Menu Planning Made Easy

The concept of planning and preparing 3 meals a day, 21 meals a week or 1,092 meals a year is pretty mind boggling when you stop to think about it.  Doing it all while short on cash is even more challenging.  This is where the art of menu planning comes into the picture.  By taking the time to plan ahead of time we are more likely to stay within our budget and we are able to find ways to use up what we already have on hand.  Using up food we already have is the best way to stretch limited funds.

Essentially there are 3 different menu planning methods that work well when you’re on a tight budget.  Your job is to choose the method that fits best into your lifestyle and then to stick with it.  Meals are eaten whether we plan them or not.  By taking the time to think things through in advance we control the cost, nutritional content and the time given to each meal.  It’s the only way to turn 1,092 low-cost meals a year into a manageable task.

Three Menu Planning Methods

  • The Night Before: This is the method that takes the least forethought.  It provides the most control over waste and the opportunity to use up leftovers. Plan at least the dinner you intend to serve the next day and have a good idea for lunch.
  • A Week, Fortnight or Month at a Time: I prefer to plan a fortnight at a time.  Others prefer to plan for a week or month.  Whichever timespan you choose the process is the same. This method allows you to take good advantage of weekly supermarket sales. It requires you to shop once a week.
  • Rotating Menus: When you are seriously pressed for time and your family is very picky, this is the best method to use.  You plan out 10 to 20 complete menus and then rotate them, serving a different one every day.  It limits variety, but there are no surprises.  Since you are so familiar with each meal you are able to prepare it more quickly, or make and freeze several batches at once and spend the least amount of time in the kitchen.


How To Get Started With Meal Planning

First Things First
All 3 meal planning methods begin with the same step.  You need a notebook and a pen, or your favorite word processing program.  Now, make a list of all of the things you like to cook and your family likes to eat.  Don’t worry about costs yet.  Use the following categories:

  • Main Dishes
  • Starches (Rice, Pasta, Potatoes etc.)
  • Vegetables/Salads/Fruits
  • Breads
  • Desserts

Ask the kids and other family members what they like while you’re making out your list.  If necessary you can subdivide the Main Dish category into Chicken; Beef; Beans etc.

The next step is to go through your list and highlight all of the dishes that are budget friendly or that can be adapted to be easy on your budget.  These highlighted items will be placed on a new list.  The new list is your Master List. Just in case this is beginning to seem like a lot trouble, let me encourage you don’t give up yet. This activity may take as long as 2 hours but it will save you so much time in the long run that it is clearly time well spent.

Ribeye Steaks & Grilled Shrimp will not be on the new Master List.  Oven fried chicken, all the good casseroles, ground meat dishes, favorite veggies, homemade breads and desserts will take center stage.  If your new Master List is somewhat skimpy don’t despair.  On this site you will find plenty of good tasting, well-tested, family-friendly recipes that will fill up your bellies while going easy on your wallet.  Make a list of new items you would like to try, and plan to use them along with family favorites. If they turn out to be winners then add them to your Master List.

When adding new foods to the family diet it’s best to go slow.  An entire meal made up of new foods is likely to meet with disapproval from the whole family.  Instead, try serving a single new dish in a meal that is full of familiar favorites.  The new item will be associated with well favored dishes and is more likely to be accepted.  You know your family’s likes and dislikes better than anyone else.  You know what they are most likely to enjoy and what they will spit out with disdain.  Use your knowledge wisely.  If you already know everyone hates liver, then don’t try to make it acceptable to them.  It’s a waste of time.  The same goes for Brussels sprouts, lima beans and anything else that you know they dislike.  Buying food that you already know the family won’t eat is always a huge waste of money.   Instead, try to plan around their likes and dislikes within reason.  There’s a balance between catering to juvenile whims and feeding them liver and gruel for every meal.  As the family menu planner, your job is to find that balance and navigate it with maternal skill.

Planning Menus The Night Before
This method is the best way to make use of leftovers and seasonal abundance.  Begin by allowing yourself some “mulling time”.  You’ll need 10 minutes or so to think exclusively about the contents of your cupboards and what you feel like cooking the next day.  Most women use their evening dishwashing time for this purpose.  As you fill the sink with warm, soapy water, think over the contents of your fridge.  Perishables are the first thing to be used up.  Is there baloney in there that got lost in the back of the fridge and now needs to be used up?  What about fresh veggies that have spent the week unloved and unappreciated in the crisper drawers?  Did the cheese grow a few spots of mold?  For this scenario, I would trim the mold from the cheese and plan on fried baloney and cheese sandwiches for lunch the next day.  Any vegetables that could be chopped up and eaten raw would go into lunch boxes, and the remaining vegetable would be served at dinner.  It is almost like a jigsaw puzzle.  Perishables are the corner pieces.  You arrange them first, and then fill in the blanks with pantry and freezer items.

