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The Ultimate Beginners Guide to Weekly Meal Planning ( with free meal plan template)

As a frugal mom, I’m always trying to find a way to save money. I’m here to tell you friend, weekly meal planning has completely revolutionized the way I spend money at the grocery. I saved over $400 in one month when I first started cutting our grocery budget by meal planning!

But here is the thing. Have you ever tried to make a meal plan and end up spending a ton of money at the grocery with nothing to actually eat at the end of the day?

YEAH. That’s the worst.

This post is a massive guide of meal planning goodness so you can start to learn how to save money and time through meal planning!

Make sure to check out my full meal planning course here if you want to get my entire strategy with video trainings!

Related post: 

The Ultimate Guide to Freezer Meal Prep

Weekly Frugal Meal Plan #1: One week of meals for $39.96 

14 Budget meals: cheap easy meals you’ll love 

So what exactly is meal planning?

How would you define meal planning? Honestly the basis of it is simple. Planning out meals for the future so you actually know what is for dinner.


Some people will meal plan for a week, some people will do two, or even a month! It really depends on your family’s needs and diet.

You can meal plan just dinners, or go hardcore and meal plan breakfast lunch and dinner for every single day.

This really is up to you and how much time and flexibility you have with your food.

Why should you meal plan?

This is a great place to start. Why should you meal plan in the first place? What kind of benefit could it possibly have for you?

  • You are going to save money. Like a lot of it. Our first month taking meal planning seriously we cut our entire grocery budget in half. It was crazy. We saved $400!! What could you do with an extra $400 a month?
  • You are going to save a ton of time. This is one of those great side effects of meal planning. You already know what is for dinner. There is no searching around the cupboards.
  • You can control your and your family’s health. If you are anything like me making dinner on the fly usually means the meal is not nearly as nutritious as it could have been if you were prepared. I love being able to make my family meals that actually help fuel their bodies right instead of leaning on chicken nuggets and hot dogs every day!

My Guide to saving TONS of money by meal planning

Meal plan with a strategy in mind. 

Make a list of each breakfast, lunch, and dinner every single day of the week.

We actually leave breakfast off because we do about the same thing every morning. I just immediately add what we need for breakfast to the list.

As you’re planning this keep a few things in mind:

  • What you have in your pantry.
  • How much ingredients cost.
  • What you could easily make with what you have on hand- get creative! Usually, I plan out at least one meal per week that I have to buy almost nothing for because we already have most of the ingredients.

As you plan, to use try to use the same ingredient in multiple meals to consolidate costs.

For example, Josh loves to have cheddar chicken (you know that recipe that is EVERYWHERE) but we don’t usually have the sour cream on hand that the recipe calls for and we don’t use it with much.

When we plan that meal I will either one, leave it out, or two, plan tacos the same week so we get multiple uses out of it.

Simply making this list every week will absolutely save you money (as long as you actually cook the meals, I am guilty here).

But keeping those things in mind when you are making your plan will really let you hone in on where you can cut back.

Just as a note- there is no reason you cannot eat healthy this way as well. With a 1 year old that is really important to us. We’re always getting fresh foods and easily staying on budget for all three of us.

Use what you have. 

If you are like any other family in America you probably have food sitting in your pantry that you have not used in a while, that is still good but you’re just never in the mood for it.

Get over it. That’s my best advice.

Using what you have will really cut down on those extra expenses. Now keep in mind, moderation is always key. Don’t eat pasta for a week just because you have it in the cupboard (I mean you can if you really want to, but I wouldn’t.)

My best advice there is to just come up with a plan that is appetizing but frugal. You can absolutely do this. Search Pinterest for recipes and tweak them to meet your low budget needs.

Real life scenario: I have a 10 lb. bag of rice that we have been making meals with left and right lately.

Each week I plan one meal that is sesame chicken and rice with a veggie on the side. I already have all the ingredients for sesame chicken so usually, all we have to buy is the chicken and veggie.

This will feed us for 1 dinner and 1 lunch each. The chicken and veggies only cost around $5 so in theory, it costs us around $0.83 per meal (without calculating the rice.)

Expect things to go wrong. 

Always have a backup. Never think that every single day is going to go as planned because it never does.

That’s how life goes, but in our case, I always have something up my sleeve to try and avoid going out for lunch. We buy lunch meat once every couple weeks and always make sure we have bread on hand to take a quick sandwich when we need it.

Need some help getting started?

Meal planning can be a little complicated at first, but you can absolutely do this! Check out my free one month meal plan below to get started!

A beginner's guide to meal planning on a budget! Plus a free printable that will help you plan. These meal ideas will help your family save tons of money.