Meal Planning 101: Simplify your grocery shopping routine

Healthy meal planning is often overlooked, but it can be a life changer. Without a meal calendar, you risk impulse buying and spending on items you don’t need. But when you have an organized food time table, you know what next you’re going to eat, which is also good if you hate racking your brain for recipe ideas.

If you want to maintain a balanced diet and save money, we share some amazing tips and tricks for creating the ideal meal planning grocery list.

What is meal planning?

Meal planning refers to all the decisions you make concerning what you (and family members, if living with any) will eat. Those decisions cover breakfast, lunch, and dinner for every day of the week.

Your meal plan can reflect on a calendar, hand drawn chart, journal, mobile app, or whatever methods you’d like to use. You could even create a Pinterest board and organize the plan inside it.

That said, a meal plan is not a grocery list. Most of us are guilty of interchanging both concepts. However, simply writing down items you want to shop for at Whole Foods or Walmart doesn’t equate to a healthy meal plan. If you’ve been making this mistake, now’s the time to correct that and we’ll show you how in the next section.

How to successfully plan your meals for a better diet & cost savings 

We may have made meal planning sound a lot more romantic than it actually is. In truth, it’s not so easy. There are numerous factors that go into switching your food timetable and diet, such as budget and storage.

Before you dive into the process, evaluate your pantry or kitchen using the following factors to see if you’re ready for the change:

1. Aim for a balanced diet

Many times, you binge on pastries, energy drinks, and other junk foods. You may think you’re eating enough, but you’re actually filling yourself with empty calories. An empty calorie meal provides little nutritional value, and is mostly high in sugars, fats, and oils. In simpler terms, they are big no-nos if you want to remain healthy.

On the other hand, a meal that’s balanced enriches you to resist diseases, infections, and low performance. Aiming for a balanced diet would help you greatly in constructing a meal timetable. Once you know what to eat and avoid, you know what should go on your grocery list.

Typically, a balanced meal would have one or two ingredients from five major food groups. It’s okay if you tuned out in Home Economics class or just forgot about the topic. We’ll do a short recap:


The following food groups are only meant to serve as a source of inspiration for your meal plan. You don’t need to consume them in the exact manner or order. Consult your dietitian or health care provider if you’re on a special diet to know what works best for you.

  • Fruits: fresh and whole bananas, apples, grapefruit, orange, avocado, and more. Fruits canned in brine at your local grocery store don’t count. You should try to eat at least five portions of whole fruits and vegetables in a day.
  • Vegetables: broccoli, zucchini, eggplants, and garden eggs. If possible, opt for raw vegetables as heat from cooking reduces their nutritional value.
  • Grains: whole grains with their bran, germ, and endosperm intact. They have more nutritional value than refined grains. For example, quinoa, brown rice, barley, and oats.
  • Proteins: chicken, beef, pork, fish, beans, and more. Proteins should make up a quarter of your plate. Follow these tips to buy the best meat from grocery stores.
  • Dairy: low-fat dairy or soy, such as cheeses, milk, yogurt. If you’re lactose intolerant, go for Swiss, parmesan, and cheddar cheeses. They have lower lactose levels because they’re aged. Also, try Greek yogurt, kefir, and buttermilk.
A healthy eating plate illustration

2. Make a grocery shopping list

Now that you know what’s good for your body and what’s not, it’s time to draft your shopping list. You may be so excited that you start to randomly write down items. But randomization will prolong your trip, especially since grocery stores change their layouts frequently. You’ll end up revisiting one aisle more times than you need to.

A better strategy would be to separate items into different categories. For example, Bakery and Bread, Condiments, Soups and Frozen Foods. You can also color code items based on their priority. This way, you don’t go off-budget.

While you’re tossing items into your list, consider your storage facilities. Then ponder the following questions to know what needs to stay or go:

  • Can my pantry/kitchen/refrigerator accommodate this item?
  • Do I have tupperware, storage containers, or plastic bags to hold this item?
  • What is this item’s shelf life? 
  • Do I already have this item? If yes, scrap. If no, draft. 
  • Is this item a priority? If yes, keep it. If not, scrap it.

We’d recommend using grocery list apps to draft your shopping list since you basically go everywhere with your phone. Plus, it’s easier to scrap items off a list than on paper where it gets messier.

3. Review your budget

Long receipt surrounded by grocery items

Your net income is the money that remains when you minus taxes and other payroll deductions from your total received income. Out of this balance, you should decide how much you’re willing to spend on your meal plan. 10% is usually a good starting point. You can tweak the percentage to accommodate your meal plan as much as you want.

It helps if you make a list of your inventory. If you keep receipts from previous shopping trips, gather and analyze them all. Also, document the following factors:

  • The number of people in your household. 
  • How much each person eats on an average.
  • How much each person contributes to feeding (if they do).

With this assignment, you’ll be able to answer the following questions:

  • How much am I already spending on food?
  • Is it more or less than what I’ll spend on my new meal plan?
  • Can my net income accommodate this new plan?
  • How feasible is the plan? Is it something I can keep up with in the next few months?

If your answers are not positive, reevaluate your shopping list.

Shop wiser, eat healthier.

The first few weeks of adjusting to a new meal plan may be tricky, hence you should start slow. Start with one day, then two, until it becomes a week or a month. This way, you become more familiar with the plan without overexerting yourself.

Overall, don’t be afraid to try new things. Just because you spent a lot of time making a food calendar doesn’t mean you have to follow it down to the dots and commas. You can reverse the order, or switch out meals from time to time.

If you’re already overwhelmed just thinking of how to start, use these free meal plan templates to make your planning process easier.