6 Practical Meal Planning Tips + Meal Plan Template {FREE PRINTABLE}

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Meal planning is an absolute game-changer for your budget. I say this from experience.

Because sacrificing quality food isn’t really an option for us, we have to ensure our grocery budget buys enough to feed us completely for 7 days.

I used to be a fly-by-the-seat-of-my-pants, and decide what’s for dinner at 5pm kinda girl which really meant we ate far too many takeaways and scrambled eggs on toast.

I now know that is because of decision fatigue. Meal planning takes away decision fatigue.

Trust me on this, meal planning will save you time and money.

Meal Planning Tips and Tricks to Save You Money

Writing a meal plan for your family doesn’t have to be difficult.

I only plan for dinners generally, knowing that breakfast is pretty much always the same in our house.

Lunches are a packed lunch for school (kids), leftovers (husband) and a simple low calorie meal prepared at home for me (I work from home).

I use the template below as a framework, and to help build my shopping list. 

You can download my meal planning template here in PDF form.

1. Always shop your pantry and freezer first

Food waste is a crime against the environment and your budget. Wasting food is throwing money in the bin.

Plan your meals around some of the lurkers in your freezer or that can of chickpeas you’ve had for 4 years (check the expiry date first).

For example, if you have some frozen chicken and half a bag of potatoes, add the ingredients for a chicken casserole to your shopping list so you can use up those two items.

Pro tip: Have regular use it up days, when you go through your pantry finding items you meant to use but never did. 

2. Check the specials

After shopping your pantry, the next thing to do is check which foods are on special. These tend to be items in season (fresh produce) or on a sales cycle (pretty much everything else).

3. Plan meals that work as leftovers

Bringing last nights dinner to for a work lunch is a huge money and time saver. I aim for two lunch sized portions leftover from each meal. 

4. Double batch

Double batching your cooking often means a lot more output for little extra effort. Often you don’t need to double up on the meat, instead filling with beans, lentils or oats to stretch out the meal. 

5. Make your hot oven work harder

Easy banana chocolate chip muffins using oil not butter
If you are using your oven for a meal, it’s a great time to whip up an easy muffin recipe or prep some frittatas that you can put in the hot oven when you take out the main meal. 

This can mean the baking is done in half the time, while saving electricity as you don’t need to preheat your oven ahead of time.

6. Home takeaways

Count on all your plans going out the window at least one night a week. Instead of resorting to expensive shop-bought takeaways, have a home takeaway ready to go.

With kids my age, this often means frozen fish fillets and oven chips. For a total of around $10 I can get 4 meals of frozen fish and chips, versus $20 at the chipper and a sick tummy.

Meal planning for your family will take some getting used to, so try it out and see what works. You might only do a 3-5 day meal plan, you might just plan dinners. Your meal plan should work for you, not the other way around.

Whatever you do, your budget will thank you.

Download your free meal plan template here>>

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About Emma Healey

Emma is a recognised family finance and budgeting expert and founder of Mum's Money. Her advice has been featured in Readers Digest, Yahoo Finance, Lifehacker, The Simple Dollar, MSN Money and more.