14 Meal Planning Tips

14 meal planning tips

I am so excited to introduce you to Selah today! She is one of my long-time readers and has become a dear friend. She was gracious enough to share what she’s learned over her years of meal planning with me in a recent e-mail. Her tips saved me so much time I asked if she would mind turning her e-mail into a guest post. Thanks for agreeing, Selah!

Enough small talk: friends, Selah, Selah, friends.

Hi GTR readers! I’m Selah. I’ve been married to my college sweetheart, Bert, for 12-1/2 years and we have two very silly, beautiful children. I’m a full-time housewife, part-time administrative assistant, homeschool mom, and avid reader. I find that taking the time to plan ahead makes grocery shopping and daily meal preparation much quicker, easier, and cheaper. This is what I do:

  1. Set a budget. I averaged what I spent each week for 6 weeks to set my original budget. I reevaluate periodically, especially with major life changes like the birth of a child, or the youngest child getting out of diapers (diapers are expensive!).
  2. Choose where and how often to shop. For me, this means a once per week trip to a higher end grocery store, Harris Teeter, because they have great selection and customer service. Plus, twice monthly trips to Target for health and beauty products. You might choose to do all your food shopping at Super Target. It’s really just personal preference.
  3. Take advantage of savings cards and electronic resources. Lots of stores have a weekly flyer that can be viewed online. Many also have online and electronic coupons. Check out what your favorite stores have available. I use the e-Vic program at Harris Teeter and printable coupons from Target.
  4. Check out weekly specials. I focus on high dollar items like meat and produce. I also pay close attention to deeply discounted items, like buy one, get one sales (BOGO).
  5. Take weekly inventory. I check my freezer, fridge, and pantry to see what staples I’m running low on and what proteins I have available.
  6. Keep recipes together. I keep mine in one of two places – a Pinterest board or a binder. I used to flip through lots of different cookbooks and magazines but that takes up time. So, I copied all my favorite recipes from various cookbooks into one binder. Lately, I’ve been finding lots of new recipes on Pinterest and organizing them like a cookbook. If you’re interested, you can check it out here.
  7. Plan ahead. I plan meals that use the same protein and cook the protein once but use it twice. For instance, I bake BBQ chicken breasts and plain chicken breasts (just salt and pepper) at the same time. We eat the BBQ chicken for dinner that night and I use the plain in a casserole or soup later in the week. I also like to check the weather and plan accordingly, i.e. chili on a cold, rainy day. Most importantly, I plan meals with the proteins I have on hand and/or the ones on sale. I NEVER pay full price for meat.
  8. Don’t make it too hard. Each week I plan at least one “Leftover Night” and one “I don’t feel like cooking” meal (something ridiculously easy, like a frozen entrée, breakfast for dinner, or I even budget for takeout). This way, I’m not cooking every night but we still have a plan.
  9. Keep a Master Grocery List. This idea is from organizational guru Julie Morgenstern. I keep a list on my computer with all the things I regularly buy listed by aisle / area of the store. I highlight the items I need and print it out. Then I write in any additional items (or I add them to the Master List if I’m going to start buying them often).
  10. Use coupons wisely. I am not a big couponer. Harris Teeter has electronic coupons that I can link to my savings card. There are also coupons that print out with my receipt each week. I use these and any that come in packaging (lots of boxed products have coupons printed on the inside of the box).  I always check to see if I have coupons for the items that are already on my list. I also check to see if any of my coupons match up with sale items.  Combining a coupon with a sale is the best way to maximize savings.
  11. Pick an ideal shopping time. I like to shop on Saturday morning. I’ve had a big breakfast so I’m not hungry. My husband has the kids so I’m not hurried or distracted. Find what works best for you.
  12. Shop carefully. Generally speaking, if it’s not on my list I don’t buy it (this is somewhat flexible – sometimes I simply forgot to put something on the list, sometimes things are marked down unexpectedly, sometimes I just need chocolate). I compare prices between brands and sizes. I try to stick with generics but will buy name brands if the quality is really better.
  13. Stock up. If something I know I’ll use is on a good sale, I’ll buy extra. There are weeks when there are no good sales on meat but that’s OK because I stocked up the last time chicken was BOGO.
  14. Plan slowly. I find that if I rush through my planning I get sloppy and forget things, like the tissues my husband asked for or the chili powder I’m running low on. When I take the time upfront to plan ahead, I save a lot of time and headaches later!

Thanks for sharing your wisdom with us, Selah!

What do y’all think? Which tip is one you think would work well for your home? Number 9 cut my grocery shopping time in half. Half! Planning really does pay off in saving time.

About the Author


  • rachelinraleigh March 13, 2013 at 9:22 AM

    i love harris teeter’s online shopping, too! and sometimes, the $5 is just worth it! and in the summer, for the last few summers, the service charge has been only $1.97!

    • Selah March 13, 2013 at 9:35 AM

      I’ve never used it but I have several friends who swear by it. I might give it a try after our family vacation – I hate coming home and having to go straight to the grocery store. Even better, maybe I can find a store at the beach that has it so I don’t have to go shopping on vacation!

      • rachelinraleigh March 13, 2013 at 9:54 AM

        exactly to both!! i have done that, even on my phone, ordered groceries on the way home from being out of town (i wasn’t driving… :)

  • Anna March 15, 2013 at 11:23 AM

    When I make a meal, I try to make enough to have leftovers that I can freeze – that way I have lunch and/or dinner for some other (lazy) day. :)

    • Selah March 15, 2013 at 11:46 AM

      Not lazy! Smart and efficient.

    • Caitlin March 16, 2013 at 6:53 AM

      I agree with Selah- that’s smart and efficient!

  • Christi March 18, 2013 at 4:31 PM

    I love this post! It makes me feel less OCD about the way I meal plan and grocery shop – which is pretty much exactly the same as Selah! My mom and sister tease me about my meal planning and word document grocery lists but I’ve found that spending a little time up front planning and prepping before grocery shopping has allowed me to shop faster and spend less money, while still allowing us to eat healthier. Plus, I no longer fret about what to make for dinner each night. Fabulous!

    • Selah March 18, 2013 at 5:13 PM

      Ha! I know what you mean. My mother-in-law and sister-in-law find it hilarious that I meal plan for an entire week. They don’t even know the full extent of it. My husband, however, really appreciates it. And I love that when he asks what’s for dinner I always have an answer!

Leave a Reply