What’s for dinner? Meal planning can put healthy savings on the menu
Ever get home from work and wonder, “What should we have for dinner?” You open the refrigerator or the pantry and see emptiness or not quite what you want.
You rummage around and find expired food or rotting fruits and vegetables. You toss them and head to the grocery store. More wasted food, which wastes time and money.
There has to be a better way.
A recent study by researchers from the University of Vermont and the University of New Hampshire concluded that Americans waste about a pound of food a day per person. That waste includes spoilage and tossing out what’s not eaten after a meal.
“It’s a waste of environmental resources, but in our own households it’s potentially a waste of our own financial resources, as well,” co-author and University of Vermont assistant professor Meredith Niles told CBS News.
Creating a weekly menu would help cut down on such waste as well as help you save money. A menu can become part of your personal budget to manage finances or just become a way of eating healthier.
Dawn Gifford, creator of sustainable living website Small Footprint Family, notes that “people who meal plan make fewer trips to the grocery store, spend less money on food, waste far less food, eat healthier, and enjoy the peace of mind of knowing what’s for dinner after a long, busy day.”
What’s for dinner?
Many mobile apps and online planners handle only dinner. Perhaps that’s a good way of easing into meal planning by focusing on the biggest meal of the day. But that meal also represents one of the biggest meal expenses where people eat out.
According to U.S. Department of Agriculture report, Millennials spend less on eating at home than any other generation. Not surprisingly, millennials go food shopping the least.
Need help getting into a meal planning lifestyle? Dawn Gifford recommends 20Dishes, which offers five different dinner recipe types and has about 200 recipes. Pricing is $8.25 per month if paid annually, $11 if paid quarterly and $14 per month if paid monthly.
But wait a minute? Isn’t this supposed to be about saving money? 20Dishes claims that the savings outweigh the cost: “Planning and prepping ahead can save up to 40% of your grocery bill. On average, a family of four saves about $250 a month on dinner alone.”
The Dinner Daily is another online option in which you set your meal preferences (red meat, pork, poultry and so on) and name your local store. This comes with a payment as well, $48 for an annual membership. Once you pay, the site then sends you a weekly meal plan that’s based on sales at the store you have chosen in your area. And, of course, it’s dinner only as the name states.
Lifehacker lists Cook Smarts as the best app for meal planning. The subscription costs $6 to $8 a month depending on the plan you choose. “In addition to helping you plan out your weekly meals, the service aims to help its users learn to cook, explore new recipes, get familiar with and comfortable in the kitchen, and eat more healthy, homemade food,” LifeHacker says about the app.
But what about breakfast and lunch?
Gifford suggests the mobile app RealPlans. It has a library of 1,500 recipes. The recipes run the range of dietary needs and wants – paleo, primal, vegetarian, dairy-free, gluten-free. But it does come with a monthly fee.
This app covers all meals for the day and has a three different price points – $14 a month is paying monthly, $11 a month if paying quarterly and $6 a month if paying annually.
FoodPlanner is a mobile app along with an online feature that Digital Trends, a web-based technology guide, listed as one of the best in its category. You can find recipes and store them, create grocery lists and track inventory. It’s definitely for the highly-organized user.
This app is free. But you will have to pay $3.99 a month to get the full-blown features such as both the online and mobile app and syncing with a Google calendar.
Real Simple touts BigOven as one of the best meal planning apps. It costs $24.99 a year for the Pro version, which is what you need to get the planner that includes breakfast, lunch and dinner. It has a database of 350,000 recipes.
Analog meal planning
If your hope is to save every single dollar, then you can collect your own recipes to build a weekly menu by doing it the old-fashioned way – pen and paper. Moneysavingmom.com has a bunch of templates for planners and shopping lists.
Whatever method you use to create a weekly meal plan, you will save money and time as well as eat healthier. Think of it this way, too: Creating a weekly menu can help the planet by sending less waste to the landfill.
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