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Healthy Meal Planning on a Budget

January 14, 2011

Happy Friday!!

Today began like all of my Fridays begin…with a trip to Dunkin Donuts.  It is my reward for being such a good girl all week. 🙂

Clearly my Dunkin Donuts still needs to work through those “Happy Holidays” cups.

This morning, I tried regular coffee with one pump of raspberry syrup (and my own almond milk).  This photo was taken before my first sip. Unfortunately, I thought it was kind of yucky. 

Aside from being Friday and Dunkin Donuts Day, today was also Grocery Shopping Day.

There was a time in the not-so-distant past when I’d visit the store multiple times per week (sometimes even everyday), spending about $40 per trip.

I’d blissfully walk the aisles of Earth Fare or Trader Joe’s just for fun (I never claimed to be normal).  I’d carelessly throw jars of almond butter into my cart and constantly buy ingredients to use in new recipes.  And of course, I’d purchase items that weren’t on my list (if I even had a list at all)- just because they were on sale.

Well, if you combine those habits, you have a recipe for overspending on groceries.

Once I realized that our weekly shopping was getting out of hand, I decided to create an action plan.

  1. I use a spreadsheet to plot out our meals for the week (yes, I’m a dork…but I blame my husband.  He’s an accountant).  It includes space for entrees, side dishes, and even dessert.  When planning meals, I head straight to the pantry, freezer, and fridge to see what we already have on hand.  I’ll build meals around those things.
  2. Next I make a list, including food for our lunches. (I’ll do a post on packing healthy lunches in the future.)  I usually type my list and create buckets for each store, but you don’t have to get that ridiculous. 😉
  3. After I have my list, I go through my coupon file.  If I don’t have a coupon for a particular item, I search online.  There are lots of websites that allow you to print free coupons.


  • Set a budget and stick to it! We personally spend $100/week on our groceries.  We withdraw the money from our account before the big shopping excursion, and whatever cash is leftover goes into a jar.  At the end of the year, we plan to count it up and use it for something fun!
  • Don’t be afraid to shop around. If you shop at multiple stores, you will learn which ones offer the best deals on certain items.  For instance, I know that I can always get my hummus at Trader Joe’s for $1 less than I can get it at Harris Teeter.
  • Buy local whenever possible. I love going to the farmer’s market to buy produce, eggs, honey, and flowers.   It not only supports local farmers, but it is often cheaper than shopping in the stores.
  • Utilize your grocery store’s website. Most grocery stores list their promotions online.  I often plan our meals around the specials the stores are running that week.
  • Since purchasing meat and poultry can be expensive, try to buy only one of those items per week.
  • Put yourself on email alerts and mailings of your favorite companies and products. Sometimes you get coupons just for enrolling!  You can also get coupons for becoming a “fan” of a company or product on Facebook.
  • Understand how BOGO (buy one, get one) sales work at your store. At most places, you pay half price if you’re only getting one.

Planning ahead not only saves money, but it comes in handy during emergencies.

It was so awesome to sit back with my hot chocolate at home while everyone else fought for milk, eggs, and bread at the grocery store before the snow hit recently.

(Of course, if we had planned really well, we would have remembered to buy a shovel!)

Do you plan your meals or set a grocery budget?  Share your tips!

Tonight I am going to play with my new Trader Joe’s cookbook.  Recipe will be posted tomorrow!

Enjoy the rest of your Friday!


  1. January 14, 2011 3:53 PM

    great tips!!! i am trying to get more organized in my life and planning meals is something i need to do!!… the only prob is that if i plan it i end up feeling like something totally dif on the day.. and mess it all up 😦

    • January 14, 2011 3:57 PM

      I definitely understand!! You don’t have to stick to the schedule completely though. Last week, I had chicken on the menu for Friday, but we felt like having it on Wednesday…and we moved Wednesdays meal to Friday! There is some flexibility. 🙂

  2. January 14, 2011 8:54 PM

    Planning meals is a lifesaver for me! I love that I don’t have to worry about what we are having for dinner! We do budget for groceries every week, but I didn’t think about using cash and then putting the extra in a jar to save for something fun! I just told my hubby about that I think we are going to try that out!

  3. Nikki M. permalink
    January 14, 2011 9:37 PM

    We do a weekly menu as well! It is sooo much easier that way. I am a vegetarian but my husband is not. By planning out our weekly menus, we make sure that whatever I cook will be something we both enjoy! We live about 45 mins from Trader Joes and Whole Foods so we only go every 6 weeks or so. I looooove Trader Joes 🙂

  4. January 15, 2011 2:13 PM

    I’m always trying to spend less. I make it a point to only buy what I know I’m going to eat that week. I don’t set a budget, but I write it all down after I’m done shopping so I can see what things cost.

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