With rising prices on many of our everyday essentials - including food - we’re all looking for simple ways to save money right now.

One habit that can help you spend less is to create a weekly meal plan before you shop, says Jody Gatewood, a registered dietitian and assistant state nutrition program specialist at Iowa State University Extension and Outreach.

Yes, meal planning requires a few extra minutes out of your already busy days. However, it’s worth the time and effort to plan out a week of family meals in advance, Gatewood says.

“It doesn’t have to be intense meal planning,” she says. “But when you go to the grocery store, you can plan what you need, and you’re not just putting things into your cart and then getting home and realizing that you spent this money and really don’t have a meal.”

Gateway recommends the following steps to create a money-saving meal plan that works for your household.


  1. Look at your week ahead, and plan around your family’s schedule. If the kids have baseball games in the evening, then plan a quick meal, like sandwiches and sliced fruit. You don’t need to plan out meals for every day of the week.


  1. Shop your pantry. Take a few minutes to look in your own pantry and freezer, and plan meals around what you have available.


  1. Take advantage of grocery specials, and buy what’s in season. Plan meals around sale items, particularly deals on nutrition-rich proteins, such as beef, pork, poultry and seafood.


Of course, even when we are trying to save money at the grocery store, we don’t want to skimp on nutrition.

Variety is key to ensuring you and/or your growing kids are getting the nutrients they need, Gatewood says.

High-quality proteins - including beef, pork, poultry and seafood –

are excellent sources of vital nutrients.

Meat and poultry provide zinc, iron and vitamin B12, essential micronutrients our bodies need for a healthy immune system, optimal brain function and energy, Gatewood says.

“It’s like a return on investment. You get a lot of nutrition for your dollar (from animal-based proteins),” Gatewood says.

To save money, you can “stretch” the proteins in your meal, Gateway says.

Adding vegetables or beans to animal-based proteins can help bulk up a meal and boost nutrition. (Beans are a good, inexpensive source of fiber and protein.)

“It goes back to variety,” Gatewood says. “Things like beans and lentils can stretch your protein, for people who still want meat. Like when making tacos, use hamburger but then maybe put some black beans in it or eggs.”

For more budget-friendly meal ideas, check out Iowa State University Extension and Outreach’s “Spend Smart. Eat Smart” website: https://spendsmart.extension.iastate.edu/.

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Learn more about author Teresa Bjork here.

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