Published July 2, 2024

How Meal Planning Can Save You Money: A Step-by-Step Guide

Decision fatigue can lead to too much takeout. Here's how to break out of the habit and start eating more homemade meals.

A woman meal planning.

Let's face it, eating out is getting pricier by the day. Even grabbing a quick bite at your local fast-casual spot can start adding up faster than you can say "extra guac, please." But here's the good news: meal planning can be a game-changer for your wallet and your health.

Think about it—you gain full control over what you're eating, reduce food waste, and avoid those last-minute dinner dilemmas that lead to expensive takeout orders. Ready to dive in? Let's break it down step-by-step.

Getting Started with Meal Planning

Setting Clear Goals

First things first, why are you interested in meal planning? Is it to save money, eat healthier, or perhaps cater to a special diet? Knowing your goals helps tailor your approach and keeps you motivated. Jot them down and keep them visible, maybe on your fridge or your phone.

Assessing Your Dietary Needs

Are you gluten-free, dairy-free, paleo, keto, or juggling another special diet? Understanding your dietary needs is crucial for effective meal planning. Don't worry, we'll cover tips specific to each diet later in this article.

Making a Weekly Menu

Grab a notepad, a planner, or even an app—whatever floats your boat. Start by plotting out your meals for the week. Begin with dinners (since they often take the most planning), then move on to lunches and breakfasts. Simple, right?

Here’s a pro tip: Make a list of your go-to meals. This makes planning super easy because you can rotate favorites and introduce new dishes gradually.

Step-by-Step Guide to Meal Planning

Inventory Check: Knowing What You Have

Before you even think about creating a grocery list, check your pantry, fridge, and freezer. You might be surprised at what you already have. This step helps prevent buying duplicates and ensures you use up items close to their expiration date. Plus, it’s a great way to clear some space.

Creating a Master Grocery List

With your weekly menu in hand, list out all the ingredients you'll need. Group them by section (produce, dairy, meats, etc.) to make your shopping trip more efficient. Stick to this list like glue—impulse buys can ruin your budget faster than you think.

Scheduling Cooking and Prep Time

Finally, decide when you'll prep your meals. For some, Sunday afternoon is perfect for a big cook-off session. For others, breaking it down into smaller, daily prep times works better. Whichever you choose, make it consistent and manageable.

Meal Planning for Special Diets


Living a gluten-free life doesn't mean sticking to bland or boring meals. With a bit of planning, you can enjoy a varied and exciting menu without blowing your food budget.


Going dairy-free can be a challenge, especially if you're used to a lot of dairy in your diet. But don't fret. Meal planning can help you navigate this with ease.


The paleo diet can seem intimidating due to its emphasis on whole, unprocessed foods. However, it doesn’t have to break the bank.


The keto diet is high in fats and low in carbs, which can sometimes mean more expensive grocery bills. But strategic planning can keep costs down.

Meal Planning for Busy Families

Strategies for Families with Young Children

We all know that feeding a family is no small feat. Add young kids into the mix, and it can feel downright impossible. But with a little foresight, meal planning can be your best friend.

Involving Kids in Meal Planning

Kids can be surprisingly helpful in the kitchen. Include them in meal planning sessions. Let them pick a meal or help with simple tasks like washing veggies. Bonus: they're more likely to eat what they helped make!

Quick and Easy Meal Ideas

Need some meal ideas that won't take hours to prepare? Here you go:

Tips for Success

Budget-Friendly Shopping Tips

Utilizing Leftovers

Avoid food waste by getting creative with leftovers:

Avoiding Common Pitfalls


Meal planning might seem like a lot of work upfront, but your future self will thank you. By planning your meals, you can save money, make healthier food choices, and reduce stress. Plus, special diets and busy lifestyles don't have to stand in the way. So grab that notepad, rally the family, and get started. Your wallet will thank you!

Do you know where your money goes?

Most people don't even realize they're overspending on thier takeout habit because they have no idea where they're money is going. It's not thier fault — the cost of everything is going up, and it's easy to lose track of subscriptions and recurring expenses.

If you've struggled with keeping tabs on your spending in the past, Latwy might be the perfect solution. Real-time alerts, delivered seconds after swiping your card via email, Telegram, Discord, or Slack, can help you get a handle on where your money goes each month.

Restaurant Spending
A chart showing cumulative subscription spending over the course of a month.
This Month $520.16
Target pace $508.06
Target $750.00
Spending Alert!!!!!! You just spent $36.97 at CAVA using your Capital One SavorOne Card.

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