Reverse meal planning: simple steps to save time and money

Reverse meal planning food prep family meal healthy child

Have you tried all the tricks, but you are still looking for the secrets to feeding your family simpler and cheaper? This idea is already in your kitchen and might be simpler than you think. I will show you how to save time and money with reverse meal planning.

You stopped eating out so much, and you have been trimming your budget where you can, but sometimes the food budget can feel the most out of control. Maybe you popped in here to see if there is a new secret to saving even more time and money. (There is!).

Maybe you are hoping you can figure out what this reverse menu planning thing is and if it will work for you (it can!). Reverse menu or reverse meal planning would often cut my weekly food budget in half and I think you could do this, too!

Keep reading for the steps you need.

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Benefits of meal planning

When one menu plans, she decides what she wants to cook and eat. Then armed with a list of what she needs, goes to the store (or makes an online order) and buys the ingredients needed. Simple enough, right? Savvy moms already know that menu planning (the Kitchn) is awesome.

Many benefits of meal planning:

Saves time
Saves money
Lightens your mental load – brainpower
Less stress
Eat healthier
Waste less food

So reverse, as in doing it backward? How does that work? Do I go buy food all willy-nilly and then make a plan out of it like an at-home version of the TV show, Chopped right there in my kitchen with picky eaters hanging off my sweatpants? No (thank goodness)!

Reverse menu planning is just a little tweak and it’s genius.

But what is it? I will explain it all in just a sec!

But first, I wanted to make sure that you know that I sell a Reverse Meal Planner. It includes 8 customizable pages that walk you through every step of this backward method.

Get it here: Reverse Meal Planner Digital Download

I earn commissions when guests use links on this site to shop. As an Amazon Affiliate [link to disclosure], I earn from qualified purchases and free trials.  Thank you!

What is reverse meal planning?

Reverse menu planning may also be called reverse meal planning or Shop-your-pantry and it starts at home. You look at what you have and make a plan based on that.

It can save money because you are using up what you already purchased and making meals based on buying less because you already have some of the ingredients in your pantry, freezer, and refrigerator.

Bonus tip 1:

Turbocharge reverse menu planning even more! If you have a home garden, base your menu plan on what you have growing ready to pick fresh. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves.

How does reverse meal planning work? So glad you asked!

Reverse Meal Planning – 6 Simple Steps

1. See what you have
2. Check sales
3. Decide on meals
4. Prep
5. Shop
6. Display it

Step 1: See what you have

The first step to reverse meal planning is to see what you have already in the house. Look in your refrigerator, freezer, and pantry to see what ingredients are in there that can be used this week for meals or snacks.

Write down the ingredients you have that can be made into a meal or a “snack-meal” (if you have kids you know).

Write down what you have. I am not talking about a complete inventory of every bottle of ketchup, every spice jar, and a half-full box of cereal. You can take note of staple items that are low, but only put them on the list if you are going to use them this week.

Bonus tip 2:

Take this time to tidy up. Put 5 minutes on the timer and go. Toss out things that won’t be used. Consolidate doubles. Wipe down the shelves with a damp cloth with warm soapy water.

Step 2: See what is on sale

This step can be skipped, but if you really want to save money, this is where it is at.

Step two is to check the local stores to see if there are items on sale that can be used to go with what you have. Most stores have their weekly ads online (or if you get the paper ads delivered, you can use them).

Based on the best sales (and what your family will eat), make a note of some possible things to buy for your meals this week.

Bonus tip 3:

Reminder, you can’t save money by spending it. What I mean is if your goal for reverse menu planning is to spend less money this week, try to avoid buying things you will not use specifically this week.

I know that sales can tempt us to stock up because we might spend a little less later. There is a place for that in saving money and it can be a great tool also. But to truly saving money, we don’t spend, we keep it.

Step 3: Decide on meals

Next, you will decide on the meals that will make up your menu for the week. Gather your best cookbooks (or a device with access to the Internet so you can check Pinterest, of course).

Look for recipes that will use the ingredients you have or are on sale to buy. Write down the 3-5 meals to make depending on your schedule for the week.

