Great meals fuel us, bring us together, inspire us and help us make memories. But our food bills can also cost us a good chunk of change each year. The good news? There’s a simple strategy you can use to help lower your grocery bill while still feeding your family healthy, tasty food: meal planning.
Saving and Savouring
A secret that could help save money on food is to simply cook more meals at home. Take it one step further: integrate your meal planning into your household budget. By investing a short amount of time each week, you’ll develop a tool that can potentially lower your food bill, reduce food waste, help you eat healthier (buh bye, fast food!), make fewer trips to the store and save yourself the 5 p.m. stress as you wonder - yet again - what to make for dinner.
You can make meal planning as elaborate or as simple as you want. Some people prefer to get fancy with spreadsheets, meal planning apps and tools but all you really need is a pencil and a sheet of paper or calendar.
Start by figuring out how many meals you need to make for the week. Strike meals that are already accounted for, such as school pizza days, a breakfast meeting at work or a birthday dinner out.
Take Stock: What’s on the Menu?
Next, take stock of what’s already in your pantry, fridge and freezer, including leftovers. Can you slot in any meals with groceries just waiting to be used in your favourite meals? Search for recipes that incorporate what you have on hand, then check out grocery flyers or your local Loblaws website to find out what’s on sale and what’s in season. This will fill in any ingredient gaps (and may even encourage you to get a little bold with your culinary choices). Add in one or two fresh ingredients, and then fill out the rest of your plan with any all-new meals if necessary. Coming up with meal plan ideas might come easier if you decide on theme nights for each day of the week, such as meatless Mondays, slow-cooker Wednesdays or leftover Fridays.
Plan to cook meals that focus heavily on perishable food first. Then you can let one night’s meal inform the next, such as using leftover roast chicken and rice into sandwich wraps for lunch or a stir fry for dinner the next day. Bulk prepare family favourites if you can. Freezing extra meals can provide a quick standby dinner for when you just don’t feel like making or eating what you’d had planned.
The List Life
Take your list to the store, and - here’s the tricky part - stick to it. It’s easy to get carried away and spend more when you’re not exactly sure what you came in to buy. An easy way to avoid temptation and help save time is to use the Click and Collect online shopping service at your local Loblaws to have someone else cruise the aisles for you.
When stocking your fridge and pantry, look for staples that can be made into multiple dishes, such as meat, produce, and bulk dry or canned goods. But if an item doesn’t fit into your meal plan for that particular week, it isn’t likely to be eaten. Move on and don’t waste your money, even if it’s on sale.
Don’t forget to have fun! It takes trial and error to figure out a plan that works for you and your family but the benefits are worth it.