So to follow up my budgeting post, which you can find here, I thought I’d share some things that have worked for me in making meal planning a success AND allowed me to really tighten up my grocery budget. Plus I’m sharing some of our family’s favorite meals!
First of all let me just say meal planning is NOT rocket science. In fact, you don’t even have to have your life together to make a meal plan; nope. I know, you’re surprised, right?! But really, you literally just need 5-7 of your favorite, simple meals to make. Then you pick up a piece of paper, write them down on a Saturday or Sunday night and boom, meal plan complete! Once you have it, then you know what to put on your grocery list every week. All that’s left is the shopping! And if it’s too much to plan a whole month out, then don’t! Just worry about the next 7 days and that’s it. If you don’t go shopping weekly, then you may have to do the next 14 days, but trust me, NOT ROCKET SCIENCE!
Secondly, just so we are clear, I don’t like cooking at all- it’s not something that brings me joy. But I do love good food! And my family needs to eat every night (at a decent hour) so that means I need to cook! In order to simplify that, I need to meal plan.
If I ‘fail to plan, then I’m planning to fail’ with my grocery budget. Why? Because I only buy the things on my list when I grocery shop and therefore, stick to my budget.
If I’m at the store without a list AND my 2 year pulling at me asking for all the food in that aisle, you better believe I’m ‘planning to fail’. My bill’s most definitely going to be higher, and not just because of the hungry 2 year old. Most likely I’ll be making a 2nd trip to the store for extra things I forgot off my non-existent list, driving my grocery bill up even further.
And don’t tell me you don’t have time! God gave us each the same amount of time in a day, no more and no less to do the things we need to do. We just need to get better at prioritizing the things that matter! The things that get us closer and closer to our goals. If I’m going to be debt-free, saving for retirement, and giving like no one else, I need to meal plan in order to tame that grocery budget. Your grocery budget is an obvious area of your budget that you have control over, but you need to be intentional. I can’t change Verizon’s mind on what to charge me for internet monthly but I can save money in other areas of the budget that are under my control.
When I started meal planning I was all over the place. I tried out new meals, rotated through some old simple meals; I got recommendations from friends, and well, I made a few things that tasted awful. I’ve learned now that my preferred way to meal plan is stick to simple. I use the tried and true old recipes as well as recommended recipes from friends. The way I do that is keep a written list of our favorites. Every once in a while I will get another recommendation from a friend and add it to the list if it’s as delicious as they say it is.
But the trick is the list. I don’t have to think about it, flip through recipe books, or scroll through Pinterest when I keep an easily accessible list of our favorite meals. It’s all right there in the ‘notes’ section of my planner. Not only does this list simplify things but it lowers my stress too.
I may use this list for a few months or more and then rotate some different meals in when we need more variety. On the list is about 20-22 meals. The reason I say 20-22 meals is so we don’t have to have the same thing every week unless we choose to. 1 month of meals: (7 dinners/week – about 2 ‘leftovers’ days per week) x 4 weeks in a month = about 20-22 meals per month.
I usually put my meal plan together on the weekend so my husband can give his input. If you have grown kids let them each pick a meal to put on the plan! You don’t have to do all the thinking and choosing yourself, give some of the responsibility to your family. They’re eating it too, and if you’re lucky, helping you cook it!
We don’t meal plan for breakfasts because they’re so easy, but I do plan to have enough leftovers for my husband’s lunches throughout the week. The meals that typically make the most for us are anything cooked in the crock-pot (soups, fajitas, roasts), and casserole style dishes. I try to incorporate 2 of those a week because they make more for your $$, and we like leftovers! I don’t plan out my daughter and I’s lunches because we basically rotate through the same things every week: sandwiches, salads, fruit, cheese, veggies, and noodles.
I’ve also found that by cooking the same things for dinner every few weeks, I can save money on the grocery bill because I am not buying different sauces, spices, etc. every week. I stick to what I’ve already got in the pantry. Same thing with fresh herbs; I typically don’t use the whole packet so I try to plan two meals that week with the same herb needed in both. And if a meal we love happens to be somewhat elaborate in the ingredients I make sure not to place another elaborate (more expensive) meal in the same week. Spacing the delicious but not so simple meals out will save you time and money during the week.
Have I proved to you yet that it’s not rocket science?!
It’s totally possible to keep things simplified AND delicious. My husband reminds me all the time, “you don’t need to overdo it with elaborate ingredients or cook a brand new dish every night, just keep it simple and delicious!” It can be a thing, trust me.
And my last tip to tame that grocery budget! If you know me, you know I am an Aldi believer, meaning, it takes A LOT for me to grocery shop anywhere else. You just can’t compare the savings, and they have tons of great options! There are occasions where I have to shop at more than one store because Aldi isn’t huge. BUT, it’s still worth it for the savings! Sometimes I get a little creative… change the recipe if I need to, eliminate that weird ingredient, or find something to substitute if I can’t find it at Aldi. This month alone, I saved $67 by shopping exclusively at Aldi. Typically I spend $420 a month in groceries and I managed to get it down to $353. Originally I did it to save extra money for my husband’s birthday, but I think I am going to stick with it if I can save that much.