Make a list of the items that you will need to buy for these recipes to fill in the gaps.

meal planner reverse backward
Buy the Reverse Meal Planner Kit Download

Possible example meals:

If you have, for example, a partial container of quick oats, one cooked chicken breast, a half bag of frozen broccoli and another of corn, one frozen pizza, one onion, a can of diced tomatoes, half a bag of baby carrots, and one celery stalk, a block of cheese, yogurt, 3 apples, 6 oranges, and some nearly black bananas.

Chicken Soup (recipe):
Use: chicken, carrots, and celery
Buy: broth, noodles

Friday Pizza night:
Use the frozen pizza
Buy: another if your family needs more than one

Broccoli-cheese soup (recipe):
Use: broccoli and cheese
Buy: vegetable stock

Chili (recipe):
Use: onion, diced tomatoes, and corn
Buy: ground beef

Banana Bread Muffins (recipe) for breakfast:
Use: oats, yogurt, and bananas

Bonus tip 4:

If you have enough ingredients to double a recipe. Make twice as much and save the rest for packed lunches, leftovers in a few nights, or in the freezer to heat up on a busy night within the next few weeks.

Step 3: Prep

Preparing the ingredients now is the step that if you try it will put the “umph” in your triumph. Take a little time to prep the ingredients you already have for the recipes you will make later – ready for go time.

Like the example list above, if you are making chicken soup and you have the cooked chicken, carrots, and celery, chop them today. Put them in a container to dump in the chicken pot later.

Cut up the orange wedges for lunches. Chop raw veggies for quick munching throughout the week and so on.


Prepping as many ingredients as is feasible ahead of time gives you so many advantages:

*Fresh enough? Check if everything is still fresh enough to use – no surprises later.
*Save time on your busy weeknights getting dinner ready.
*Follow-through: If I am already that invested – I have a plan and it is partially prepped – I feel committed and follow through with the plan. Personal accountability.

Prep the ingredient to make your reverse meal planning your best secret advantage.

Step 4: Shop

After you have looked to see what you have and made a plan based on that, now you can shop. If it is your thing, check to see if you can use your coupons and mark your list where they will be used.

If it is available in your area, consider ordering your groceries online to pick or or be delivered. Especially if your kids are small, this can be such a time and stress saver for families.

Step 5: Display it

Lastly, put your meal ideas on the refrigerator, inside of an often-used cupboard, or somewhere that you and others in the house will see it. Don’t try to use up your brainpower remembering. Let that little paper do it!

Bonus tip 5:

If you have someone that can start or make meals on your team (teen, husband, sitter, grandparent), when you display your written plan, they know that there is a plan and what the plan is. Maybe they can help. Delegating for the win!

Summing up Reverse Meal Planning

Reverse Meal Planning How to Steps

1. See what you have
2. Check sales
3. Decide on meals
4. Prep
5. Shop
6. Display it

You tried all the tricks and now you have a new tool to try to feed your family simpler and cheaper? Reverse menu planning will take just a small change but could have huge results.

Now that you know what this reverse menu planning thing is you can make it work for you. Do you want to save money on your groceries because they feel like the most volatile line item in your budget? Do you think it could help you save money, time, waste, and stress?

Taking Action

If you enjoyed this post, please:

  1. Use the Reverse Meal Planner Tool Kit. Buy it here!
  2. Apply these tips. Come back and tell me about it! How did it work for you? Change anything?
  3. Share this with someone you like. Pinterest?
  4. Subscribe to my email list for more life-giving posts like this.

Your feedback is important to me

I love connecting with my readers. Please leave a (super kind) comment, or find me on social media @altogethermostly

About the author, Jaime

Jaime Ragsdale
Jaime Ragsdale, Founder of Altogether Mostly

Here at Altogether Mostly, you will find grace, compassion, joy, and beauty. I use empathy and a little tough love to bring out the best in people. I live in the Midwest United States with my loving husband and awesome children. For more about me and Altogether Mostly, please visit my about page here.

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