Meal Planning 101

I love meal planning. I’m a hardcore, nail my colours to the wall meal planner and I always will be. I get a lot of tweets, emails and comments asking me how I make meal planning work for me and my husband. Here’s how we make it work. I must stress that this is how it works for us and there are probably as many ways to meal plan as there are families out there in need of a meal plan. Try it out, find out what works for you.

Meal Planning 101


First off, meal planning is easy. Honestly. It just seems a bit daunting and y’know Monica Geller-ish from the outside but I promise once you’re in the swing of it you’ll love how easy it is and how much money it saves you.

Why do I meal plan?

– I don’t like not knowing where I stand. Sure there’s room for spontaneity but in general I like to know how long I have to spend in the kitchen after a working day and I like to know what I’m going to eat.- Naturally I am really badly organised, we’d eat beans on toast every single day if I didn’t force myself to meal plan.

– It saves me time and money. This pleases me folks.

– We will very easily break down and get a takeaway if we’re not in meal plan mode. Takeaways are stupidly expensive. That’s not to say we don’t get them but we tend to save them for evenings we have friends over (they usually pay and we provide the booze/DVDs.)

Planning the meal plan

Deciding what to eat

– Throughout the week we go through cookery books, surf the web and hunt down interesting, budget recipes. Whilst we do have staple meals, we like to shake it up a bit so we don’t get bored and find ourselves calling for a takeaway. Recipes we like the look of go into a ‘To Try’ folder, either a physical folder which we keep with our recipe books or a bookmark folder on our computer. If we use it and like it we put it into our ‘permanent collection’ regular recipe binder, if we don’t like it we throw it out and if we’re unsure it goes back in the ‘To Try’ folder with a red sticker on it. If we try something with a red sticker on it again and still aren’t sure about adding it to our ‘permanent collection’ we bin it.

– When we use something up during the week we make a note of it straightaway on our kitchen whiteboard so it can be added to the shopping list.
– A lot of our meal plan is based around our main Sunday meal. We try to buy a large joint of meat or medium sized bird and do something a bit different with it each week. We then use the leftovers to make lunches for Monday – Wednesday and evening meals for Monday and  Tuesday depending on the size of the joint.

Making the shopping list & plan

– We work out which days we’re out in the evening, which days we’re having lunch with a client etc. so we know how many meals we need to make in the home.

– We map out firstly, what we’re going to eat for supper every day and put it onto our white board. We usually make enough to feed 3 people rather than 2 and divide the left over portion for lunch (with salad and fruit). Then from there we make a list of ingredients we need for the meal, checking cupboards, freezer and our inventory first to see if we have anything in our stocks.

– After we’ve added the ingredients to our shopping list we save it to both of our phones. We can add to the list as we go and both of our lists sync so we both have an updated list to add to should anything pop into our head when we’re out on the go. We find it easier to have the list on our phones and on a phsyical list because scraps of paper go missing in the bottom of my handbag or on my desk.

– Occasionally we’ll spend a Saturday cooking up stews, lasagnas and soups. We freeze them and include them on the meal plans for the days we know we’re going to be late home or really busy. Really busy for us = not wanting to do more than warm up some stew and eat it with a husk of bread.

– We have a weekly food budget we like to stick to, so we try to average out our meal price across the week taking into account any expenditure outside of the home.


Shopping for meal planning


 Where to shop

– We’ve tried a few different methods and honestly none of them are totally perfect so we tend to switch about but for the moment we’re shopping online for general groceries, buying meat from the local butcher and having our fruit and vegetables delivered from a local grocer.

– Shopping online may not always be the cheapest method, however I’m a sucker for buying things I don’t need when wandering around the aisles. We’re not loyal to one shop, we hunt down discount or free delivery codes and shop at which ever shop will save us the most money.

– Shopping around shop to shop for different products works for some and not for others. We’ve tried going to one shop for one thing and to another for another product when we know it will be cheaper, however where we live large shops are fairly spread out and the cost in time or petrol would negate the savings we make at the till. If you live in an area with shops very close to each other this might make great sense but for us driving 3 miles between different large supermarkets or discount stores to save 10p makes no sense at all.

