Save Money by Meal Planning

by Meghan

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When Lil’ M was born last year, I started doing two things to save my own sanity… it turns out they both saved me money too!  First, instead of going to the store with two kids under two with a foot of snow on the ground, I started having groceries delivered by Peapod.  Life changing.  No more wearing an infant, wrangling a toddler into the cart and trying to keep them both appeased for 45-60 minutes while trying to check everything off the list.  No more spending the one window I had help when Grandma comes to visit at the grocery store.  Now, I keep a running list on the nice little app on my iPhone, adding things as they run out that I otherwise would end up forgetting.  I can easily shop from my previous delivery lists and the weekly specials.  Never impulse buying.  And the best part – they arrive at my front door and are deposited on my kitchen counter during a two hour window of my choosing.


Yes, there is a $6.95 delivery charge… BUT when you first get it set up, you get the first few deliveries free, they are always emailing me delivery discount codes, and I easily save more than that by a) shopping the specials list and b) not grabbing random things I see and don’t need.  They are currently offering $20 off your first delivery (with $20 off for me too for each referral) through 12/31/2014 for any new customer.

My biggest hesitation in using Peapod was being concerned about the quality of meat and produce upon delivery.  I have been more than pleasantly surprised.  It is in their best interest to pick you quality groceries to keep your business.  On two occasions (after more than a year of grocery deliveries), I have had issues.  Once, the day after a delivery, it was obvious a whole bag had not arrived  – I didn’t have any bread, I was missing the mini bagels Big M likes for lunch, and a few other items.  Another time, a bag of avocados was smashed during delivery – every one was cracked open already and oozing out.  Both times, I called customer service, they immediately credited my credit card.  And in the missing bag instance, they added one of the missing items that had been on special into my cart for my next delivery at the sale price.

Guru Tip: Delivery windows often book up 1-2 days ahead of schedule.  If you know you want groceries delivered Monday morning, book your delivery slot by Friday afternoon.  You can keep adding to your cart up until 4PM Sunday, but you’ll guarantee your Monday morning delivery.

The other way I save money is by Meal Planning.  I use the linked Meal Planning file as my template… Double click the header to put in your family’s last name, and print as many as you need.  I check my freezer and pull up the meat specials on my Peapod app as a starting point – if chicken breasts are on special this week, I throw in a few more chicken dishes.  If ground turkey is on sale, I put Turkey meatballs and tacos on the list.  By planning out my meals and using Peapod, I can shop in my own pantry and make sure I put the ingredients in the cart that I need, while not duplicating items I already have just because I can’t remember if I have them or not.  I also waste far less food.

When I need some ideas for meals during my planning process, I often turn to Pinterest or, previously known as Food on the Table.  This works via app or directly on their website.  When you set up an account, you select your food preferences and select your grocery store.  It will then give you recipe suggestions based on the weekly specials at your grocery store – genius!  The recipes in the database are rated by users, and often include handy tips from users who have made them too.  While I plan out dinners, since Big M has strong preferences on lunch and snack choices, I just make sure I have 10-12 days worth of those choices for the 2 weeks, with leftovers and meals out filling in the gaps.

Meal planning also takes the thought process out of what to make for dinner every day.  It’s already planned out – you can look at your meal calendar in the morning and be sure to take what you need out of the freezer to thaw.  And, since you planned your meals and ordered groceries accordingly, there are far fewer trips to the grocery store to grab just one ingredient for dinner.  This saves money too, because as we all know, when you go to the store for ‘just one thing,’ you never actually leave with just the one thing… I inevitably spend at least $30-40 each trip, when I just came for a $4 gallon of milk.

I typically plan out meals for two weeks, and have Peapod delivered once every two weeks.  If you think all this planning will take too long, I probably spend about 30 minutes filling in the calendar and ordering groceries, including running to the pantry to assess inventory.  How long do you spend driving to and from, and at the grocery store? Also, each order is saved and easily accessible to make your next order, so it gets easier and faster each time.

I usually make one additional trip to the grocery store or Whole Foods on the alternate week to restock fresh produce.  I go while Big M is at preschool, so I only have one toddler to fit in the cart, and it is a small, quick trip!  We also average about 2.5 gallons of milk a week.  Since our fridge cannot hold that many gallons and all our food, hubby usually checks in on his way home and restocks when we our low from the local CVS.

Guru Tip: A gallon of milk at our local CVS is $1 LESS than the same brand, variety at our local grocery store.  I buy it at the store when I am there because it is convenient, but I buy all the rest at CVS!

So, now that you are wasting less food by meal planning, and spending less overall via planned purchases and fewer trips to the store… Your family food budget should be in much better shape!  If you want to see how it stacks up to the average family budget in your area, check out this Family Budget Calculator from the Economic Policy Institute, or the latest USDA Food Plans: Cost of Food reports.  How do you stack up?

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