We have been living on one income for a little over one year, and it has been a challenge.  Last week I shared tips on how to set your monthly grocery budget.  You can read more about our budget here and our journey to financial freedom here.  One of the most difficult areas for us is our grocery budget.  There are three of us eating actual food right now, as the Pearl Girl is strictly on the mama milk.

Our monthly food budget is $350.  We take out that much in cash at the beginning of each month and try our best to stay under that amount.  In order to make this happen, we have to meal plan like champs.  Why is meal planning so important when you are on a tight budget?  Having a plan helps me prepare in advance and not end up trying to scramble to throw a dinner together at 5:30.  It helps me to choose budget friendly meals and not end up running for take out because we forgot dinner comes at the same time every day.

I tried using a paid meal planning service (that I won’t name) for free for a blog review, but it wasn’t a good fit for us.  I decided not to write the review because the reason it wasn’t a good fit wasn’t their fault.  The recipes were great, but I am married to a pretty picky eater and mother to a toddler who has very specific preferences.  Let’s just say a meal plan for normal people didn’t work out.  Meal planning isn’t rocket science, but it does take intentional decision making and the willingness to plan ahead.  If this Queen of Procrastination can do it, you can, too.  Here are my very basic meal planning tips to help you on your way.

1) Set Your Grocery Budget – Read more about how to do it in this post.

2) Grab a calendar and start filling in dinners.  Start with your family’s favorites.  Use a month long calendar and fill in as many slots as you can with meals you know how to prepare.

3) Fill in the rest of your meals.  Call your mom and ask for the recipe for a childhood favorite.  Look on Pinterest, Tasty Kitchen, and other recipe sites, but don’t get bogged down and overwhelmed.  Text your friend for her favorite recipes.  Once you have enough filled in for one week you’re off to a great start.  You don’t have to cook like Julia Child every night, but it is fun to mix it up by adding in new things once a week or so.  Add in a vegetarian meal once a week to save money on meat and reduce your environmental impact.

4) Start your list, one week at a time.  Go through each dinner and check to see if you have what you need, then add any missing items to your grocery list.  Next, add in basics for breakfast and lunch.  We keep these items on hand every week: homemade oatmeal, frozen whole grain waffles, English muffins, cream cheese, fresh fruit, Greek yogurt, cereal, eggs, bacon, peanut butter, fruit preserves, honey, cheese, deli meat, and baked chips.

That’s it! You have a meal plan.  I like to plan ahead for the whole month but only shop one week at a time.  I call it a victory when I only have to grocery shop once per week.  Be on the lookout for more meal planning posts coming soon.  Thanks for reading!

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