How to save money with menu planning

how to save money with menu planning main image

If you want to cut your grocery bill, you can easily save money with menu planning. Want to know how to create a meal plan on a budget? You’ve come to the right place.

It’s a great help for your finances – in fact I’d say it’s probably the most effective way to trim your supermarket spending – and it helps to reduce stress and brings many other positive benefits.

Food prices are still increasing at a relatively high rate, and they’re affecting middle and low income households the most. Grocery shopping makes up a larger proportion of our monthly budgets, so shocks in this area are going to hit harder. It’s worth getting organised.

I’ve spoken to quite a few people recently who say they feel completely overwhelmed by the idea of menu planning, and I’m here to tell you that it’s really simple to do – honest! Let me take you through my super-easy step-by-step guide to creating a meal plan that works, and you’ll soon have a lot more confidence.

Let’s start by having a look at why a quick menu plan makes everyday life better.

The many benefits of menu planning

There are so many good reasons why you should try making a weekly meal plan. Here are just a few examples:

  • As we’ve already seen, you can save lots of money
  • It cuts down on food waste
  • Allows you to eat more healthily
  • Being organised reduces stress
  • Fewer trips to the shops
  • Works with bulk buying, meal prep & batch cooking

There so many other great reasons too, which are covered in a separate article here if you’d like some extra inspiration and motivation.

And now, on to how to make your own simple, effective money-saving menu plan.

9 simple steps to save money with menu planning

Start by setting a few minutes aside so you can concentrate on your plan. Ideally make this a regular thing, so it’s the same day and time each week – this makes it easier to get into the habit.

Want to know exactly how to make a menu plan? Go through this simple checklist, step by step.

check your diary then make a menu plan

1. Work out who’s at home when

The first step is to take a good look at your diary and anyone else’s in your household. Think about working hours, study, social events, exercise and hobbies. Who is at home for each mealtime, and who is going to be out? Will anyone be home late but still need a meal? Who might need a packed lunch, if anyone? This will show you the times when you’ll need quick meals, or meals for fewer people. It will also show you where you have more time.

Prevent food waste save money with menu planning

2. Use what you already have first

Now move on to food that you already have. In particular, what do you have that needs using up quickly? Check the fridge, veg basket, fruit bowl, or whatever else you have that’s perishable. Come up with an idea or two for meals at the start of the week where you’re using these fresh ingredients or leftovers up.

If you need some inspiration have a look at Love Food Hate Waste which has lots of helpful ideas. There’s also a brilliant leftovers recipes section at BBC Food.

3. Check the store cupboard & freezer too

Which longer-lasting ingredients do you have in stock? Have a look in your kitchen cupboards and freezer, and think about cheap meals you can make from low-cost staple ingredients and/or things you already have.

Need a few ideas? There are over 100 mouthwatering budget recipes at Delicious Magazine, and stacks of low-cost dinner recipes at BBC Food. There are plenty of cheap meal suggestions in the Feed Yourself for £1 a Day facebook group as well.

[PG TIP: Do you have a regular supermarket? Check for good special offers on their website, app, social media channels, or in their weekly email. Can you base any meals around those offers to save money?]

Seasonal food to save money with a menu planner

4. Think about the season

What’s the temperature and the general weather like? Do you have any favourite recipes for this time of year? Have a look at my British Seasonal Food Guide and note down a few ingredients that are plentiful and at their best this month.

Yes, eating healthily can be more expensive sometimes, but seasonal food can be cheaper if there’s a good harvest or a glut of it. You may be able to take advantage of lower prices because of this.

Recommended seasonal food cookbooks

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save money with quick cheap meal ideas

5. Now focus on your quick meals

You’ve already worked out which evenings you know you’re going to be home late, or tired after work or exercise, so now it’s time to think about your favourite quick meals. Do you have any go-to meals you love, like an omelette or beans on toast, or anything else?

Need some help? Have a peek at GoodFood for their big collection of quick recipes, try the NHS’s easy healthy dinner ideas, or try these quick midweek family recipes from Jamie Oliver.