Lets take a look at another scenario.  In this one there is broccoli leftover from tonight’s dinner and the cupboards are looking kind of bare.  There are some chicken leg-quarters in the freezer gathering frostbite and a few staples like flour, rice, and canned tomatoes.  What can be done with these things to fill up a hungry family and avoid that sad feeling of deprivation that comes from empty cupboards?  Well, let’s start with the broccoli.  It can be used by itself or in conjunction with the chicken.  Chicken and Broccoli Casserole or Garlic Chicken and Broccoli would both be nice.  The casserole would need less chicken, but it would have to be boiled in the morning so you would have cooked chicken for dinner.  The recipe calls for canned mushrooms and cheese though, and our kitchen is bare of such luxuries at the moment.  Garlic Chicken and Broccoli calls for fresh garlic and we only have garlic powder.  Plus it calls for  a full pound of broccoli and we only have half a pound.  Don’t worry, we’ll replace the fresh garlic with 2-teaspoons of garlic powder and use that half a pound of broccoli plus some chopped up onions or carrot to make up the difference.  Since there is still a bag of flour on the pantry shelf, add some homemade muffins or biscuits and make some iced tea to serve with supper.  Or, suppose someone in the house is allergic to garlic.  What could you do instead?  The next morning go to work as soon as the breakfast dishes are washed.  Use the flour to make homemade tortillas while you simmer the chicken on the back of the stove for an hour or 2.  Let the chicken cool and pull the meat from the bones.  Strain and chill the broth for soup another day.  Saute a few onions in a skillet.  Add your tomatoes and cooked chicken along with some chili powder, salt, and pepper.  Simmer it until it’s thick enough to fill soft tacos or burritos.  Meanwhile marinate the broccoli in italian dressing for a few hours, alone or with any other fresh or frozen veggies lurking about in minute amounts.  Prepare a pot of plain or seasoned rice to make sure all the empty tummies are filled.  Tah-Dah!  You have chicken burritos, rice and marinated broccoli salad for dinner.  And you thought the cupboards were bare didn’t you?

This thought process should happen fairly quickly once you get the feel for it.  At first it may take as along as 15 or 20 minutes, but soon it will become second nature.  You’ll face kitchen crises like bumper zucchini crops, turkey leftovers (again!), and cupboards that at first glance seem empty and bare.  Don’t despair!  You have a good brain and a vested interested and before long you’ll be able to plan for tomorrow without any trouble.

A quick note, some women feel best if they write their plan down on paper, others are able to keep it in their brains without losing it.  I recommend writing it down, especially at the beginning.  This makes it concrete and tangible instead swirling around in the nebulous ether of a busy mother’s brain.

Planning Menus for the Week, Fortnight or Month
This is my preferred method.  It takes immediate advantage of weekly supermarket sales and allows adaptations for seasonal abundance.  We get paid every 2 weeks, so I try to plan a full fortnight at a time.  While this method requires more planning time initially, it is only done at intervals.  The total time used is much less than the method described above.  This method can be arranged to accomodate store advertisements and sales, or it can make use of the food you already have on hand.  I’ll describe the processes for both and you can adapt it to fit your circumstances.

Supermarkets advertise their sales once a week in the local newspaper.  Seasonal items and loss leaders are ususally the best deals.  Loss leaders are meats and produce that the market puts on sale at or below their own price.  They make very little profit on these items.  The reason they are willing to take this loss is because the loss leaders are bait designed to draw in unwary shoppers.  The markets hope that you’ll stop in for their huge sale on strawberries and pick up some sugar and whipped topping, both of which happen to be priced higher than normal this week.  They may advertise hotdogs for the 4th of July and then mark up all of the ketchup, mustard and buns.  Around Thanksgiving turkeys may be offered at give-away prices, but cranberries are double what they will be in another 2 weeks, fresh potatoes have tripled in price and stuffing is 50¢ more than it is during the summer months.  Your job as a consumer is to become aware of these pitfalls and sidestep them the way you sidestep the children’s trainset on your living room floor.  The supermarket builds hazards into the shopping experience, hoping that you’ll succumb to the latest gimmick.  Making out a menu plan gives you a psychological edge over the grocery store.  You know what your family is going to eat for the next week or month, and that goes a long way towards building up your resistance to the supermarket’s temptations.

Weekly Menus based on Sales
Begin by finding a full hour of relatively uninteruppted time.  Arrange the local supermarket advertisements to your right and a pencil and paper to your left.  A cup of tea or coffee and homemade muffin nearby makes the process run more smoothly.  Look through the ads.  Make note of the loss leaders at each store.  This will be meat or seasonal produce that is priced unusually low.  Think about the meat and produce on sale.  Does your family like any of it?  Will they eat it?  If it’s something they love can you buy extra and freeze it for later?  Do you have a nearby store that will match advertised sales from other stores?  If so, shopping that store will save you gas and time.  I know Walmart will match other store’s ads if you bring them in to show the cashier.  Since they sell the staples I normally buy anyway, for less than most of the other stores I might add, it’s the one that usually earns my patronage.

Lets assume that cabbage, onions, apples and boneless pork chops are on sale this week.  Even on sale, the porkchops are out of my budget.  Instead I fall back on the old favorites of dried beans, ground turkey or beef, turkey ham, canned tuna and chicken leg quarters.  The cabbage, onions and apples are genuine bargains, so I plan to use them several times during the week.  Now I put away the ads, and take out the Master List I made up above.  Looking through my Master List, I determine which meals we haven’t had recently and which ones make use of the items I’ll be buying.  Turkey ham cooked with cabbage and potatoes would be yummy.  Hmm, better check the potoato supply, yes there are plenty.  So Turkey Ham, Cabbage & Potatoes are my first dinner menu.  They have to cook for about an hour and the prep time is minimal, so I’ll plan it for Tuesday, when I know I’ll be able to watch it while I work on household chores.








