Practical Tips to Save Money When Meal Planning

What would you do with $13,900? If you’re an average Canadian family of four, you’re using it to feed your family. With prices at an annual climb, you may be stressing a bit more at the grocery store. Maybe you feel like you’re making emergency grocery runs several times a week and things are adding up.

How can you keep a handle on the food budget and still eat well? What about those picky eaters in your home? With some planning and a little creativity, you can create a meal planning habit that works for your family.

Keep reading to find out more about how to trim that food budget by planning meals.


1. Be Realistic

What does your family’s day-to-day look like? How much time do you actually have each day to devote to meal prep? Before you start a new meal planning adventure, make it attainable with your current lifestyle.

Making too many changes all at once can set you up for failure. Don’t plan meals that take several hours of planning if you know you only have 30 minutes. Stay away from complicated recipes if you aren’t fond of multiple steps and ingredients.


2. Work With What You Have

This goes along with #1. Before making that giant (read: expensive) list, shop around your cupboards. What are three ingredients you know you already have?

Challenge yourself to find at least two meals you can make without running to the store for supplies. You might be surprised at what you can find! Make pantry/fridge shopping a habit before planning meals each week.

Searching your kitchen for food is also a great way to throw out expired or rotten food, too. Clean cupboards and a fresh start might make you feel more like meal planning.


3. Check Out Deals

Before you head out to Sobeys or Walmart, pull up their online ad. Which foods are on special this week? Any BOGO deals?

You can build your meals around discounted items of the week. If beef is on sale, plan some burgers. Two-for-one produce? Everyone’s getting apples in their lunch this week.

If you’re meal planning on a budget, weekly prices can influence your menu. You can also look for coupons online or sign up for store loyalty programs to earn discounts. Some grocery stores have apps you can download and reward you for using them.

If you’re not finding any great deals on your preferred cuisine, check out another supermarket. If you’re in a remote area, see what’s available online.


4. Create a Meal Planning Chain

Use one or two meals a week to provide ingredients for the next meal. If you grill chicken on Monday, shred the leftovers and have chicken taco Tuesday. Maybe you’re planning a pork roast on Thursday. Looks like pulled pork sandwiches this weekend.

With a little creativity, you can stretch your ingredients to link to one or even two additional meals. This concept will help you create your own meal planning chain.


5. Easy Freezy

Does the idea of preparing a meal every night make you cringe? Make it easier on yourself by preparing meals ahead of time. You can even add this to your meal planning routine.

Pick a day and make as many meals as you’re able. Freeze the meals and pull them out when you need them. Slow cookers and Instant Pots are a great way to thaw and heat easy freezy meals.

Here are a few easy freezy ideas:

  • Chili
  • Soups
  • Hotdishes
  • Roasts

Try to pair these meals with quick and easy sides. Time-consuming bread or vegetables defeat the purpose of an easy freezy night.


6. Prioritize

Sometimes, the list of ingredients you want isn’t the list you can afford. Sticking with your budget might mean making changes to your meal plan. If you run into this problem, ask yourself a few questions.

  1. Do we need this item?
  2. Can I plan another meal with ingredients we already have instead?
  3. Is there a similar item I can get to replace this one in my recipe?

It’s ok to pivot your plan when you need to cook on a budget. If you can’t shop within your food budget, tweak your plan until you can.


7. Family Favorite Nights

Do you have go-to recipes right now? Do you have any meals you can make without looking at a recipe? Include familiar and favorite recipes in your weekly meal planning.

Those familiar favorites are perfect when you know you’ll be too tired to think about dinner. Some families have favorite food days. For example, meatballs every Monday and your family’s favorite tater-tot casserole every Thursday.

Regular family favorite nights take some stress off meal planning each week. It’s nice when you have at least two nights of meal-prep on autopilot mode.


8. Buy In Season

Fresh fruits and veggies can add up. If you’ve shopped for berries in January, you’ve likely experienced this off-season sticker shock. If you can, try to buy produce and other fresh ingredients when they’re in season.

