Cheap Meal Planning in Reverse

Sticking to any meal plan will save you money. Reverse meal planning is a homemaking skill that saves even more money because you plan to buy food when it is cheap.
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Meal planning can be done several different ways. Really, sticking to any meal plan will save you money. Reverse meal planning is a homemaking skill that saves even more money because you plan to buy food when it is cheap.

There are many reasons why you would choose to meal plan: keep your sanity, know your shopping list, grocery pick-up, save money, etc.

I choose to meal plan because it’s one small way I can save money and make wise use of my husband’s income.

Meal planning also helps me get meat defrosted on time!

Reverse meal planning is just as simple as “regular” meal planning. The difference is you are making a plan from what foods you already have on hand instead of what you plan to buy.

Grab your free printable weekly meal planner here!

The “cheap” part of cheap meal planning in reverse is that you shift from shopping your grocery list to shopping the grocery fliers.

Buying food on sale is only cheaper if you will actually use it. Just because something’s on sale doesn’t mean you should buy it!

Read More: Homemaking Skills for the Frugal Housewife

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Setting Yourself Up for Cheap Meal Planning (in Reverse)

If you are used to making a meal plan and then going shopping for it, you will need to give yourself some time and grace to adjust to doing things in reverse.

Here are a few things you will have to change in order to be successful at reverse meal planning.

1. Mindset Shift

You have to stop shopping for what you are hungry for or craving and start shopping for what’s on sale.

This means acquiring grocery store fliers throughout the week or checking their fliers online. Often, stores will have an app for you to download so you can check sales and get digital coupons even.

Crystal from Money Saving Mom feeds her family of five soon-to-be-six on $70 a week using her Kroger app and shopping markdowns!

Another mindset shift is when you will use the groceries you buy. Most often, you will use the groceries you buy this week for next week’s meal plan. Since you already created this week’s meal plan from what you had on hand.

The exception is if you find fresh veggies or fruit on sale then you will want to mix those into your current week of meals or prepare them for easy snacks.

Sticking to any meal plan will save you money. Reverse meal planning saves even more money because you plan to buy food when it is cheap.

2. Grocery Shopping

In order to make this cheap meal planning actually cheaper, you may have to switch up where you shop.

Usually a super Wal Mart or Target aren’t going to run great sales on groceries – if ever they run sales. Those stores are a one-stop-shop so they don’t have to market groceries to get you in there.

My small town has Wal Mart and one grocery store. I shop the grocery store sales (their regular priced items are pretty expensive) and then finish up my shopping list at Wal Mart.

Scope out other grocery stores and keep an eye on their fliers. Remember, just because something is on sale doesn’t mean you need to buy it! If your family won’t eat it, skip it.

If you want extra tips for saving money on groceries, you have to check out Crystal’s 25 hacks for slashing your grocery bill!

Read More: What I Don’t Buy at Aldi

Budget Friendly Healthy Foods to Keep in Stock

3. Name Brand

Making meals cheaper is going to require you to give up your favorite name brands. Very few food items are significantly different when you compare name brand to store brand.

Eventually your family will adjust to the slight differences.

But.

If a name brand item is on sale, usually it will be cheaper than the store brand, so always be comparing prices.

4. Markdowns

Most grocery stores have a shelf, cooler or cart in the back with markdowns. I’ve gotten great deals on groceries with dented or torn packaging.

My local grocery store is great about marking down dairy two days before it expires. I’m not super scared of expiration dates to begin with, so this is easy for me. The best is to freeze your expiring-soon groceries when you get home.

It’s easy to throw expiring-soon meat in the freezer but what about dairy? I always buy all the cream marked down because I make our own ice cream. With cultured items like yogurt and sour cream, I give myself a week or two to eat because the good bacteria and enzymes will keep crowding out any bad bacteria.

Read More: 14 Ways to Save Money on Groceries

5. Use the Freezer

Meat sales don’t come up that often and maybe you only buy a certain cut or brand.

When meat your family likes is on sale, stock up! Meat freezes beautifully for a month or two without extra special packaging. If I buy extra or find some expiring-soon meat for cheap, I’ll just throw it in the freezer when I get home. I don’t repackage any of it because it’s not going to sit in there long enough to get freezer burned.

Erin has a great book full of tips for things you can do to stay home with your kids. Saving on groceries is one of them!

Read More: Cooking for the Freezer: How to Make and Bake Ahead

How to Do Cheap Meal Planning in Reverse

With the changes you made above in mindset and shopping, you are now ready to make your meal plan!

I like to have at least three things at a meal. (Lunch is very casual and usually leftovers so I don’t consider it an official meal in our house.)

  • Protein
  • Starch/Carb
  • Veggie

An example of this would be spaghetti. The burger in the sauce is protein, the noodles a starch and I always serve green beans on the side.

I also always serve applesauce with spaghetti so the fruit becomes part of the meal instead of a snack or dessert.

Step 1: Shop your pantry

Look in your pantry or cupboards for anything you already have on hand. Using what you already have is always the cheapest.

Do you have pasta, rice or beans to use as the base for your meal?

Any canned soups you can mix in with meat?

Canned tuna or chicken are great to have on hand if you’ve forgotten to defrost meat. What canned veggies or fruit do you have to go with your meal?

Read More: No Spend Challenge

How to Manage Your Pantry Inventory

Step 2: Shop your freezer

After deciding on an item or several from your pantry, see if it needs a meat to go with.

Check your freezer for meat. With a written meal plan, you will be able look ahead to the next day and see what needs to be defrosted or marinated.

Step 3: Pick your Sides

What will you serve with your main dish? Canned or frozen veggies go great with any meal. Cut up some fresh fruit. Bake some low sugar muffins like morning glory muffins or bran muffins. Put out some dill pickles or olives. Slice up some cheese with crackers.

Really, sides can be anything.

5. Do the Work

After you’ve learned to shop sale items only, you will quickly build up plenty of food to choose from to make a week or two worth of meal plans.

Sitting down and writing out a plan may seem like torture.

Grab this quick printable for your weekly meal plan!

Pick a time on Saturday or Sunday that is designated just for meal planning and get it done! Dig through recipe books, look online and remember to look at the back of your boxes and cans for great recipes, too.

Make sure to check out some of these apps. You enter in the foods you have on hand and it spits out recipes to make with those food items!

Game. Changer.

Read More: How to Reuse Leftover Food

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Homemaking Skills for the New Homemaker


With these mindset shifts and five easy steps you can make your meal planning more purposeful. Cheap meal planning in reverse is a great way to save some money while still feeding your family nourishing meals.

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