Breakfast Orange Juice Milk; Eggs & Toast Orange Juice Milk; Farina or Wheat Cereal Orange Juice Milk; Oatmeal w/ Raisins Orange Juice Milk; Yogurt & Granola Orange Juice Milk; Eggs & Toast Orange Juice Milk; Pancakes Orange Juice Milk; Oatmeal w/ apples
Lunch Baloney Sand.; Popcorn; Fruit; Milk Tuna Sand.; fruit & yogurt; Celery Sticks & Dip; Milk PB & Banana sandwiches; Carrot Sticks; Ranch Dip; Fruit; Milk Chili; Leftover Cornbread; Fruit; Milk; oatmeal cookies Chili over Rice; Fruit; Milk; oatmeal cookies Chicken Salad; Toast; Apples & plumped up raisins; Milk Chicken Casserole; Sheet Cake for potluck
Dinner Dirty Rice, Fried Onions; Muffins; Tea Turkey Ham, Cabbage & Potatoes; Buttered Toast; Apple Cobbler; Tea Brown Beans; Mixed Greens; Cornbread; Tea; Lemon Bars Tuna Casserole; Coleslaw; HM Rolls; Lemon Bars; Tea Oven Fried Chicken; Mashed Potatoes;Rolls; Coleslaw; Tea HM Chicken Noodle Soup; Crackers; Yogurt & Banana Sundaes; Tea All The Good LeftoversPopcorn & Lemonade

I want to use as much cabbage as I can since it’s so cheap, so I’ll figure on coleslaw at least twice.  Tuna Casserole can be made ahead of time and reheated, so it will be good on Thursday, my busy day.  I’ve got a 10-pound bag of chicken leg quarters in the freezer that I’ll try to use it up later in the week.  Monday is a big work day in homeschool, so something relatively easy is in order.  Dirty Rice with ground turkey or beef will be nice, but I’ll have to use celery instead of green pepper because it’s out of season and outside of my budget.  Wednesday is a slow day at school and I’ll be baking anyway so beans will be good.  While I’m at it, I might as well make enough for chili the next day.  I have time for making chili on Thursday morning while the kids are doing their independent reading.  Leftovers can be lunch the next day too.  Over the weekend I’ll thaw and cook the chicken.  Friday I’ll serve oven fried chicken and mashed potatoes.  The rest of the chicken will be boiled and removed from the bone.  Then it can make chicken salad on Saturday and a big chicken casserole for the potluck at church on Sunday.  A nice byproduct of boiling chicken is the broth.  It will make a yummy soup for Saturday night.  Since I have to cook on Saturday afternoon anyway, preparing for the potluck, the soup won’t take any extra time.  Lunch and breakfast are filled in using products I know will be affordable.  Tuna, baloney and peanut butter make good lunches.  Hot cereal is inexpensive for breakfast and frozen concentrated orange juice is always cheap and nutritious.  The apples on sale are evenly distributed throughout the week.  Bananas are usually cheap too.  For the rest of the fruit I’ll fill in with canned favorites or seasonal fruit that wasn’t advertised.  On Wednesday, when I bake, I’ll make 6 loaves of bread, 2 dozen rolls, oatmeal cookies and lemon bars.  That may seem like a lot, but when all is said and done, it will only take about 3-1/2 hours.  The labor will pay off for the next 7 days.

Next I check over my staples; rice, flour, pasta etc.  I note anything running low and jot it down on my list.  By looking at my menu I can see that I’ll need to buy 2-pounds of ground turkey or beef, 4 cans of tuna & 2 pounds of turkey ham.  I still have baloney and peanutbutter, but I will need mayonnaise.  Carrots and celery are inexpensive and will both go on my list.  I need a small cup of yogurt for starter and a new box of oatmeal too.  Any other extras I fill in as I go.  When my list is complete I can go shopping.  The menus go on the refrigerator so the kids know what to expect during the week.  The entire planning process will take at least an hour at first.  After a while it can be pared down to about 30 minutes.  The Master List of family favorites really cuts down on the time it takes to put menus together.

Weekly Menus based on foods already on hand.
But what if you have to go for the week without a trip to the supermarket, or maybe you’ve only got $20 and need to make it through the week.  No problem.  Once again, you’ll need about an hour to do your planning.  First look through your freezer, cuboards and refrigerator.  Make note of any perishables, and then list the other foods you have under the categories of Protein, Veggies; Fruits & Starches.  For our example there is peanut butter; lentils, white beans; canned salmon, a can of spam-type luncheon meat, 2 pounds ground beef and a frozen chicken in the protein category.  Veggies are onions, potatoes, carrots, canned corn, tomatoes, tomato paste, and green beans.  Fruits are applesauce, pineapple, canned peaches; frozen apple juice and grapefruit juice. Starches include spaghetti, rice, oatmeal and cornmeal plus plenty of flour.  A check of the dry milk situation shows that it is very low.  If there is any money to spend, this is where most of it will go.  Eggs are running low.  They would be my next priority after dry milk, but even this can be overcome. Baloney and a package of sandwich cheese would also be nice for lunches, but not necessary.

Mon Tues Wen Thur Fri Sat Sun
Breakfast Apple Juice Oatmeal & Raisins Apple Juice; PB Wheat Cereal Grapefruit Juice; Cornmeal Mush Grapefruit Juice; Cooked Rice Tomato Juice Cornmeal Mush Applesauce Cooked Rice Tamato Juice Oatmeal & Raisins
Lunch PB&J Sand.; Carrot Sticks; Popcorn Chicken-Corn Chowder; Crackers or Toast Baked Potatoes; Fried Onions in Cream Sauce; Snickerdoodles Baked Beans; Toast; Carrot Raisin Salad PB&J Sand. Peaches; Popcorn; Snickerdoodles Spaghetti with Tomato-Meat Sauce; Garlic Toast Carrot & Pineapple Salad; Hamburger Gravy;Mashed Potatoes; biscuits or muffins; Tea
Dinner Roast Chicken w/ carrots & potatoes; Biscuits; Cinnamon Oatmeal Cake; Tea Salmon Patties; Batter Bread Cinnamon Oatmeal Cake; Tea Baked Beans; Plain Rice; Wheat Muffins; Carrot Raisin Salad; Tea Fried Spam, Noodles, Green Beans; Biscuits; Gingerbread; Tea Lentils & Rice Burritos; Scalloped Tomatoes; Tea White Bean & Potato Soup; Cornmeal Hoecakes; Gingerbread; Tea All the Good LeftoversPopcorn; Tea

