Meal Planning on a Budget for Large Families

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When you have a family with five or more children, meal planning isn’t just a nice idea–it’s a survival skill. Without a roadmap for dinner every night, chaos can easily ensue as you scrounge around for something—anything!—to feed your ravenous crew.

Even if you throw organization to the wind and let everyone fend for themselves at dinnertime, you’ll likely end up with a sink full of dishes and a fridge full of half-used ingredients. Clearly, it’s best to plan ahead.

When you outline a week’s worth (or more) of meals, it’s important to plan in a way that doesn’t just save you mental energy, but saves you money, too. By getting strategic in your approach, it is possible to stay within a budget, even when you have multiple mouths to feed.

The beauty of meal planning is that it puts you in control of your spending (and it can actually increase the variety of meals and snacks you can offer). We’ve rounded up several best practices to help you cut costs on feeding a large family, from the planning stages through actual meal prep.

Meal Planning on a Budget

Wondering how to make your meal plan work for your wallet? Start with these seven tips.

Set Aside Time to Meal Plan

Time spent carefully meal planning is time (and money) saved at the grocery store. Just like you may have a routine around shopping, establish a routine for meal planning, too. Set aside an hour or so on a weekend or evening when you can focus. Then get cracking! You might find a meal planning app that works for you, or pen and paper may be more your style. Whatever your M.O, giving planning a significant chunk of time will reap benefits all week long.

Plan More Than Dinner?

You probably know planning dinners can save you money, but the same principle applies to planning breakfasts and lunches, too. It may sound like a lot of extra work, but in a large family, scheduling three meals a day isn’t unrealistic. With numerous mouths to feed before school and work, a pre-planned breakfast can reduce chaos in the mornings.

Likewise, outlining lunches means you have a game plan for what you’re packing in school lunchboxes or taking to work.

Shop Your Pantry

Once you’ve sat down to your weekly planning session, it’s time to get up again! Take a trek to your kitchen to assess existing stores in your pantry and refrigerator, then plan around what you've got. You’ll reduce food waste and won’t accidentally re-purchase ingredients you already had on hand.

Look at Grocery Store Circulars

It’s common sense to check store ads before meal planning, but it’s easy to skip this step when you’re in a hurry. Don’t! Even if you’ve tossed print ads that cluttered your mailbox, you can still typically pull up your store’s weekly ad online. Use it to identify loss leaders you can use for budget-friendly meals. (And see what else you might want to stock up on for future use.)?

Consider a Meal Rotation

If there’s such a thing as meatless Monday and Taco Tuesday, why not designate a Soup Saturday or Salad Sunday as well? Theming each day of the week with a pre-assigned category helps take the guesswork out of the all-important question, “What’s for dinner?” It also can cut down on spending when you build up a supply of commonly used ingredients.