love to learn from the way others organise their homes and hope this was beneficial for you too. It’s time to get planning.

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Nicole Simple Home Edit Bio

About me

I’m Nic, wife and Mum to two little people. I’m based in Sydney, Australia. I created Simple Home Edit to inspire others to buy with intention, eat well with simple ingredients, own less and live more.

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