The menus will begin with protein.  Lentils and rice make delicious burritos and the white beans make baked beans and bean and potato soup.  Baked beans should be on made on a day I’ll already be in the kitchen.  As I mentioned above, Wednesday is my baking day, so baked beans are best made then.  Leftovers will make an easy lunch on Thursday.  Monday will work for chicken, which will be roasted with carrots and potatoes.  The leftover chicken can be picked from the bones, and the scraps boiled for chowder on Tuesday.  Tuesday evening salmon patties and batter bread, which is made from cornmeal, make good use of items already on hand.  Fried Spam is quick and easy on Thursday.  On Friday lentils and rice are delectable with homemade tortillas and a nutritious sidedish of tomatoes.  Since Saturday is another day in the kitchen and around the house, white bean soup will be easy to keep an eye on.  Hoecakes cost next to nothing and everyone loves them.  On Saturday and Sunday the family gathers for lunch together.  Special meals at this time make everyone happy.  Spaghetti is quick and nutritious while Hamburger Gravy extends a pound of ground meat far enough for Sunday guests. Carrots make lovely salads with raisins on Wednesday and Thursday and again on Sunday with canned pineapple.

Economical desserts include cinnamon oatmeal cake baked along with the chicken on Monday, and then Snickerdoodles and Gingerbread later in the week.  On Wednesday, baking will include 6 loaves of bread; Whole Wheat Muffins; Snickerdoodles and Gingerbread.  These can bake alongside the baked beans which will be in the oven most of the afternoon.  Desserts round out the empty places in growing children, and hard working husbands, especially when meals may be a little on the skimpy side.  It’s not ideal to fill up on homemade gingerbread or snickerdoodles, but it’s more wholesome than a lot of alternatives.  For breakfast I’ve relied on hot cereal as much as possible.  It’s cheap, easy on the cook and filling.  Since fruit juices are a bit lacking I’ve made use of tomato paste to make tomato juice.  Not everyone loves Tomato Juice like I do.  Try sparking it up with a dash of Worcestershire Sauce or hot sauce. It’s surprisingly refreshing early in the morning.  Lunches are filled in with leftovers and PB&J sandwiches.  If there were more eggs I’d add boiled eggs to the white sauce on Wednesday’s lunch. If I was able to buy dry milk, then I would add reconstituted milk to breakfast and lunch menus.

This plan may seem more elaborate than you would make on a week when there’s no money for groceries.  If you really think about it though, that’s the whole idea.  Good meals are vital in order to avoid those mournful feelings of desperation that can sneak in when everything seems to be going against us.  By planning the menus in advance, we’re able to make sure that limited resources are evenly spread throughout the week.  We’re also able to assure the menus are as nutritious and delicious as possible.

Rotating Menus
Probably the most expensive, but also the least time consuming, rotating menus are ideal for women who are extremely pressed for time.  Take the Master List that you’ve already prepared; go over it again and make sure that all of the meals use foods that are consistantly low cost.  Click Here to see my list.  Pair up main dishes with side dishes, breads and fruits.  Create a total of 10 to 20 meals.  Type or write up your menus and then use them as the basis for your grocery list.  Prepare and serve the menus one after the other.  When you have used up all of your menus, go back to the beginning and repeat them.  If you like to do Once-A-Month-Cooking then this system is perfect for you.  Casseroles, Chili and other things can be prepared in quantity and frozen for later use.  Crock-Pots can also be used to good advantage with this method.

Country-style Steak; Instant Mashed Potatoes; Green Salad; Pears Oven Fried Chicken; Seasoned Rice; Canned Cranberry Sauce; Green Beans Beanie Weanies; Biscuits; Carrot & Celery Sticks; Pineapple Lemon Fish; Coleslaw; Seasoned Rice; Toast; Peaches Shake N’ Bake Pork Chops; Spinach; Noodles; Applesauce
Meatloaf; Baked Potatoes; Broccoli in Cheese Sauce; Mandarin Oranges Chicken Cattiatore; Spaghetti; Peas; Applesauce Chili; Cornbread; Green Salad; Bananas in Vanilla Yogurt Tuna Noodle Casserole; Peas & Carrots; Muffins; Pineapple Fried Ham; Mashed Sweet Potatoes; Green Beans; Biscuits; Fruit Cocktail

In the example above I have tried to accomodate a variety of flavors while using inexpensive staples that will keep well in the fridge, freezer or on the pantry.  The only exceptions are Green Salad and Coleslaw which can be made from lettuce and cabbage at home, or purchased ready made at the market.  Biscuits can be canned or made from scratch.  Muffins can be replaced with toast or canned biscuits to save time if desired. Since you are preparing the same meals over and over again, it becomes even more important that you choose foods the family really loves and is unlikely to tire of.  If they begin to dread any meal in particular it can be retired and a new one can take it’s place.  In my example Shake N’ Bake Pork Chops could be replaced with Lasagna when the family can’t stand to see another slab of pork.  The side dishes can remain the same.  Spinach and applesauce both go nicely with lasagna, and the noodles can be replaced by garlic bread.  Lasagna is easily prepared and frozen on a mega-cooking day, as is Tuna Casserole, Chili, Meat Loaf, and Country Style Steak.  Using this technique prep-time can be so reduced that it’s almost nonexistant.

I have omitted lunch and breakfast menus in the example above.  They can be based on the same principles.  You may only need 3 or 4 favorites for breakfast but lunch is best treated to the same variety as dinner.   If needed you can fill in the menus with inexpensive store-bought cookies, homemade iced tea and reconstituted milk.  This method is the same that most institutions like hospitals, school lunch programs, and nursing homes use to plan their meals.  Be sure to make all the meals nutritionally adequate because if the family isn’t getting their nutrition at home, they probably aren’t getting it at all.

