I hate meal planning. I seriously cannot stand it. First of all, narrowing down recipes for every day of the week that I know everyone in my family will enjoy is so time consuming. Then putting together a shopping list by going through each of the recipes. And if you are like me once you have your list, you will want to re-write it so that it is organized by category so your shopping trip goes smoothly. No thank you.
This is one area that I am not good at, but I know is necessary to help me save money. I do my best to make this task easy and pain free. There are plenty of free resources out there, but they can be hard to find. And once you do find them, it can be hit or miss. Well, friends, since I have already spent the time searching for them and trying them out, I thought I would share my findings with you so that you can utilize them as well, without having to spend tons of time and energy looking.
Below you will find resources that I have used myself. I have outlined what I liked and also some things that I may not have liked. This will help you make an informed decision as to whether this is right for you or not.
Best Option For Real Food On A Budget
Tiffany from Don’t Waste The Crumbs provides a monthly meal plan with four weeks worth of dinners. There are also a few breakfast, lunch and dessert options. She uses mostly whole foods and she is talented at keeping the grocery budget low. The meal plans are meant to feed a family of 4 on a $350 monthly budget, but the price will vary depending on where you live. You can easily adjust the recipes based on the number of people in your family. I used these plans when my family was saving up to pay cash for a new car and they were great! The recipes were simple and delicious.
The only two drawbacks to these plans is that the shopping list is not provided and she only uses a small amount of meat (which may not be a drawback for you depending on your family). My husband does not consider dinner a meal unless meat is included, and a lot of it, so there were a few times he complained about it, but other than that he did enjoy the recipes.
There is an upgraded version of her meal plans where the shopping list, and other resources are included, but it is not free. You can easily go through each of the recipes yourself and create your own shopping list, but the upgraded meal plans are a great value. I am not sure if new free meal plans are still being created, as I have not found any for 2017 yet, but you can access all her old meals plans organized by month and year here.
Best Option For Filling Your Freezer With Meals
I love Once A Month Meals. The idea of doing most of my shopping at the beginning of the month is so appealing. The less time spent in the grocery store the better. Once A Month Meals provides several different menu options including traditional, paleo, real food, and many more. They also offer lots of mini menus if you don’t want to commit to a whole month of cooking at once. If one big shopping trip is not for you, you could break this up by choosing a few meals from the menu each week to shop for.
Again, with this resource, if you are just using the free version, they do not provide you with a shopping list, but you can sign up for a membership to get the shopping list, detailed cooking and prep instructions and more. Another drawback is that it can be time consuming to prep ahead and freeze all of your meals at the beginning of the month. But if you can devote a few hours to this it saves you SO MUCH TIME the rest of the month. If you are still unsure, start with a mini menu or even pick just one or two meals that appeal to you and prep ahead so you can have something ready in the freezer on those days where you would otherwise get take out. Slow cooker meals tend to require the least amount of time and preparation.
My Absolute Favorite Free Meal Planning Resource
I cannot say enough good things about Kelly from The Nourishing Home. If you become an email subscriber, not only will you be sent delicious recipes and other goodies from time to time, but you will also get access to her meal plan kits complete with shopping list and and prep ahead recommendations, all absolutely free. All the meals are made with whole foods and are gluten and grain free, but I sometimes use grains when I am making them myself (basmati rice instead of cauliflower rice, spaghetti instead of zoodles). There are also some ideas for breakfasts and lunches, but the ingredients for those are not included in the shopping list, so if you want to include them, you will need to add the ingredients yourself.
The recipes are delicious and having the shopping list already put together is a total life saver. Even better, is that most of the time she provides two weeks worth of meals at a time so you can plan ahead. Once in a while, there will be a meal that I know my family will not like (my husband does not like seafood) but when that happens, I will usually just make homemade pizza in place of the meal, of find another easy substitution. I definitely think you should go to the website and subscribe. You will not regret it!
My Favorite Free Shopping List App
I currently use List Ease to create my shopping list. Even if I use a plan that provides a shopping list for me, I copy the list into the app. I just find it easier to tap the screen and check off an item on the list and then have it automatically removed. This saves me time in the store and keeps my list more organized.
List Ease also automatically sorts the items on your list into categories. You can even scan the bar codes of items in your house to add them to your shopping list. There is also a feature where you can save the price of an item so that it can estimate your spending total ahead of time. I don’t use this feature personally, but it can be very helpful for when you are on a tight budget. You can download it from the App store for iPhones or from Google Play for Android.
Meal planning and grocery shopping are necessary but most of us don’t find them enjoyable. If I find a way to take the burden off myself and spend less time doing them, I am going to take it. I have used all of the resources above and have found them each to alleviate some of the stress that comes with feeding a family of five. Try them out and see if they work for you.