Meal planning is something many mamas struggle with but deeply desire to do. You start to realize over time that the more your little family grows, the more necessary it becomes to have a plan!
As a home manager, I consider it my duty and privilege to bless my family by having meals planned and grocery items on hand when needed. However, I didn’t always operate this way, and I wasted time and money because of it!
A few years ago, I just kind of “winged it” every night. I would end up having to go the store or send my husband to the store all week for extra items. We would waste time and money buying extra things. Knowing that I needed a transformation, I decided to start meal planning weekly. I’ve since been doing this for about five years, and it’s made a huge difference in our grocery bill, our time, and my motivation to cook.
If you’re trying to feed a large family on a small budget and want everyone to eat healthy, you’ll appreciate these ten meal planning tips for large families.
1. Use ads to save
We have five grocery stores that we receive ads from on a weekly basis. Since stores change their sales weekly and often have different items on sale than other stores, it’s beneficial to spend some time looking through ads to find good deals. This is what normally shapes the meals and snacks I plan for the week. I’m always looking for ways to cut costs without compromising quality as much as I can, and I’ve found this to be a very money saving practice.
2. Plan for the entire week/month
I have found it extremely beneficial to use an Excel document, a template, or just a plain piece of paper to plan meals for the entire week. That way, we have all our meal items in the fridge or pantry and I don’t need to make unnecessary trips to the store. I can also plan ahead if a certain dish needs more than one day of preparation (like soaking oats or beans or making bread).
I used to designate a Friday evening or Saturday for planning and leave the shopping for Sunday. More recently, since I pretty much have my own system for how we run meals, I’ve decided to dedicate Sunday evenings to both planning and shopping. That way, Monday morning can start fresh with all food on hand to make meals and snacks.
I know of some moms who like to plan for the entire month. I personally prefer to do it weekly since I like to use ads and they change weekly, but if you’d rather plan for the whole month then go for it!
3. Consider your calendar
Make sure you look at your calendar for the week. If you have evening events, play dates, sports practices, etc, then a complicated meal for dinner wouldn’t be a good idea. Those are the times that I make the quickest, simplest meals possible.
Sometimes I’ve failed to take into account an early evening activity or an appointment. As a result, we’d have to run through a drive through and end up spending even more money than if I’d planned and packed us a meal. Not that this is always a bad thing, but too much of this and it can hurt your bank account (and your waistline!).
4. Make a list and shop ’til it’s done
Once all meals are planned, go through each meal and write down what you’ll need from the store. I like to group my foods into produce, dairy, meats, and other. I cross items off as they enter my shopping basket, and I’m on my way!
Many times, I will need to go to more than one store to get items. I try to get that done all in one outing. I know that’s not possible every time if you have a time restriction, but if you can do it, I highly recommend it. That way, you don’t have to worry about going to the store at all for another week.
5. Make it easy!
If you are like me and didn’t enter marriage/motherhood with impressive cooking skills, don’t put extra pressure on yourself! Keep your meals easy. Make what you know how to as you continue to learn how to cook. I do encourage all moms to expand your cooking skills as much as possible. This will bless your family and others, and you can pass on this knowledge to your children. That way, they can leave your house with skills you might not have had. 🙂
6. Check your stock
I always start out my meal planning by checking to see what I have on stock, from the spice cabinet to the freezer to the fridge to the drawer where I keep root veggies, rice and beans. I will try to use as many things as possible that I have on hand so that I can limit what I have to purchase. Also, here are a few essential items I recommend keeping replenished consistently:
- oils (I use coconut and olive oils)
- butter (grass-fed is best)
- pure maple syrup
- seasonings of choice (I use garlic and onion powder for almost everything)
- minced garlic
- a sweetener of some kind (we like coconut sugar and Truvia)
Of course, these are suggestions based on what we eat in my home. However, I have found that having these on hand makes a lot of meals possible. Assess the types of food your family likes to eat, and adjust your list in accordance!
7. Don’t feel pressured to be fancy
There have been many, many times that I’ve made meal plans with the same exact thing on the menu for breakfast and lunch all week long. I know this may sound bland, but my hubby and kiddos have never complained! It has also helped with the quality of groceries I can buy. By doing things this way, I find that I can buy higher quality items (like almost raw milk, sprouted bread, free range eggs, and organic veggie and fruit options) because I don’t have to purchase a bunch of different things.
I have seen many other meal plans that change the options for every single meal. There is not a right or wrong way! You just need to do what you’re comfortable with and what works best for your time. If you love to be in the kitchen trying new things, more power to ya! Personally, I stay at home and homeschool my children, so I am always looking for an easier way to do things.
8. Stick to real foods
At our local Aldi, a family-sized box of macaroni and cheese is less than $2 (although in my household, that would probably just feed my husband). That with some $4 frozen chicken nuggets would make a great Friday night dinner, right? What’s wrong with this budget-friendly option?
The fact that there is so much processed junk in each of these items.
I’m not trying to put guilt or shame upon any mama who would feed this to her kids. But here’s the reality: what we put into our kids’ bodies affects their health, their ability to learn, their weight, their teeth, and their behavior. If we want to spare them (and ourselves) from suffering unnecessarily, then we need to be careful what we’re allowing them to consume.
9. Make a purchase stretch for more than one meal
Often, I like to make dinners that will stretch and become leftovers for lunch the next day. That way, with one purchase, I can take care of more than one meal! Things like soups, pastas, egg casseroles, crock pot meals, etc. are really good options for this. I may add a fruit or veggie as a side and call it done!
This is especially helpful when you have busy nights during the week. If you make a big meal the night before, you can just heat up some leftovers and minimize your prep time.
10. Fill your meal plan with budget-friendly whole foods
I’ve always heard people say that eating healthy is expensive. But I beg to differ! I’ve personally found that foods as close to their natural state as possible are not only less expensive than processed foods, but they are more nourishing and filling as well. If you really want to pinch your pennies, here are a few real foods that should be on your meal plan every week:
- beans (canned/dried)
- frozen veggies
- in-season veggies and fruits (you can always find at least a couple fruits/veggies that are on sale every week)
- whole wheat bread
- cream cheese
You can get all of these items for $1-$2 or less at places like WalMart and Aldi. These foods find their place in my meal plan every single week. Including them leaves me room for the more expensive purchases like dairy products and meat.
I hope this encourages you to get started making your own simple, budget-friendly and healthy meal plan. Do you have any other tips? Share in the comments below!