A guide to menu planning on a budget

We talk about menu planning as an essential step to keeping your food costs down when grocery shopping. But what does menu planning actually mean?

For menu planning newbies, here is a weekly step-by-step guide.

Work backwards

When you think about menu planning, naturally you are going to think about planning meals. While your inclination may be to approach this from a recipe first point of view, your budget is better served to see what’s on sale first, and then determine where to go from there.

Get out those flyers. See what coupon and price match opportunities are available. Look for meal mainstays, like proteins (meat, poultry, fish), grains (bread, rice, pasta) and veggies. Also, every week do a full inventory of what you’ve got on hand. Not knowing exactly what you’ve got could lead to waste- which will stop your grocery budget in its tracks.

Recipe search

Now that you know what your mainstays are, your best bet is to work with items that are versatile and then come at them with a number of different recipes.

Let’s say chicken is on sale. You could do a chicken bake (use salad dressing or broth as a sauce), a stir-fry, chicken Panini or club sandwich or homemade chicken strips, done in breadcrumbs or crushed crackers. If the chicken on sale has bones in it, don’t worry. It’s not hard to de bone and remove the meat you need.

Another good inspiration point? Google your main ingredients and throw in “one-pot-meal” or “family-friendly” for extra ideas.

Once you’ve determined any extra ingredients you may need, add those to the list (as long as they are budget friendly and don’t promote waste).

Get out your appliances

It’s not just the food that is going to help in your menu planning. Dust off those slow cookers, rice cookers or sandwich griddles. Variety is the spice of life (and of your kitchen). Look to the small appliance for new inspiration.