Remember, menu planning is supposed to be a time and money saver and a nutrition booster.  Sometimes we have to follow through with the process and then stand back and trust it to work.  If we’re unaccustomed to planning menus, it can seem odd to rely on a piece of paper to tell us what to cook each day.  This feeling will pass with time as we grow to rely on these plans.  I’ve found that it is a relief to know that I don’t have to worry about dinner every night.  The security of already knowing what we’ll eat, not only for this day, but for the rest of the week allows me to use my mind to focus more clearly on other projects that require my full attention.  Knowing that everyone is well fed and well cared for gives me the opportunity to do a better job at the rest of my responsibilities.  Plus, it saves so much money along the way.

I’d also like to invite you to grab a free menu planning basics report at – they also offer a meal planning service I can highly recommend.

Menu Planning Resource Pack

Click Here to Leave a Comment Below

Michelle Burgess - May 7, 2009

Great article. We’ve found we save on average almost 1/3 of what our old grocery bills used to be before we planned. Plus, one of the biggest benefits is we don’t throw out no where near as much wasted food, and don’t end up at the supermarket as much. All round it works out heaps better.

    Candace - April 1, 2011

    I love this site and the tips here! and meal planning has saved me TONS of money. If I buy chicken on sale I will make 3 totally different chicken dishes and conserve! I’ve been using a meal planning service website (mostly free) called

    Food on the Table (.com)

    It pulls the sales from my local grocery stores, creates recipes and sends a final gro list to my iPhone. FANTASTIC!!

    marivic dorin - February 18, 2012

    ok thats good

Kristie - June 7, 2009

Very helpful…thank you so much

Ruthie - July 14, 2009

I love the way you meal plan around the freshest and most seasonal produce. Great read – love the meals you are planning!

Becky - July 14, 2009

I have a ton of fresh salmon,I live in Anchorage, AK and my husband LOVES to fish. I was wondering how to make the salmon patties with fresh salmon.

claudia - August 13, 2009

What are your thoughts regarding eliminating Hydrogenated Fats and processed meats? Your budget meals seem to work because they include those types of ingredients. Also, I noticed one recipe called for instant potatoes. Are potato flakes cheaper than a bag of russets? Thanks for sharing all your thoughts on budget meals. I am slowly reading through it all!

Shannon - September 5, 2009

Thanks for a great article. I am trying to figure out how to start doing menu planning, and this was a big help! I think, even for a disorganized person like me, this will be really helpful!

Julie - December 1, 2009

Shannon, while I am not the author I agree that it is extremely important for the disorganized person to utilize meal planning. It helps me because it take gueswork out of the equation. It also helps me choose complete meals to create an environment for my brain to be fully functioning.Keep at it as it will eventually become a necessary routine.

jane - January 22, 2010

I am not a stay at home mom who home schools and do not have the time to cook every single day! I work full time, go to school and raise two young children and clean up after a messy husband. These ideas are good if all I had to worry about was meals. Thanks for the ideas but it won’t help me any. I need simple meals that will give us enough left overs.

    Gina - September 12, 2010

    Try making a huge meal on your day off usually Sunday. White bean soup is my favorite throw in a hamhock and carrots or onions simmer all day. Then make a huge amount of rice to eat on for the week. Lastly make a chicken. On Sunday eat the soup and chicken then individually box the soup up for lunches all week, Make fried rice on Monday with a couple eggs, veggies, a bit of the chicken and a cup or two of the rice, Tuesday chicken and rice burritos, mix chicken with the rice a bit of salsa cheese whaterver and fry in a frying pan or just nuke in microwave, Wednesday: French toast or pancakes, Thursday: Take the rest of the chicken carcass and chicken put in crockpot, throw any veggie in their cover with water and cook all day when you get home drain and add the last of the rice or some noodles mmmm Friday: Spagetti if poor that week just heat a jar of sauce pour on noodles. If money allows cook some beef. Now to round out the week visit a bread discount store or ask the local grocery store for day olds. Also visit a bakery and ask if they have day olds. Some give them away. Hope this helps.

    Tammy - October 4, 2010

    No offense Jane, but as a “stay at home” mom who homeschools and runs a home business I’m wondering when you think we sit around eating Bon Bons? :)LOL Planning, teaching, caring for, cleaning, shopping, working the business….takes more time then 8 hours a day. Then there’s the cooking! I really think there are some ideas here that would work well for you. You may need to change the recipes to ones that are more time friendly but the concept is the same. I highly suggest you take a look at some Pampered Chef recipes. Yes I’m a consultant but I don’t mention it for that reason, feel free to find someone else. The point is that fast recipes are out there. I am currently teaching meals that go from start to table in 20 minutes flat. Plus there are tons that take less than 30 minutes for around $2 a serving. Now take those fast meals and add in the planning part and I guarantee you’ll save abouot 10 hours a week. What could you do with that extra time? I’m gonna eat a Bon Bon!LOL

    Jamie - November 4, 2010

    Jane- I am a mother of three, I do stay home and I do home school my children! You clearly have no concept of reality, My job as a surgical assistant was much easier than my job as a full time mom, full time wife, full time, housekeeper/cook, full time teacher, full time student, etc. Get real Jane- being a mom is not easy no matter if you choose to raise them yourself, or work all day long and have a babysitter raise them for you.

