Meal Planning Tips + Free Templates

I have been meaning to post meal planning tips for a while. Meal planning is a very practical tool that I am passionate about, and my aim today is to show how I plan meals to save money on food shopping. It’s not rocket science and it’s not original, but it works. I will also be sharing the two templates I use on a weekly basis to do this, to be used by anyone without having to create a whole system from scratch.

First, a bit of background: I started meal planning out of necessity. About two years ago, I was at home with the kids and not contributing financially to our household, and we were struggling to live within our means without touching our overdraft. I had never pre-planned what we ate before and Badgerman and I are both naturally willing to spend a bit more on higher quality meat and fair trade items, which are not particularly cheap options. An Etsy shop of fancy little sewing projects was never going to be on the cards so I had to find alternate ways to save.

I was struggling to see how I would do it, and yet, since implementing a simple meal planning system, I have been able to cut our food budget by about a quarter by being intentional about the way I shop and plan meals.

Online Shopping

The first thing I did was to start shopping online. Again, necessity. I had a newborn and no car, no way was I going to try to do a weekly shop by foot! Thankfully, most UK supermarkets have an online delivery service nowadays, and you can either collect in store or get your shopping delivered to your home for a small fee. The added bonus, actually make that the main attraction, is that the stress of shopping with small children is taken out of the equation altogether, and that has had an immediate effect on quality of life. I seriously could weep at how grateful I am for online shopping. Obviously I still occasionally shop in store but I try to do it on my own rather than take the children if I can help it, and it’s almost fun!

Meal Planning Tips

Planning meals doesn’t have to be stressful. Most weeks, it only takes me 30 minutes from start to finish to plan and shop for a week’s worth of meals. For this to work, you do need to have a system in place. It took me about a year to implement purely because I lacked motivation, rather than because it was massively time-consuming. Once I sat down and decided I was going to do this, it only really took a few evenings to be up and running.

The first thing I recommend is having a pre-written shopping checklist. My mum has been using one for years and I could see how helpful it was so I basically just updated her list to suit my shopping habits. It is much easier to run through such a list than to hope you will remember everything. Ideally, I would have the list on the fridge for easy access so it can be filled as we run out of items; alas, it seems that even in plain view, it is surrounded by a (selective) invisibility shield. For now, I’ve given up hope that it will be filled in by anyone but me.

Shopping List 2015 pic afal

And so, here’s the first template! I’ve made the list in Word document so it can easily be amended to fit personal preferences: Shopping List Template

The second thing I recommend is creating a list of go-to recipes. I went on Pinterest looking for menu planning ideas and found amazing homemade meal planning boards. I even toyed with the idea of making one for five minutes before deciding it was too much faff. But you can see the Pinterest board I compiled right here!

The main idea I got from looking at these boards is that it is much easier to plan ahead for a week or two with a visual aid so I decided to create individual recipe cards that would include the list of all the ingredients required to make the dish.

This is really easy to do:

  1. Create a label template in Microsoft Word.
  2. Compile a list of recipes used on a regular basis, plus any special occasion recipes, and write down the list of ingredients against the title (see picture below).
  3. Colour code: it looks more attractive and helps visualise the week better. There are endless combinations, but I went with blue for fish, green for meat-free dishes, red for red meat, orange for all other meats (pork, poultry, etc) and purple for special occasions.
  4. Print the pages and fold in the middle so that each recipe card has the recipe title on one side and the list of ingredients on the other. This way, you don’t need to forage into recipe books to figure out what you need to buy. You can just take your box of cards, pull out the recipes you fancy making that week and fill out your shopping list there and then.
  5. Laminate and cut to size.

recipe list pic afal

If I think I won’t remember which recipe book it comes from, I make a note of it on the card with the page number. Every so often, I add a recipe to the template and print the latest page.

Here is the Recipe Labels Template; it is ready to amend with your own recipes.

recipe labels close-up

So there you go! I hope this is a useful post, and don’t hesitate to ask questions in the comments section.