[PG TIP: If you’re trying to break a serious tired-person takeaway habit and your budget can stretch a little, remember a cheap microwaveable ready meal or a frozen pizza costs a fraction of the price of a takeway – dinner doesn’t always have be made from scratch. It’s okay to have a bit of long life ’emergency food’ in a cupboard or the freezer.]

Recommended quick recipe cookbooks

Household favourite meal ideas for a thrifty menu plan

6. Think about longer-cook favourites

Everyone has a few personal or family favourites that take a bit longer to prepare or cook, so make a note of some of yours. For example, these could be the sort of meals that you make if you have more time at the weekend. They might include pies, bakes, lasagne, roasts, casseroles or curries.

If you live with other people be sure to ask about their favourite meals too – harness the power of a family favourite.

7. Have a set or themed night or two

If you’re prone to feeling stressed and overloaded (and frankly who isn’t?), keep it simple by having a regular night for a set meal, or a type of cuisine. The meal I hear the most love for is bangers and mash, but you could also have Tuesday pasta night, or Wednesday curry night, or Friday pizza night, and of course many of us adore a Sunday roast lunch or dinner. Whatever you love, really.

Some of these work all year round – burgers and chips we *heart* you – or you can rotate as the seasons change to keep it interesting but still easy. You could, for example have a regular salad night or ‘picky tea’ night in the Summer when it’s too hot to cook, then move on to a regular pie night in the Autumn when you want something warmer and more comforting.

You can also have a weekly ‘new recipe night’ if you love trying new things. I like to treat myself to an interesting cookbook every now and then, and make something different from it each week on a Thursday evening. That keeps things feeling fresh, and a varied diet is good for you.

Cheap weekly menu plan ideas

8. Decide on your main meals & write it out

Now choose all your main meals for your menu – for most of us this means dinners in the evening. You can also plan to have leftovers from certain meals so you don’t have to cook the following day (for example if you have roast chicken on a Sunday you could make chicken noodle stir fry on Monday.)

Then write down your main meals and any other meals, and put the list where it can easily be seen.

[PG TIP: Depending on your lifestyle and preferences you might also want to quickly think about breakfast, snacks, lunches, desserts and drinks.

[PG TIP 2: You might also need to agree alternative meals or extra snacks with anyone with special dietary requirements, picky eaters, or hungry teenagers.]

Save money with menu planning and a shopping list

9. Finally, make a shopping list

Note down all the ingredients you need for your meals, and anything else you need for your household. Choose your shopping day and plan your trip, or book a home delivery.

That’s it, you’re done.

Tools to make weekly menus even easier

Want to make menu planning a breeze, even if you’ve never tried it before? I’ve got you. My FREE easy printable menu planner makes everything super quick and streamlined, so it’s ideal for busy people. It’s based on the quick checks I do myself at home, and I hope you like it as much as I do.

The printable planner includes a weekly menu section, a shopping list, a quick checklist with handy prompts to walk you through it, and a notes section (Beau – don’t eat the burgers! or Penny – your dinner’s in the dog! etc). If you want one just fill in the box below and click the button, and it’ll be directly on its way to your inbox.

Get your FREE printable menu planner!

Final thoughts about ways to save money with menu planning

If you aren’t used to meal planning there’s a small learning curve, but once you get the hang of it the process only takes a few minutes.

Thinking about a few quick-cook and slow-cook favourites, and having a set/theme day or two each week really speeds things up – it creates a shortcut that makes everything so much easier.

Once you’ve tried your first menu plan week, have a quick look to see what worked well, and what didn’t work so well. Don’t worry too much if there’s a hiccup or two at the beginning, just focus on anything you’d like to leave out next time, or new things you’d like to add in.

You’ve got this.

So that’s how I love to save money with menu planning! If you haven’t tried it before, are you going to give it a go now?

If you’re a more experienced weekly menu creator, do you have any tips to share with newbies? Please share in the comments box below.

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