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Whether you’re trying to lose weight, eat healthier, or save money, planning your meals in advance can help you reach your goals.  The hardest part is getting started.  Deciding what to make for every single meal can be overwhelming so just focus on dinner at first.  Over time things will get easier and you’ll be able to incorporate more meals into your food plan.  Here are some meal planning tips that can maximize your savings.

Use the ingredients you already have

The most cost-effective way to meal plan is to start with the ingredients you already have in your kitchen.  Make a list of what’s in your pantry, fridge and freezer.  Pay special attention to the expiration dates so you know what needs to be used first.  From there, you can use an app like SuperCook to find recipes containing your ingredients.

Shop for items on sale

Gather the weekly sales circular for a few supermarkets in your area and compare prices.  See what’s on sale at your preferred store and plan your meals around those items.  It may be worthwhile to visit multiple stores to get the best deals.  Shop with a list and only pick up things you know you’ll actually use.  You can also save money on your next grocery run by signing up for loyalty programs, clipping coupons, buying generic brands, and using rebate apps.

Create a weekly menu

When you’re hungry and don’t know what to make, you’re more likely to buy the fastest thing you can find.  Creating a weekly menu will give you a guideline to follow so you save time and money.  To get started, write a list of your family’s favorite recipes along with some new ones you’d like to try.  Download a free printable meal planner online and assign a meal for each day.  You can even have themed nights like Meatless Monday, Taco Tuesday, or Wing Wednesday.  Once you’re done, hang your menu where everyone can see it.  Consider getting a folder to store your recipes for the week, so everything is organized and ready to go.

Choose easy side dishes

Side dishes don’t have to be complicated or expensive.  Make life easy for yourself by picking up a can of vegetables, frozen French fries, bagged salad or microwavable rice to use as a side dish.  Follow the cooking instructions on the package and serve it as is or jazz things up by adding a special sauce or seasoning.

Have a few quick go-to meals for lazy days

Everyone has days when they don’t feel like cooking, but there are flavorful dishes you can make with minimal effort.  With a store-bought rotisserie chicken, you can make chicken tacos, chicken Caesar salad or chicken quesadillas.  Another tasty dish that’s easy to make is naan pizza.  All you need is store-bought naan, pizza sauce, shredded mozzarella cheese and whatever other toppings you like.  Put it together and bake it in the oven at 400°F until the cheese melts. 

Plan one meatless meal a week

Aim to cook at least one meatless meal a week.  Limiting the amount of meat you consume has money-saving and health benefits.  It can help you manage your weight, reduce your risk of heart disease, improve gut health, protect you from certain cancers and it’s better for the environment.  Instead of having meat, choose things like fish, eggplant, tofu, chickpeas or portobello mushrooms.