Here’s a quick guide to peak produce seasons.


Sunshine and summertime bring juicy plums and strawberries in season.

  • Strawberries
  • Leafy Greens
  • Asparagus
  • Peaches
  • Cucumbers
  • Plums
  • Peppers
  • Tomatoes

Don’t forget all those leafy superfoods! Fresh take advantage of summer greens while they’re in season.


Fall vibes are strong with all the seasonal comfort foods. Pick perfect pumpkins for Halloween and squash for Thanksgiving.

  • Apples
  • Pears
  • Raspberries
  • Pumpkins
  • Squash
  • Corn
  • Beets

You can make a lot of different things with apples as well. They make great on-the-go food for lunches or pies or baked treats. If you have a little extra in the budget, splurge for a pumpkin spice something!


Since nothing local grows outside in the cold winter months, stock up on long-lasting produce.

  • Apples
  • Cabbage
  • Potatoes
  • Carrots

Fresh foods with longer expiration dates are great for repeat use in stews and soups. Combine meat from earlier in the week with broth, salt, potatoes, and carrots.


The geese start flying overhead and, if you’re lucky, you can see sprouts of green bursting from the ground and the trees. Since spring is still pretty chilly, there aren’t many seasonal vegetables. Look for rhubarb and some other greenhouse-grown produce this time of year.


9. Factor in Some Fun

Most of the time, ordering restaurant food is more expensive than making it yourself. If you just can’t cut the takeout, scale back. By scheduling one night a week as your eat-out night, you can control your spending.

When you’re making a food budget for each week, calculate how much it costs your family to eat out. Then, take that money out of your grocery budget. Your weekly allowance should allow for some small indulgences.

Eating out might not work every week, so hold on to your restaurant night with an open hand.


10. Swap The Meat

Meat is expensive. Consider getting your protein from plant sources one or two nights a week to cut down on costs.

Just make sure the protein you’re subbing is low in sugar and sodium. Swapping meat for highly processed or sugar-packed options isn’t healthy.


11. Keep the Plan in Meal Planning

To cook on a budget, you need to have a plan. Without meal planning, you can easily resort to winging it or impulse buying at the grocery store. Take the time to plan out your weekly menu and budget for each grocery trip.

Take the list with you to the store (pro tip: keep it on your phone). Try to keep your grocery trips to once or twice a week. After a few weeks, you’ll likely have a nice routine of meal planning, making a list, and grocery shopping.


12. Don’t Go Hungry

Maybe you’ve heard this one before. Don’t go grocery shopping when you’re hungry. Even if you have a list and a plan, your tummy talk can be convincing.


13. Make Inventory Lists

Do you ever forget about leftovers hiding in the fridge? Have you ever bought duplicate ingredients because you didn’t know what you already had?

Creating lists of what you have in your fridge, freezer, and pantry can prevent both scenarios. Dry erase or chalkboards work great for this system. Seeing a list of what’s available can help you plan meals around your existing ingredients.

It also eliminates buying more than you need and prevents forgotten food from spoiling.


Meal Planning Made Fun

Meal planning doesn’t have to be a chore. Recruit friends or family to plan, budget, and make meals with you.

Have a freezer meal party where everyone splits ingredients. Each person can plan for one meal. If you have four people, that’s four nights covered!

Involve everyone in your family. Young kids may not be old enough to cook meals, but they’ll be excited to hear which meal of the week is their favorite. Older kids can help plan and prepare meals along with you.

Want to learn more about keeping your family’s finances on track? Check out our blog for helpful tips on money, budgeting, and more.

Get your online loan, paperless & fast.

Quick Personal Loans for Canadians :

  • No credit investigation
  • No documents required
  • Repay in up to 90 to 120 days
  • $500 short-term loans

Get your online loan, paperless & fast.

Quick Personal Loans for Canadians :

  • No credit investigation
  • No documents required
  • Repay in up to 90 to 120 days
  • $500 short-term loans