Two-Week Meal Plans are officially my new favorite obsession! This method of meal planning has truly changed the way I buy groceries and has saved me money.
It’s no secret that my grocery budget is my favorite money-saving weapon. Food can often be a large portion of your expenses and it is also one of the easiest expenses to reduce quickly.
It’s easy to be reluctant about reducing this expense total at first. Spending less on food usually means spending less on eating out at restaurants. And that can feel like you are limiting yourself to not have any fun or to be able to enjoy life.
Then to spend less on groceries means that you will only be eating ramen noodles and beans right?
I won’t lie, eating out less and spending less on groceries isn’t always fun, but is a lifetime of debt worth it?
My answer is no, absolutely not. And that is why I created a grocery budget for my family and I started meal planning. These two changes allow me to spend $150 or less each month on groceries.
That’s an average $37.50 a week!
(in case you are wondering, my family currently consists of me and my husband. And of course my two fur babies, but their food costs belong to my “dog expense” category.)
The best part is that ramen noodles never come anywhere near my house!
Are grocery budgets or meal planning foreign concepts to you? No worries, I have help for you!
Check out this post to find out how to create your first grocery budget.
Check out this post for meal planning method that I recommend for newbies!
I also did a grocery budget challenge series where I spent $40/week on groceries for 3 adults (when my sister lived with us). Check out this series post for grocery budgeting inspiration!
The last few months though, my grocery budget has been in the red by the end of the month. My overall budget for the month was never blown though so I wasn’t too worried. (by overall budget I mean the total amount for the month that I will spend on food, eating out, clothes, dog expenses, etc. Spending more on groceries meant that I spent less on clothes or another category for that month.)
New year new me though. I am determined to be under budget for every month going forward for groceries!
So, what can I do to make sure this happens?
Do I resort to serving ramen noodles or cereal two nights a week for supper?
Do I raise the total amount for my grocery budget each month since maybe the amount that I had was unrealistic?
Throw my hands up in the air and give up?
To be honest, at first I didn’t know what to do. I poured myself a glass of wine and decided to see if I could figure out what the problem was.
At first I wanted to blame the holiday season and all of the get-togethers that we attended and brought food to. But then I realized that November and December weren’t the only months that I went over my budget.
I looked over my grocery receipts and my past meal plans. We weren’t eating fillet mignons or lobster every week. The meal plans themselves showed that I had a good mix of cheaper meals and moderately priced meals.
So what the heck is wrong? Well the fact was that I was buying too many groceries. When I would write out my meal plans, I wasn’t doing a great job of accounting for leftovers.
Basically I was planning on each meal to produce one serving of leftovers, but in reality the meals were actually providing 2-3 servings of leftovers.
Even though I didn’t need to cook or make a meal as often because of the amount of leftovers, I was still planning the same number of meals for each week.
Now I am extra conscious of not letting food go to waste so I was never wasting food. I would throw perishable foods in the freezer or make sure to cook a recipe that used foods that were close to going bad.
In a sense I was building up my pantry. Which, as this post points out, can be a good thing! But I was going over budget to do so. And that is not how I want to build my pantry.
Now I know what the problem is, but what do I do about it? The simplest answer is just to spend less at the grocery store. Don’t buy anything not on your list, even if it will only put you over-budget by a dollar or two.
I didn’t see that as being a long-term solution though.
My solution has two parts:
– Write down lunches as part of my meal plans, not just dinners.
– Create two-week meal plans instead of one-week.
Part One – Write down lunches in my meal plans.
This is my solution to solve the extra leftovers problem. Sometimes I would change what meal I had planned on making for that night, because life happens and things come up. (or I get lazy and don’t cook that night.)
This would cause a problem because then I wouldn’t have leftovers to take for lunch the next day. Or maybe I planned on eating leftovers for lunch during the weekend but then ended up eating a frozen pizza instead.
Writing down what I plan to eat for lunch each day will force me to think about leftovers in a more meaningful way and will help me manage them.
Part Two – Create two-week meal plans.
If I create two-week meal plans that means that I only have to go grocery shopping once every two weeks! This presents one less opportunity for me to go over-budget.
I don’t understand the logic but somehow it is also easier for me to stay under budget when I have $75 to spend rather than $37.50, even though I am planning more meals and buying more food.
Benefits of Two-Week Meal Plans
-As I noted earlier, a huge benefit of using two-week meal plans is that you have to go grocery shopping a lot less often! Hello extra dog cuddling time!
-Another benefit is that you can better plan on how to use up perishable items or large quantity items.
For example, let’s say that I am making my favorite Rainbow Peanut Noodles for supper in Week 1. I buy a head of red cabbage to use for this recipe but I know that I will only use half of the head, even if I account for using it with leftovers.
I could freeze it but I have no clue what I would use thawed red cabbage for. To be honest it would probably be thrown in the compost bin.
BUT, if I plan two weeks of meals out then I can make sure to include a meal in the second week to use up the rest of the red cabbage. (red cabbage is pretty shelf-stable and will last a little over a week in the fridge)
Two-week meal plans essentially force you to be extra organized and mindful with your groceries.
I know that the idea of planning two entire weeks of meals at once can be daunting but fear not because I do have some tips to help you through it!
Tips for Using your Two-Week Meal Plan
-Use your calendar when picking out meals. This is something that you should be doing for any type of meal planning. Have you calendar out so that you know what events you have going on that week.
If you know that you have dinner and happy hour planned with your friends on Saturday night then you wouldn’t want to have a meal planned for you to cook. (If you have anyone at home this would be a good night to plan on leftovers!)
Or maybe you have a church event Wednesday night and you know that you have to leave the house by 6pm. This would be a perfect day for a crock pot meal so that is ready by the time that you get home!
-Make sure to include 1-2 meals each week that don’t include perishable items. This is not me telling you to eat a frozen pizza or to make meals with no fruits or veggies. This is me telling you that life happens and you sometimes can’t make every meal that you planned on!
If you have these non-perishable item meals planned then you will waste less food because it will just sit in your freezer for another week or two, no big deal.
Using frozen or canned veggies for these meals is key.
I plan these meals for the end of each week. This way the recipes that use the perishable items will be made first and no food waste will happen.
-Only incorporate 1-2 new recipes. The key to your meal plan working is that you actually cook the food and then actually eat it. What happens if you make three new recipes three nights in a row and end up hating all of them? Did you plan on leftovers for lunch?
To help you get started with two-week meal planning, I have created an awesome printable. Fill it out to keep track of all of your meals and groceries. I have been saving my completed plans so that I can reuse them later this year to make meal planning even more simple!