How To Meal Plan Faster and Cheaper

I have found a system to plan meals that has been a much better fit with both our schedule and our wallet. So when Jenna asked for a guest post that was a “How To” I knew that if it helped even one person then I should share!

Find out how to meal plan faster and cheaper with this simple guide to meal planning. With a little meal prep and shopping know how, you can be a pro. I love the second tip. In our house, we call it "Shop the U."

Here are some details about us, and why this fits so well in our lifestyle

  • I am home most days and we try to eat at home as much as possible
  • We have a deep freeze and can stock up on meats and freezable foods
  • I like to cook (sometimes) and am fairly proficient at adapting recipes
  • I get bored of repetitive meals, quickly
  • We don’t have any allergies or sensitivities and eating healthy, balanced meals is important to us

My first trick – Buy meat only when it is on sale, and not just a little bit, but a good hefty discount. Walking in the store with things like “pork tenderloin” and “rump roast” on your list, and having to buy them whether they are full price or not can increase your spending tremendously. As I gradually came to learn what a good price for each kind and cut of meat is, now when I see it, I can stock up! The large box of frozen chicken breasts that I like to buy is full price $36.99 but goes on sale for $25! I also stock up (buy enough for 3 or 4 meals worth) on beans, rice, pasta, tomato sauce, and other canned or frozen goods that can last a long time when they are significantly on sale.

Second trick – Shop the edges. When I get out to the grocery store, which is always super fun with a 2-year-old and 1-year-old, I try to make it in and out as fast as possible. I usually load them up in the double cart, and race around the peripheries of the store because the edges are where all the fresh stuff is – all the additives and preservatives live in the center aisles of most grocery stores. I load up the cart with any meats and freezable staples but only if they are on sale! Then, I grab the vegetables and fruit and dairy and other perishables that are needed for this weeks recipes, as well as any other must haves that are on the grocery list. Since veggies make up half our meals (more on that later), we go through a lot of them, so again, I buy a lot of what is on sale and in season, and have had to stretch myself to learn how to cook them in delicious ways (which is possible!)


Third trick – Shop your freezer (and pantry).  Within a few weeks of buying meats on sale, my freezer usually has quite a few options. I use my handy freezer inventory (which, honestly, is normally in my head, but I wrote it out all pretty for this posts sake!) and pick a protein to base each days meals off, usually trying to rotate through beef, pork, chicken and fish (we try to have at least one meatless day each week too). This also gives me a chance to take into consideration what days a crock pot or a quick meal would be helpful. I don’t plan a left over night for every week, because I find with my husband taking leftovers to have for lunch at work and the kids and I eating other leftovers for our lunch some days, we usually take care of them pretty well.

Trick number 4 – A Balanced Meal. My meal philosophy (ever since we did a Whole30 this past August) has been trying to have our dinner plates look something like this:

meal plan 3

and in real life:

Meal Plan 5

Not that it is always laid out on the plate that pretty. Sometimes it is all stacked up, like in the “cottage pie” that I like to make, which has a base of half vegetables and half meat, covered with a mashed potatoes and cauliflower. Roughly the same proportions but as a one “pot” meal… less dishes! Other times it is baked chicken thighs, rice, a quick salad of whatever is on hand, and some steamed frozen veggies. But working vegetables into at least half the meal is important to me, and I try to do it as much as possible.


Trick 5 – Remember what you like! When I am trying to think of meals based off the frozen meats we have on hand, I sometimes use a list I keep (in the back of Kelly’s awesome planner!) of meals I know we love and I can make without too much trouble. You could easily keep this list as a Pinterest board, or in Evernote or however you like to organize, but it is helpful in moments when I am not too creative. Other times I look on Pinterest or Google for recipes centering around two or three of the main ingredients I am working with (try it… type in three random foods in Pinterest and almost always something delicious appears! This started out that way and turned into a fam fave!)

I like to use the Pocket app on my phone to save recipes people (like some of my favourite bloggers) share or that I see on Facebook. So sometimes I look there too.

Trick 6 – Leave some room for Spontaneity. Once I have picked 5 main dishes (I guess it’s still the main dish, although often it doesn’t take up the majority of our plates) I just work with what I have on hand for sides and vegetables. I also do not plan for the weekends, since our plans change a lot on Saturday and Sunday, and my husband also likes to have his ideas (and his hands) involved in the cooking those days. Since vegetables don’t normally require as much forethought and planning (read: defrosting) I often just add that part on the day of, and use whatever needs using up or seems to fit with the main dish. But other days it is more integral to the meal (like when it’s spaghetti squash and meatballs or a one pot meal…) so it all depends on the meal.

Last Trick up my sleeves – Know what motivates you. In the end, I am left with something like this:

mealplan 4

Having something organized and ecstatically pleasing to look at makes me excited to follow it, but I try not to feel trapped by my plan and allow myself to make last minute changes when life just gets in the way (and when I forget to defrost something).  Knowing I am capable of putting delicious and healthy plates of good food in front of my family is also a big motivator, and I try to remember that on the days when takeout sounds soo appealing.

Amy is the wife to Brian and mother to Clara (2 and a half) and Hugh (1), she enjoys organizing, planning, and crossing things off her to-do list whenever her two little bosses let her. She reads blogs and sometimes shares her own thoughts at because it is the best way for moms to share a whole thought without being interrupted.

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  1. says

    Great post! I really need to be better about finding meat on sale and stocking up. We eat primarily Paleo (with a few exceptions), so that is such a great tip for us. Thank you!

    • says

      It does take awhile to get used to watching the prices on meat, and feeling confident you know when its a really good deal, but I think it is worth it, especially for a paleo family, if you can stock up that freezer you will be so glad you did when the time comes to use it!

  2. says

    Such great tips :) I really need to get better at meal planning. I always have a ton of meat on hand, but never remember to defrost until dinnertime. We live in Indiana near cattle farms, so we buy 1/2 a cow every year and keep all the meat in our deep freeze…if you can do it, I highly recommend!! Saves us a ton of money on beef/steaks/roasts, and we know the farmer so we know the cows are healthy/well fed. :)