    Nitalynn - November 18, 2010

    Just a few words for working moms from one that has been there and done that. Take cream of celery, broccoli or mushroom soup plus half a can of water or milk add this to your meat such as chicken breast or thighs, ground or stew beef, and pork chops in a casserole dish and then add some vegetables, fresh is nice but open a can or drop in a hand full of frozen, put the lid on it and put it in a 350 degree oven. Pull it out in an hour and in the mean time cook potatoes, rice or noodles. If you precook the meats on your day off and let them cool and then put them into freezer bags and freeze you can cut you time to 30 to 45 minutes. If you put the uncooked meat in frozen make that 325 and check on it at about an hour but plan to pull it out in an hour and a half. To season it I used a scant teaspoon of chopped garlic garlic I purchased in a large jar that I kept in the fridge and dried onion flakes with a spiced seasoning blend. I use Morton’s Natures seasoning. Once you have it on and a timer set you can go and do other things until time for it to come off. Once you get the hang of it you know exact ally when to put the starch on to all come off at the same time. Varying the meats vegetables and starches keeps it from getting too boring and you can make something different on your days off and occasionally talk hubby into cooking or better yet let him grill something.

    AussieMama - November 28, 2010

    No offense, Jane, but I seriously think you have it the wrong way around! The busier you are, the more meal planning will help you! You just need to plan meals around your budget & lifestyle. It might be easier for you to cook 2 meals in a slow cooker over the weekend for during the week, & use leftovers from the freezer – if that’s what suits your family, then go for it! I work parttime, study parttime, have a husband, a 3yo & 1yo, plus I have rheumatoid arthritis & can’t live without meal planning. I most certainly don’t sit around all day eating chocolates lol

      Tania - January 17, 2011

      Just have to say I am pregnant a working mother of 6 kids ages 5,6,6,8,12,13. Meal planning is a MUST. My job is very stressful then to add to that I am on call 24/7. I have to plan my meals or I spend what little free time I have shopping for things I have forgotten or am out of…I hate going to the store more than twice a week. Trust me any help is HELP!! 😉

    Michelle - October 26, 2011

    I work 9am-5pm Monday through Friday, Have an at home cake business that I run alone, Mondays I have karate for an hour with two of my children, Tuesdays I have girl scouts with my youngest daughter, Wednesdays I have karate again and then after that guitar lessons, Thursdays karate again, Fridays we grocery shop for our house of 5, Saturdays we do not do anything that remotely resembles work, & Sunday we clean house, run errands, and at times bake a couple meals ahead of time. I am extremely busy, yet I find that making a weekly menu to make my grocery list off of saves me money and waste and planning ahead (sometimes cooking ahead) saves me time & stress. I cook every day of the week for breakfast, lunch, supper (I pack my 3 kids lunches and mine everyday of the week)…with the exception of Saturdays. Sites like these are extremly helpful and a must in meal planning no matter whether you work or are a SAHM…which I’ve been a SAHM before and I still meal planned. Some people should stop bashing others just because they can’t pull up their big girl panties and plan ahead enough to take care of their familys- it’s too easy to go through a drive thru and pick up something full of unecessary calories.

Karen - January 25, 2010

My husband and I have been menu planning for at least five years or so now — it’s a great way to not only get organized but save money! For years I didn’t stay organzied and had food spoil or get wasted. For Jane (1/22 post) I suggest you look at the Dream Dinners cookbook, any of the others who have Freezer meals or the like. I’ve found a handful of favorites of my family and do 2-3 at a time. Then it makes dinner for my husband, self and daughter then leftovers for husband and myself for lunch usually. Of course I have a freezer that’s stocked, but it’s paid for itself over and over.

Trisha - February 11, 2010

Jane (1/22 post) I am a mom of 4 with a stay at home dad and I work around 45 – 50 hours a week. I will say I use similar methods as those posted in the article, however, I flip my cooking schedule. My oldest daughter and I cook on Sundays. We make a lovely family Sunday dinner and prepare the fixins for our weeknight meals in advance. It may seem overwhelming at first, but TRUST ME, this CAN work even for us busy working folks. To the author, thanks for posting this, again, nice to see that other folks are doing the same things I am currently doing. For anyone else who is reading this…this is what I do.

Sit down and make a weekly list of meals you’d like to prepare – including snacks. From this list write down the ingreidents you’ll need to make those dishes. Check your fridge and pantry for items you already have. Don’t forget to check the sales and match your coupons for your sales. I don’t assing “days” to my meals so I can rotate if I choose. I do however plan 3 meals for 7 days. I even do “general” snack plans too. My daughter and I make desert items (jello – hot apples – etc) ahead of time. Even this week for example I precooked pancakes for the kids to make for breakfast and at least two loaves of bread a day. Honestly, it does’t take as much time as you may think, but it saves a ton of time and aggrevation not too mention money too. I’ve flipped flopped over the years to see if menu planning was worth it, but have found that I spend way too much money when I don’t menu plan. We just can’t afford not to live this way.

Brian - March 23, 2010

This is a great article! We use the weekly method and it saves us a lot of time and stress. I think you hit on a great point that it all starts with writing down ideas. Everyone has good ideas, the trick is remembering them. So if you have your list to refer to it makes things much easier. Computers are good for things like this, so I created a site to make it easier to help people remember and do more with their ideas.

LisaE - March 25, 2010

Awhile ago I started doing some of the items listed in this article and have found it a great time-saver during the week and less money spent at the grocery store when I know basically what I plan to serve for dinners every night. Sometimes, I fall “off the wagon” and don’t plan as much but then it sure shows when my grocery bill is higher than expected that week. I have not actually written down my menu for the week, but maybe I will give this a try and should save me a few headaches during the week!

Thanks for the great ideas and tips!

Zen - April 10, 2010

LOLing at Jens comment that she is not a stay at home mom who homeschools so she doesnt have time to cook all day….just wanted to let her know that I AM a stay at home mom who homeschools 4 kids (an ALL day event)not to mention all the extra housework from FOUR kids being at home ALL day….therefore I have EVEN LESS time than her to cook all day, lol!

