How to Save Money with Reverse Meal Planning

Meal planning is a time saver but not all meal planning strategies cut grocery expenses. If lowering your monthly grocery bill is a priority, reverse meal planning is the most frugal method to food shopping and planning meals.

The appeal of done-for-you meal plans is understandable. Those apps and delivery plans are convenient, easy and time saving. And most even come with a grocery list saving you even more time.

But the cost of convenience is high.

Making a shopping list from a meal plan adds up and you often end up with more food than you need. Meal plans don’t factor in the seasonality of food, your local grocery store’s sales or food you already have in the house.

With reverse meal planning, you make a meal plan from weekly sales and your pantry. This method reduces food waste and save money on groceries. In this article, I’ll break down my reverse meal planning strategy in three easy steps.

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Pinterest pin for reverse meal planning.

Step 1: Take Inventory of Your Pantry

A stocked pantry can only save money if you know what’s hiding in the back of the shelves. Buying duplicate items or forgetting things until well past their expiration date wastes food and money.

If your panty is overflowing, get organized and take inventory. As you note what’s in the pantry, group similar ingredients together and check the expiration and “best by” dates. Also, move the newest items to the back so you use up ingredients about to expire.

How this saves money

When you know what food you have you’re less likely to make duplicate purchases and unnecessary trips to the grocery store. And stocking up on food during weekly sales lowers the monthly average grocery expense.

Here’s an example of reverse meal planning using the pantry:

●  You find three cans of tuna, a box of penne pasta, and a jar of marinara sauce.

●  You also find two cans of black beans, a bag of rice, and several spices.

●  Instead of buying more dinner ingredients, you decide to make tuna pasta bake and black bean and rice bowls for dinner over the next few nights.

●  This prevents food waste and cuts down your grocery list significantly.

Step 2: Make a Shopping List from Sales

When you take advantage of advertised weekly discounts and promotions, you’ll cut your monthly grocery bill. Grocery stores have weekly sales and may offer digital coupons for additional discounts. Each week, go through the advertised sales and make a shopping list with items you typically buy.

Note the quantity restrictions and buy extra non-perishable foods and foods like meat that will stay fresh in the freezer for a few months.

When you first stock an empty pantry, the weekly grocery hauls might be bigger than usual. As you stock up, you’ll be buying items at the lowest selling price and planning budget-friendly meals. Restock the pantry with food you buy on sale and once the pantry is full, you’ll notice your weekly grocery bill go down.

Here’s an example of what you might find on sale:

●  Your local store has a sale on ground beef for $2.99 per pound and bell peppers for $0.89 each.

●  Another sale includes chicken breast for $1.99 per pound

You plan to buy these sale items and combine them with the pasta and marinara sauce from your pantry to make a hearty pasta bake and with the rice and black beans to make chicken fajita bowls.

Step 3: Create a Menu from Sales and Stocked Pantry

Usually, meal planning involves selecting recipes or deciding what you’d like to cook, then making a shopping list based on the menu. That meal planning method is costly if you don’t have the ingredients and end up buying them at full price.

Reverse meal planning reverses the steps. When you create a menu based on sale items and pantry inventory, you’ll use all ingredients, have less food waste and more cost-effective meal planning.

Here’s a cost comparison using two sets of ingredients:

●  You already have pasta, tuna, marinara sauce, rice, and black beans in your pantry.

●  You purchase the sale items: 2 pounds of ground beef at $2.99 per pound, 4 bell peppers at $0.89 each, a block of cheddar cheese for $2.50, and 2 pounds of chicken breast at $1.99 per pound.

Table showing a cost comparison of grocery savings with buying food on sale.

With these ingredients, you can make five meals:

●  Tuna pasta bake

●  Ground beef and bell pepper pasta

●  Cheesy beef and pepper casserole

●  Chicken fajita bowls

●  Black bean and rice bowls

By purchasing these items on sale, you spend $24.30 instead of $38.20, saving $13.90.

Here are free shopping and meal planning templates to help you get organized.

mock up of meal planning templates.

About Jennifer Messineo, MS, RD

I’m a food loving Registered Dietitian. I help families plan meals, reduce food waste and save money on food!

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