When we shop

– We finalise our meal plan and shopping list on a Wednesday and do our shop with which ever supermarket has the best discount codes. We have our supermarket delivery arrive on a Friday evening or Saturday morning. And our veg box arrives on Thursday. We do a big Aldi shop once a month stocking up on tinned foods, oil, washing powder and other cheap bulk items that we like.

– We visit the butcher on Saturday to pick out out joint of meat for Sunday and any other meat we might need for the week. We try to have a lot of meat free meals meaning we don’t spend too much at the butchers.

– We never, ever shop when we’re hungry. It’s an old, worn out tip but honestly it works.

 Putting the meal plan into action

– Stick with it. You’ll soon find your evenings feel longer and less stressful.

– Mix it up. Look if it says spag bol on the meal plan and you really, really don’t want it – mix it up. Use the mince to make a chili, cottage pie or lasagna. We always keep a stock of different pasta or and beans in so the main element of a meal can be transformed. We only allow for mixing it up once a week (but rarely do it) or it just gets out of hand.

What do you need?


Put the time into work out which meals will work for your family on which days. You’ll also need to spend time putting together shopping lists etc. However you’ll soon get into the swing of it and you’ll find it takes hardly any time at all. Plus you’ll spend less time at the other end when you’re making your meals.

A white board

We employ a few around our house, one of my favourites is this one which has days of the week on it and this one which doesn’t. I’m sure it is perfectly easy to meal plan without one but I think it makes it a seamless process.


P.S. Do you meal plan?


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  1. this is epic. Like, actually epic. I love it! Great ideas and so easy to do aswell. xx

  2. I always meal plan! I live a life of lists (as I love them)and meal planning fits perfectly with my listy life! It also makes meal times easier if you have a baby to deal with as if I know what meals I can make I can pre prep them earlier in the day, or the day before etc to save having to cook right at bubbas bed time! Simple reheat and eat! YAY!

  3. We do meal plan, otherwise being of a ditzy nature can end up with a thrown together meal at the last minute. Plus I got fed up of spending most of the morning thinking what to cook that evening for tea. The only thing I do find hard is finding different meals. Although recently funny enough we have been finding receipes and ideas for meat free meals. I have done a really nice vegtable chilli twice now first time with rice and last night with tacos. The girls seem to love the idea of picking and choosing their toppings etc. So that’s one meal that has been a hit! It does make a weekly shop easier too. And I rarely need to darken the door of a supermarket during the week! Yay!

    P x

  4. Meal planning is fab and it also means you hardly throw anything away. Can I ask what list app you use on your phones? I really love the Jamie Oliver one which comes with the (free) recipe app as you can organise things by aisle and tick them off as you go, how wonderful! I kind of wish it synced between our phones though.

  5. I have only begun to meal plan since we have been on a severely limited budget (I allow 20.00 a week for food for 2 of us). I buy reduced price stuff in the supermarket, from discount outlets, and stockpile when things are on offer – recently had some organic pinto beans for 10p a tin from B&M. I plan around what we have in the store cupboard and freezer. I use a ring binder and have a section where I have listed all the food I have in the house, then in the menu planning section, on the left hand page I list what needs using up (including from fridge which I check twice a week else I’d forget what was in there) and on the right hand page I write the meals I’m going to cook. I usually plan about 5 days in advance and use the list as a guide, so each day I pick which one of the five meals will suit me for that day.

    Planning has never worked for me before because I am disorganised and like sponteneity, but this way of doing it works for because I have options to choose from. I wish I had done this years ago because I now have zero food waste, manage on a small amount of money and am never faced with the ‘what shall I cook tonight’ problem. The secret for me was realising that there is more than one way to meal plan!

    I browse on the internet on blogs and recipe sites and pick up the free recipe magazines in the supermarkets, and look on youtube for ideas to make the money go a little further. Lots of fabulous ideas out there for free.

    • Like Victoria Stephens below, I’d be fascinated to hear about your £20 a week budget too. Sounds impossible! x

    • When Mr Thrifty and I first graduated we did the same and some lean months we still do now. It is easily done but I found we had to eat almost entirely veggie and it only worked for us because we had stocks of spices etc.