Zen - April 10, 2010

Sorry, it was Janes comment not jens…

Christie - April 25, 2010

Hi Jane, I was a single mom who worked 45-50 hours a week too. I planned meals on Saturday while my little boy (now 30!) played, and then we’d shop for ingredients. I’d post the menu for the week on the fridge and recipes as well. It actually helps you save time to have this done, as we had to get up at quarter till 5 am so I could be at the train by 7:00. I fixed dinner when we got home at 6:30, then we did homework, and hit the hay at 9:00. It made everything go more smoothly when I didn’t have to stand at the fridge and wonder what to fix for dinner, and we always had a balanced meal, too. When my son got older (10), he got home before I did, so he would follow the posted recipe and have dinner ready when I got home! (He also did the wash on Mondays; he’s an awesome husband and dad now!) This system saved money and time in the long run, and that was important since it wasn’t cheap being a single mom in San Francisco, even back then. Good luck!

Mitz - July 27, 2010

Just wondering if you still have a link to your blank weekly menu plan.

Shell - August 4, 2010

Great Article! Use what you have, don’t waste and still manage to get things done in time. Any complaints are usually from people who don’t want to take a little extra time. For the lady with the messy husband, make him clean up. (That’s just wrong for one person to have to do everything) Shame on him. I am assuming his teenage days are over????

Elizabeth - September 1, 2010

Shell, let’s hope his teenage days are over by now…. though it may not seem like it, unfortunately.

Steph E - September 28, 2010

Thank you for this! I have already been planning weekly dinner menus, and was just looking for more ways to save.

Do you have any other articles about avoiding the supermarket scam of raising prices while others are deeply discounted? I was only slightly aware of this, and I’d like to know more ways of avoiding it.

Thanks again!

camille - November 3, 2010

how to make a menu plan by three basic food groups?

Brooke - November 3, 2010

I like to use the 1, 1, 2 rule. If you divide your small dinner plate into quarters, one quarter will be your protein, one quarter will be your starch, and 2 quarters will be your fruit/veggie. Remember that a portion of meat is the size of a deck of cards, your starch should be 1/2-2/3 cup, and veggies are 1/2-1 cup. It’s a visual way to keep track. I add dairy to the mix with a shredded cheese on my starch or a small glass of milk with dinner. Enjoy!

Angie - November 7, 2010

I want a website or something on this one that will let me put in the things we have in the cupboard and some of the dishes we like and electronically make a menu for me.. How neat would that be? I think pretty neat.

Melanie - November 28, 2010

I used to do monthly meals and loved the idea, but affording a months of groceries and the effort involved was a bit overwhelming. Now I dont plan breakfasts or lunches everyone gets their own. We have the same things available each week for these BREAKFAST: 3 cereals, toast, spreads, eggs. LUNCHES – bread, yoghurt, cheese, salad stuff, deli meat, leftovers. FOR tea the best method I have found is a weekly schedule for meats e.g. MON – Mince, TUES – meatless, WED – Chicken, THURS – Steak, FRI – Meatless, SAT – sausages, SUN – Different meat e.g. lamb, corn beef, pork, hamsteaks. This has worked great as I automatically can think what meat I need for the week. On sunday I plan 2 weeks menu – takes 5-10 mins, Wednesday I shop. I dont plan veges we are having with the meat, I base it on what was on special and what is in the fridge or garden. I have saved lots of money this way with a minimum of stress.

Lenita Smuck - December 5, 2010

Thanks for posting good topic. I was enjoy it then have a nice day

Stacey - January 6, 2011

Hi, thank you so much for posting this article. I am still new to the site, but have fallen in love with it already. I kind of feel like I have found a good friend on the net, with your site. As a divorced mother of 3 ages 15, 10 and 10, that works full time, is a volunteer Firefighter/First Responder, and has a home to run and keep at least relatively in control, I needed a wonderful site like this to help me keep my meals more in control. I admit that I am one that stands in front of the fridge wondering what to make. Thank you so much for being here. To one respondor (Angie) who requested a site where you could put in the ingredients you have in your cupboard, and it will pull up recipes, , was what I came up with. I hope it is okay that I posted this here. I haven’t taken a real look at it yet, so can’t tell you much about it, but the section you are looking for is towards the bottom of the homepage. I hope that helps.

    The Hillbilly Housewife - January 7, 2011

    Thank you, Stacey. I’m glad you found us, too! It’s fine that you posted the link in your comment. We are here to help each other find information we need to live better, eat better, and hopefully find what we need to live a frugal lifestyle. Thanks for sharing and thank you for being a volunteer in such an important field.

      Stacey - January 12, 2011

      Thank you so much. I am just glad that I wasn’t stepping out of line by posting the link. You guys are a definite blessing.

Sara - January 10, 2011

I love to read an article by someone who thinks like I do!! I don’t know how many times my thought process runs verbatim what you said :) My friends laugh, but without at least “my list” of meals for the week – I would be lost at the grocery store. I plan for 14 days at a time to coincide with my hunny’s pay schedule, but with leftovers and ad libbing tend to end up with a day or two more than I planned. Which is good because I have a cushion when we really need it – or some additional options when what’s on the menu just doesn’t sound as good today as it did last week! My mother always said that as long as you have basic building blocks in your pantry you can feed your family well through anything. She’s right.

