Plan Meals to Save Money and Eat Well

It's back to school time and that means busy schedules for many families! Between juggling work, after school activities and sports, it can be challenging to provide healthy, low-cost meals for you and others.

Making a weekly plan for meals is one way to gain control over your food budget, and avoid the temptation of eating out which tends to be more expensive. Typically in the US, people spend about 43% of their food dollars on food away from home.

Here are steps to take to make a weekly plan:

1. Add your family's schedule to a weekly calendar. What activities are going to be challenging to work around such as soccer games or late work nights?

2. Decide on dinner menus first. When you don't have much time to prepare dinner use these ideas:

  • do some meal preparation the evening before or early in the morning (be sure to refrigerate food to avoid food spoilage),
  • plan to use leftovers,
  • use a slow cooker to cook food slowly and safely, or
  • choose quick-to-cook meals.

3. Check foods that you have on hand. Plan to use them in meals.

4. Check grocery ads for menu ideas. Take advantage of special sales.

5. Add in lunch ideas on weekly calendar. Dinner leftovers can be good lunches.

6. Add in foods for healthy breakfasts and snacks. Try these options:

  • Whole grain cereal topped with low-fat yogurt
  • Breakfast burrito made with scrambled eggs inside a whole grain tortilla, topped with salsa and low-fat cheese
  • Frozen juice bars made with 100% fruit juice
  • Peanut butter and fruit, such as raisins, banana slices or apple slices packed in between 2 graham cracker squares

7. Write your shopping list from your weekly calendar. Research shows that people tend to spend less when they shop from a list.

Ta-da! You now have a food plan for the week!

For more ideas on making a weekly food plan, visit USDA's website, Eating on a Budget. Also, visit Jenna Smith's blog, Simply Nutritious, Quick and Delicious. Jenna helped develop this weekly food plan!