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Reverse Meal Planning to Save Money & Reduce Food Waste

Updated: Nov 28, 2023

Some of my group coaching members were chatting about this during last night's meeting and some wonderful points came up that may help you, too, when it comes to spending less on groceries each week AND reducing the amount of food (especially produce) you end up tossing.

In the past, I thought meal planning started with the meal I wanted to make. I thought I had to pull recipes out of thin air (aka off of internet searches), then make a grocery list based off of what I wanted to make. Does anyone else do this? I think it's super common!

The problem I found (and that my group brought up) was that I didn't always use all of an item. If a recipe called for spinach and I used half, what happened to the rest of the bag? And what about the cabbage that was on sale when I shopped on Sunday, but that I didn't have a plan for?

Some of us have started "reverse meal planning" which is just a name I gave to the idea of planning based off what what you have, not shopping based on what you plan. Of course there may always be a few special ingredients to make a meal complete, but in the long run our "reverse meal planning" should save you both money & food!

Here are the basics:

Do regular audits of your freezer, refrigerator, and pantry.

See how many boxes of pasta you have before you think you need to add more to the list. Check what cans or bags are at the back of the cupboard. Note what fresh produce you bought with the best of intentions that needs to become a cooking priority. Toss what's bad and just taking up space. I like to take this survey sometime over the weekend so I have an idea of the starting point for the week.


Consider shopping "as needed" instead of on a pre-set weekly day.

I used to think I had to shop once a week, for that week. I think that comes from an "eat as much fresh produce as possible" viewpoint? Or perhaps from the old idea that that's how long milk/break last, or just the idea that a new grocery store ad comes out each week. What I discovered, though, is that I was shopping out of habit, putting the new produce on top of the old and losing track of it. I'd add beans to the stock before I'd eaten them, or put more frozen food in the freezer like a big stash. I was essentially over-shopping, without prioritizing the food I had.

Now, I don't have a set day to shop. I usually use Instacart, or plan to get a few items when I'm already out and about. This could be ANY day of the week; I choose based on when I've ballparked I'll actually need a restock. (I can tell based on those frequent kitchen surveys!) I keep many of these ingredients on hand on a regular basis.


Do food prep as soon as you bring items home from the store.

Even if you can snag 15 minutes, you can help ensure things will get used rather than tossed this week. I have a whole post on food prep here.



Admittedly, I don't always do this, but it's something I've been working on! It's a whole lot easier to tell when you need to hurry up and use something when you date it. I'll quickly sharpie on a package the date something is opened, or use a dry erase marker if it's in one of my reusable containers. Such a simple thing for reducing food waste.


Meal plan & prep based on what needs to be used first.

This is really where the "reverse" idea comes in! Try using what you have in the house to inspire the meals you make and your food plan for the week. Find creative ways to utilize leftovers or to use the same ingredient for multiple things.

We are big around here on googling recipe inspiration for ingredients that need to be used. (I didn't say we're big on FOLLOWING recipes, but on using them for ideas!) For example, last night we wanted to use one of the many squash collecting on my counter this time of year. I also knew there was vegan feta in the fridge. A quick google search landed several recipes for Butternut Squash Chickpea Casserole, many with feta, and there we had it! Green beans in the fridge were due to be cooked, so those went in, too.

Delicious dinner, balanced meal, fall flavors... no extra money spent, & we prevented food waste! (Plus, I have leftovers for lunch.)

It doesn't need to be complicated to be effective. 😘


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