Five Practical Tips for Family Meal Planning

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shotcaller

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My family is made up of four very hungry, very picky members.

Actually, scratch that. It should be “hangry” members, as we are all prone to fits of grumpiness when our stomachs start growling (which is too often for my liking).

For the longest time, we didn’t rely on a monthly meal planner. See, we’ve made it a habit of addressing our tummy rumbles with delivery food and takeaway meals because we were too “busy” doing housework and homework to bother with cooking. This went fine for a while – until my wife and I stepped on the weighing scale to discover that we gained around 15 pounds between us!

Aside from the unwanted (and very unwelcome) weight gain, we did a quick computation of our monthly expenses and realized we were spending over $200 in delivery and takeaway food! Of course, we were kicking ourselves belatedly over that amount, which could easily have augmented our grocery budget and emergency fund. That’s when we decided to sit ourselves down and start on some budget meal planning to address both our health and financial issues. Below are five of our best practices so far, which I would like to share with you today.

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Make a full week’s meal plan (for everyone!)

I will admit to initially not knowing where to start when it comes to cheap meal plans for families. Thank goodness a friend of mine showed me some blogs and sites that offered meal planning ideas for every kind of budget, age, and diet. Since my wife and I recently embarked on a low-carb, high-fat (LCHF) journey to address some of our health issues, I was extra happy to stumble upon a blog that had a monthly meal plan patterned after our chosen diet! With these resources, I was able to plan our breakfasts, lunches, dinners, and snacks. Of course, our kids don’t follow this diet, so they have prepared meals best suited for their nutritional needs (no more sweets, fizzy drinks, fast-food fare, and other harmful stuff that their nutritionist vetoed!).

A month into our meal planning activities, and I was pleasantly surprised to discover that we had saved nearly $175! We also lost a bit of weight and feel great overall because we can now track the ingredients that go into our meals.

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Take advantage of coupons

I’m a big fan of coupons. They have helped my family and me during lean times and even allowed me to save for a rainy day. I have several cashback and coupon apps on my phone, but I also do the traditional cutting out of coupons from newspaper supplements and fliers. With these, I manage to always keep a full pantry and cupboards with grocery items that have a longer shelf life. I also like the buy one get one promo in my favorite supermarkets and delis – they keep my freezer well stocked with perishable food items which I can plan daily meals around!

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Buy fresh produce from weekend and farmer’s markets

As a parent, I try my hardest not to rely too much on flash-frozen or canned produce. Not only am I wary of preservatives – I also have a terrible habit of forgetting that I have them in stock. It always ends up with us regretting our last grocery shopping when I have to throw expired food away.

I wish I were more like my mom who keeps her own vegetable garden and harvests fresh produce whenever she needs them (she cans and preserves the excess). But having only a pocket garden of herbs and ornamental plans, I decided to embark on my own fresh food meal planning system. My wife and I discovered a local farmer’s market near our kids’ school which has stalls selling freshly harvested fruits and veggies, and even free-range meats and eggs! We make sure to buy only what we need for a couple of days though since these produce and food items do not have preservatives and are best consumed right away. But it’s healthier and much more affordable than grocery stuff, so I’m willing to go the extra mile for that.

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Create meals from scratch

We are willing to pay so much for convenience that we don’t realize that our health (and eventually, our budgets) will pay for it in the end. Thank goodness we managed to nip that unhealthy habit of ordering food just because we felt unmotivated to make our own meals! It does require time and effort – don’t get me wrong on that. But with a few recipe books and food-related video blogs, my wife (and even kids) got inspired to do weekly meal preparations while getting creative with ingredients and presentation.

For instance, my children are currently obsessed with bento boxes – those Japanese-style compartmentalized lunches that have some vegetables, a protein dish, something starchy, and a dessert-like dish all done up in cute, colorful ways. They like showing off their bento boxes to their schoolmates and announcing that they made all the meals themselves!

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Set aside a day for special meals

Let’s admit it – budget meal planning can get tedious and boring after a while. After the initial high of discovering that we can be creative chefs on our own, the wife and I had to own up to each other that we missed having other people prepare and serve up our meals. So to prevent us from relapsing into old, bad habits, we make it a point to treat ourselves to a restaurant meal once a week – most likely every Sunday. Sometimes my family and I would get a treat-ourselves breakfast, or it could be lunch or dinner (depending on how we feel at the moment). We see it as a reward for religiously sticking to our meal plan for the rest of the week, which in turn allows us to save up more than enough to afford restaurant meals once in a while.

See, meal planning doesn’t have to be dull because it opens up new avenues for creativity and discovery. Having a weekly and monthly meal plan has worked wonders for my family and me. We have also learned to bond over cooking and preparing our own meals, and my wife and I have become more financially responsible in the process.

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