  6. This was SO helpful. My meal planning abilities are horrific! :p

    Fashion Blog – Lela London

  7. I’m a hard core meal planner. It saves so much money.

    My Nan used to tell me never to scrimp on food or heating and I don’t. But some people are just wasteful with food. I write my shopping list as meals so if I see something on offer which I hadn’t planned for and decide to buy that instead, I know which ingredients not to buy.

    I always cook double of stews, curries, bolognaise so I can freeze a family size portion. If I’m roasting potatoes I will always do a huge tray full.10 minutes before they’re cooked I take out any we won’t eat during that meal and freeze them. It’s great to have a stew with roasters when you’ve been at work all day, you can cook it in 10 minutes.

    I could go on. I have millions of money saving food tips.

  8. This has gone straight into my bookmarks – brilliant post, thank you!

  9. Great post, this was really helpful!
    I thought that most people planned meals, though! Although my family isn’t particularly organised we meal plan and it’s a lifesaver – so much easier than buying a load of food, letting half of it go to waste and wondering what to cook with the other half…

    • Nope, I thought they did but loads don’t. I get so many emails from people who need some help with it. I’m hoping they’ll soon be deeply addicted to planning meals.
      Also I don’t know anyone IRL under the age of 30 who plans their meals past the next one.

  10. I meal plan by writting down days of week and what eating those days for lunch and tea and do list from there checking what have in first. Its easy .

  11. Carrie I would love some of your advice on how to make £20 last for two people for a week thats amazing.

  12. Meal planning rocks. I tend to make at least one giant meal per week so that it does two nights and I get a night off :-)

  13. I always meal plan, mainly because i’m a student and try to only shop for what I will need to save money but it is a really good idea in general. Plus it also cuts down on wasted food, because you use everything up before the use by dates! x

  14. For myself, an unemployed single lady in her early twenties, I find meal planning an essential to making money go further! As a result I don’t waste half my week in the supermarket and thinking of recipes, and I rarely have to throw any food out. It’s hard being motivated to cook when it’s for one person, but I make sure I always cook in bulk and freeze portions for busy days, or when I’m feeling a bit sick of chopping veg. The price of meat is a huge factor in my diet – a lot of people think I’m vegetarian but I simply believe I can still get a hearty (and healthy) meal for half the price without having to include meat! Thanks for the tips, I’ll be including them in future weeks of meal planning :)

  15. I plan my meals and blog about my weekly menus as well. I find it helps with my shopping and also planning oven use as well.

  16. This works well for us and saves us time and money.

    X x

  17. I used to plan a weekly menu. After a while I got quite good at doing grocery shopping for the week so now I never organize beforehand. I usually start in meat and fish department an stock up on what’s on offer. Then I sort of decide what to get with that and get the regular bread, eggs, milk, etc.

    I love this arrangement. I only go to the store once a week and I haven’t thrown away food in months.

  18. I meal plan too, but I tend to note it in my pocket diary then shop. I also often make something like a lasagne while the roast is in the oven on Sunday, as a home made ready meal during the week.

  19. Like you, when I don’t meal plan, then I spend more money. Two small children and a busy life, if there’s no meal plan and shopping list, then for an easier time the trolley fills up with ready-made meals rather than meals which go further!

  20. i meal plan too. I started to try to save money, but the flipside has been the change in food waste each day. with a young family i find meal planning useful as there are nights when we are later in due to work or kids clubs etc, so we tend to have a quick to make/heat up/freezer special on those nights. I do however leave it a bit less planned at weekends, meaning we can still enjoy a change or be spontaneous – using vouchers for a pizza out instead!
    thanks for all the tips

  21. I never meal plan. I buy what is cheap and nutritious, and by shopping after 7pm I get the reduced yellow sticker bargains. When making a meal, I open my cupboard and cook up something with whatever I happen to have in. Spend per week is around £10. I don’t eat meat.

  22. great post thanks for sharing

  23. I couldn’t be without my meal plan! I’m a student too, and it saves me money that I can put towards more important things, like rent and baking ingredients :)
    R xx

  24. Since the start of Uni, my sister and I have been planning our meals and ordering online. We use Asda mostly and get Asda price everything, so a £25 – £30 shop usually lasts us about 2 weeks. Considering we usually have healthy, balanced meals, I’d say that’s pretty good.

