Tips and Tricks for Meal Planning for a Family of 5

This post is the sister to my previous post about tips and tricks for budgeting for a family of 5!  So make sure you read that, too, if you’re trying to learn money-saving strategies!  I explain how we use different debit cards for different categories of spending and how that helps us cap our spending.  The first month we did it we literally saved over $500!

But now for my meal planning tips and tricks.  First of all, meal planning is the actual tip and trick to save money.  You should be doing it!!!  Not only has it helped me save money, it has relieved so much anxiety that used to surround grocery shopping.  Now, I just stick to the list and buy only what I need that week and there is usually money left over!  Granted, I will spend that money on something else, you can be sure–but our budget is always enough if I stick to the meal plan.  Always.

Okay, so first of all (I guess it’s technically second of all), here (—> Jessi meal planner) is a free printable of the meal chart I made for our family.  It is hand-drawn and written and pretty basic, so feel free to create your own based off the format if aren’t feeling the grass roots vibe.  I used to plan every meal and every snack, but then I realized we eat pretty much the same thing for breakfast, lunch and snack every day anyway, so I adjusted the chart to simplify that aspect.  Also, I am much happier and healthier when I plan every meal around the vegetable, so I also included a simple way to make sure I’m always making the veggie the star of the show.  So feel free to use it if you think it would fit your family’s personality, too!  Lastly, I also left the days blank so that you can start your week on whichever day you go grocery shopping.  I go on Thursdays, so I start our weekly meal plan then.  This planner gets hung on the fridge with a clippy magnet and I print a new one off each week.

Next tip: I have a categorized list of every meal in our rotation also hung on the fridge so that when it’s time to meal plan I can simply take the list down and see what sounds good!  I also try to plan as many meals as I can with ingredients I already have on hand, for obvious reasons.  But I leave a night or two open for new recipes, which I pick beforehand, print off, and hang on the fridge with the list.  If I like those recipes then they get added to the rotation list.  Here is a small list of some of our favorite meals, with links to the recipe, to help you get started on your own list:

ASIANKorean Beef with broccoli, Peanut Wok Noodles, Chinese Haystacks, Katsudon, Sweet and Spicy Thai Noodles, store-bought dumplings

MEXICAN: Chimichangas, Salsa Chicken Buddha Bowls, Honey Lime Enchiladas, Smokey Pork Tacos, Sweet Pork Buddha Bowls

ITALIAN: Creamy Garlic Pasta, Italian Pork Chops (I use Italian style Panko instead of crackers), Mac and Cheese

BREAKFAST (we eat breakfast for dinner a lot): Pancakes, Waffles, Lemon Poppyseed Pancakes, Eggs and toast, fruit smoothies, breakfast sandwiches

OTHER: Apricot Chicken, Dijon Chicken, Easy Gourmet Chicken, Savory Pulled Pork (I actually don’t have this recipe digitized anywhere and it’s one of my most used!! I’ll get on that…), Yummy Drumsticks, Rosemary Lemon Chicken Thighs, Shepherd’s Pie, Chicken and Dumplings

Next tip: As I’m planning out my weekly menu, I always plan Sunday Dinner first, since it’s our biggest and fanciest meal of the week, and then I make note on the weekly menu if someone is coming for dinner on a specific night, or if we are celebrating something special that will call for a special meal, and I plan those next.  Lastly, I flesh out the rest of the week, leaving one or two nights open for leftovers. I probably cook 4-5 times a week.

Next tip: I have a magnetic notepad on my fridge to keep a running list of items we run out of.  Some of the things will not be urgent refills and can wait on the list until a week when we need them, but the rest get incorporated into the weekly budget.  I also have a list of items we repurchase every week, like milk, eggs, bread, apples, bananas, avocado, sliced turkey, etc. on the fridge, just so I keep perspective of how much I have to go towards the total haul.

So I’m pretty sure that’s it!  One thing to add, there are awesome meal planning apps out there for people who appreciate technology more than I do.  I have some friends who use Pepper Plate and love it.  I’m just old fashioned and like writing things out and having it on my fridge.  I don’t even use my calendar on my phone!  Silicon Valley will never change me, mwahahahaha!!  Okay, it’s late and I need to go to bed.