Ellie - January 23, 2011

Reading through all the mails the thing that popped out at me was that’One size does not fit all’
I have been through the working single mother of four children,(night shift at a hospital) My children are now beautiful adults.
I must admit I didn’t meal plan for more than about three days ahead, but did a lot of baking, so that my tins were always full of homemade cakes and biscuits. I also made chocolate which worked out much cheaper than buying it.
I didn’t (still don’t) have a car, so had to walk and carry home whatever food was needed. No husband, no car, no freezer for storing pre cooked meals.
So I think we all have to be tolerant of each other, what works for one, will not work. or maybe only in part.. for another.

monika - January 31, 2011

It is much harder to have kids home all day when homeschooling, much more housework!!
I have done it both ways working and staying home.
I am a disabled mom with 2 special needs kids and a college age daughter.
It is so great to have a menu for the week that I can choose from.
I don’t list by days, just available meals. Some days I feel better than others so I can choose real easy or a little harder.
It saves me tons of money.
If working and going to school crockpots are lifesavers ( can get one at the thrift store for cheap)
Cooking on the weekend is essential, just one day can help all week to make burritos, egg salad, pancakes, chili, on and on.

heather - July 9, 2011

Im curious if there is anywhere on the web an updated version of this budget? Grocery prices are out of sight these days. Also in some areas things are a lot more costly. I have a friend who pays a dollar more an item than i do for grocerys. And when we moved recently I discovered that my self. Powdered milk is $20 a box! I was paying 15 where we lived a month ago. Any thoughts on this? and please share with me a link to any updated price charts..becasue while this is crazy helpful..I woudl love to see the 2011 version :)

Neenah - February 17, 2012

I really appreciate you taking the time to write up this long post and sharing the thought process behind it all. I’ve been meal planning for awhile but not thinking through it the way you explained. I find recipes for the week, make a grocery list and call it good. Obviously, I’ve been missing a whole big chunk of the process. We eat mostly grains and legumes along with veggies and fruits. You won’t find loss leaders for grains and legumes but they’re inexpensive anyway. I’m sure they advertise loss leaders for seasonal veggies and fruits though and will need to start looking at that. I really, really appreciate you talking through the process. Thanks.

Chassidy - July 11, 2012

Thank you so much for all these great tips!!! I can not wait to start my menu planning, I am starting a budget for my family and thought incorporating menu planning would go right a long with it! Thank You, can not wait to devour your whole website!!!! Next stop….Your Recipes!!!!

Amy - July 14, 2012

Wow! What a great article on meal planning! I am one half of a mompreneur team who actually have created and sell a magnetic menu planner. We are all about making life easier for moms. May have to link to your article on our blog some day. :)

Ruth Harp - October 6, 2012

Love this site and how informative it is. Thanks for sharing!!

Amber - October 10, 2012

Menu planning is great but has always been a chore for me. I dreaded sitting down, brainstorming ideas, figuring out what to buy, and then heading to the grocery store. Recently, I discovered, that among other things makes menu planning easy, fun, and visual. It is free to use and they even help you improve your health over time.

robyn - August 6, 2013

Hello. I have been experimenting with trying to get menu planning down. I have a total of 7(5 kids, hubby, and myself). I homeschool and we are on one income . I need to get my budget to around 400-500/ month. I have been sticking to basics like soups, beans and rice, spaghetti, etc but need to try something else. Hubby is a diabetic and his blood sugar has been high. Any help would be greatly appreciated.

    Hillbilly Housewife - August 7, 2013

    My best recommendation is to keep trying new frugal recipes that you find here and on other websites or cookbooks and build a list of 30 to 50 recipes your family loves. Use those as the basis for your meal planning and just try something new here and there. Don’t forget about bean and egg dishes. Both are frugal and most of them very suitable for diabetics. We have breakfast for dinner almost every week and it’s always a big hit. It usually involves eggs in some way shape or form along with either grits, pancakes or toast and sometimes bacon or sausage. Pinto beans and corn bread are another big favorite. I make a big batch of beans (from dry beans) and end up with enough to make refried beans for bean burritos the next day.

K8sMom2002 - January 6, 2014

Thanks for the great tips! It’s a terrific reminder of how organization can save time AND $$.

Not to reignite the Mommy Wars, and certainly not to disparage stay-at-home homeschooling moms, but I think some folks were missing Jane’s point. Full time work-away-from-home moms can’t take advantage of pockets of time at home during the day like you can if you are at home. True, a stay at home mom has just as tough a job as any working outside the home, but many is the time I wished that I could work from home. That way I could toss a load of clothes in the wash or put on supper or bake bread while I was in the process of doing some other chore or task. I still plan menus and cook ahead, but it’s after I get home from work and on the weekends. The available cooking time for a work-out-of-the-home is compressed into fewer hours.

Add in special considerations (my daughter has several food allergies which require me to forego shortcuts like cream of mushroom soup), and it makes it more of a challenge. But the key is planning. I use the rotation menu approach … I have a master list of 35 different suppers, and I rotate them out … First Monday is lasagna, second Monday, spaghetti. etc. I find I can take advantage of sales because I know what I need in the coming weeks and months. I also purposely plan leftovers and stagger my meal plan to take advantage of leftover roast chicken or pot roast from our Sunday suppers, the “nice” meal of the week.

Sian Breslin - August 18, 2014

Hi Susanne,

This is a brilliant article! I think that meal planning should be in every home. Having a meal plan allows you to eat healthily, eliminate meal-time stress, reduce food waste and save money.

Happy Cooking!
Thanks, Sian

Amy - January 14, 2015

My roommate and I shop just one time per month. We have found that we save around $200 per month by doing this. It is obviously necessary to have a large pantry area and a freezer, but this is much easier than it sounds. The first time takes the most time as you have to plan for the whole month and take an inventory of what you have on hand. Then you look on the internet to collect coupons. You will not completely succeed the first time, so it might be better to try for 2 weeks at first. We buy gallons of milk and then break it into qts to freeze. Ditto with bread. We freeze sausage in individual patties, etc. We start out the month with fresh veggies and then transition to frozen ones. We go to Target, Costco, an ethnic market, Trader Joe’s and a supermarket to take advantage of the cheapest prices. We can do this is around 3 hours. This is likely less time than it would take to go to the market every week however and only happens once per month. As we run out of things, or collect new recipes we want to try, we add to the list on the front of the fridge.

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