  25. Oh my goodness, yes we plan to the letter! Although I am really liking your ‘to try’ folder idea. We also have a blackboard in our kitchen but I find things like ‘please wash my socks’ written on ours. Maybe this is where our weekly plan should go!

  26. I do meal plan and was going to do a vlog on it tomorrow you cheeky thing! 😀

  27. How much do you and Mr Thrifty spend a week on your food shop? We meal plan and love the free Tesco/Morrisons Mags for recipe ideas. We average about 150 a month for 2 of us. My sister in law spends about 75 quid a week for her and her other half…..they think we’re weird! Glad to know we’re not alone :)

  28. You can get the exact same blank whiteboard in Poundland. Cheeky ebayers hiking the price up ;).
    Adore your blog! xx

  29. I’ve been meal planning for a while but i couldn’t have white boards around the house, i made myself some sheets on excel and keep them pinned inside the cupboard door, out of sight, tidy kitchen :-)

  30. Love this!! We have started meal planning (altho not as efficiently as you) and find it makes the thought of lunches and shopping far less stressful! xxx

  31. I am going to be referring back to this regularly, I am trying to be better with my spending so this should really help!

    Maria xxx

  32. We meal plan too! Well, about 70% of the time we do. Sometimes we get so fed up and just need a midweek takeaway but because we meal plan most of the time, we have the money to treat ourselves. We also take leftovers to work for lunch so don’t have pricey lunches like some people do. I think the freezer is my best friend! We often buy lots of meat in one go and then freeze it in small batches so we can defrost the night before. We also make up big portions of things like bolognese, curries, etc, and then we freeze up half that we can get out of the freezer any morning when we don’t feel like cooking in the evening. This week I’m going to London for the day so we’ve planned to have some bolognese from the freezer for tea when I get back – it’s like having a freezer packed full of cheap & healthy ready meals! And they taste so much better too :) We have a blackboard that we have our meal plan on then the other half is a shopping list for things we need for our next big shop. It saves us money when we talk to other people and compare food bills!

  33. Fab post, I like your idea of searching out recipes and making a ‘to try’ folder! I started meal planning this year to save money and to also keep my diet in order! I tend to choose a couple of meals and see which veg/spices etc they require then pick other meals for that week that use the same things so we don’t waste any, then the next week I pick different meals so that we don’t get bored! Although we always have a homemade curry on Sundays using up any left over veggies! Our food bill has halved since I started planning meals and I have lost half a stone too as we have far less tempting snacks in!! x

  34. My boyfriend and I live in a student house with other people at the moment so we share some things but not others. Next year we’re being all grown up and moving in just the two of us – I want to meal plan and he doesn’t! He loves just browsing the supermarket, but he’s also going to have a full-time job and I’ll still be a student! I’ll have to secretly meal plan without him and use subliminal messaging in the supermarket… Nah, I’m sure he’ll get on board! Brilliant post, loved all the tips especially the list that syncs, so clever.

  35. once I move into our new place after we’re married, me and my man will be doing this every week! and thanks for the tips!


  36. My boyfriend & I had just started to delve into the world of meal planning, and then we moved back in with my parents. I mean, it isn’t bad having 3/4 of our meals cooked for us, but I do miss getting to decide on the week’s meals! I’m definitely bookmarking this guide for when we move back out on our own again.

  37. We do meal plan, and shop with a list. But I am finding our food bill is creeping up and up again :( I think it may be largely due to the Mr not considering a meal a proper meal if it doesn’t include some kind of meat or fish! Any ideas on cheap meat dishes or veggie dishes that don’t feel like they are lacking in the protein department?!

  38. This is what my meal planning in my head is like. Not in practice though. I shall remedy this. With immediate effect.

  39. My boyfriends in charge of planning our meals because he does the cooking and I’m pretty easy going about what I eat but on more than one occasion we’ve got to asda and he’s said ‘il just figure it out as we go round’, he now knows that that sentence results in us pushing our trolley into the clothes section, sitting down and writing out a plan before wandering down any aisles!


  1. […] for more fab meal planning tips check out this wonderful post from A Trifty […]

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