A lot of the recipes on my list below are “Aldi-friendly”, meaning you can typically get all the ingredients at Aldi.
So here are our current household favorites we’ve been rotating through over the past few months!
Korean Pork Tacos with Roasted Broccoli: Preheat oven to 400. Spread broccoli on cookie sheet. Drizzle with EVOO and salt and pepper. Roast for 20-22 mins, stirring halfway through.
Sesame Noodles with Shrimp and Roasted Broccoli – I use leftover noodles from the recipe above and add grilled shrimp to make it a main dish with and Roasted Broccoli or Asparagus *Aldi Friendly
White Enchiladas (or follow the same recipe and add Red Sauce instead) with Black Beans (see above link) – *Aldi Friendly (if you drizzle the green enchilada sauce from Aldi over the enchiladas instead of using diced green chiles in the white sauce)
Chicken Salad Sandwich: Cook and shred 3 small chicken breasts or use 2-3 cans of chicken. Mix in 2 stalks of celery (diced), a large handful of diced red grapes, a small bag of chopped pecans, and however much mayo you desire. Season with salt and pepper and refrigerate until ready to serve with Salad *Aldi Friendly
Crockpot Thai Peanut Chicken with White Rice and Roasted Broccoli *Aldi Friendly
Turkey Quinoa Taco Bake with Tortilla Chips, Salsa, and Sour Cream *Aldi Friendly
Crockpot Black Bean Taco Chili with Tortilla Chips, Salsa, and Sour Cream *Aldi Friendly
Spaghetti Squash with Thai Peanut Sauce (I add chicken to this for a protein!)
Homemade Naan Pizzas: Grab some naan and mozzarella + toppings of your choice, make this pizza sauce, and then throw in the oven at 350 until the cheese melts. Serve with Salad *Aldi Friendly
Pad Thai with Chicken and Roasted Broccoli
Cilantro Lime Chicken with Peas/Sauteed Asparagus or Brussels Sprouts and Baked Potatoes *Aldi Friendly
Roasted Chicken with Peas/Asparagus and Baked Potatoes
Crockpot Sausage, Spinach, and White Bean Soup with Salad *Aldi Friendly
Crockpot Creamy Tomato Basil Tortellini Soup with Kale Salad: Rinse, remove stems and chop kale. Drizzle olive oil over bowl of chopped kale and massage for a few minutes. Add chopped red onion and fresh grated parmesan to kale (to your liking). Then in a separate bowl mix 2:1 ratio of olive oil to lemon juice. Pour over salad, stir, and enjoy! *Aldi Friendly (if they have fresh basil that week)
Broccoli Cheddar Soup with Salad *Aldi Friendly
Baked Fusili Pasta with Kale Salad *Aldi Friendly
Laura’s Chicken Tikka Masala with Roasted Cauliflower and Naan *Aldi Friendly (as long as you have garam masala on hand)
Chipotle Lime Tacos with Corn and Black Bean Salsa *Aldi Friendly (because I leave out the Za’atar)
White Chicken Chili *Aldi Friendly
Healthy Tortellini Bake with Kale Salad *Aldi Friendly
I even gave you some extras for the month because someone shared some absolutely delicious meals with us recently! Woop Woop!
And if you still don’t believe the magic behind meal planning, here are a two weeks’ worth of plans and the savings!! Oh the savings!! Because when you go to the grocery store with a plan you are already saving money.
Meal Plan #1
Monday – Bacon and Scrambled Eggs, with Roasted Red Potatoes = $10.38
Tuesday – White Chicken Chili = $10.79
Wednesday – Leftovers
Thursday – Healthy Tortellini Bake with Kale Salad = $13.60
Friday – Cilantro Lime Chicken with Sauteed Brussels Sprouts and Potatoes = $13.14
Saturday – Leftovers
Sunday – Homemade Pizza with Kale Salad = $7.81
Total = $54.72 (@Aldi)
Meal Plan #2
Monday – Buffalo Chicken Tacos with Black Beans = $11.63
Tuesday – Broccoli Cheddar Soup with Salad = $12.93
Wednesday – Leftovers
Thursday – Pork Tenderloin with Roasted Broccoli and Potatoes = $11.12
Friday – Laura’s Chicken Tikka Masala with Roasted Cauliflower and Naan = $11.60
Saturday – Leftovers
Sunday – Homemade Pizza with Fruit = $6.00
Total = $53.28 (@Aldi + Walmart)
**These do not include cost for dry spices (I typically have these in my cabinet already)
Are you an Aldi believer? I’d love to know what your favorite ‘Aldi-friendly’ recipes are! Comment below!