Posted by: chroniclesofgrace | October 30, 2010

Meal Planning in 10 steps

In my ongoing effort to save some money and stay within our budget, I am taking my menu planning to a new level.  For several years now, I’ve been pretty good at planning enough weekly dinner menus before I go grocery shopping.  But lately, as I’ve surveyed my food spending habits I’ve noticed a few things:

  • I rarely take a trip into the grocery store and come out with less than $25 worth of groceries – even if I just go in for one or two items that I needed to pick up to make dinner.  These $25+ trips are not conducive to my budget:) So something I need to change is less trips to the store.  If I stay out, I can’t spend extra money on impulse purchases:)


  • This Fall has been pretty chaotic in our home(it always is, but this year was particularly crazy).  In relation to food it meant some last minute fast food trips or ordering pizza that weren’t really in the dining portion of my budget.  Not only is this food less healthy(which doesn’t help our immune systems to work properly, particularly when we are living in chaos:), but it is more expensive.  I’ll never forget the first time I added up how much it would cost me to buy hamburger for 6 burgers, 6 hamburger buns and some frozen french fries and compared it to our family’s bill at McD’s – even without buying drinks! Or think about how many sandwiches you can make with the bread & meat for even the $5 footlong sub.   Or how many pizzas you can make from scratch(which I’ve learned isn’t that hard, especially if you use a bread machine to make the dough) for the cost of ordering out? The problem is that when I fail to plan, there’s nothing else to do but grab something on the go, and this happened too much in the last few months. 


  • In the past, I have meal planned about a week in advance.  My meal planning wasn’t set in stone, but just enough meals to  get us through the week.  What I’ve found is that sometimes I get stuck at the end of the week with a bunch of meals that take a while to prepare when I am the most tired or things come up and then I don’t have time to cook what I’ve planned.  Result – see #2 above.


  • Snack foods seem to get eaten as quickly as I can buy them!  If I try to stock up they get eaten faster than if I buy them a little at a time.  I recently bought an air popper at a thrift store for $3.  Popcorn is a great & healthy snack and goes a long way.  I am also sorting out snack foods I do buy into pre-set portions(this is a great job for the kids to do) so they don’t just munch until the box or bag is empty. 

So what’s a busy mom with a chaotic life to do?  PLAN, PLAN, PLAN…not a “fun” word, I know.  But I am trying to make it fun!  Here’s what I am now doing:

1) Pull out a blank calendar for the month.  Honestly, for November I left out the week of Thanksgiving as that will be a special week.  But I have planned every other day this month:)

2) Write down any and all events currently known for the month that would affect our dinner hour – Awana, soccer games, date nights, meetings, dentist appts(kids who just had a cavity filled will probably want something soft to eat:), Bible study, family/company invited over, etc. 

3) Go through and list a dinner for each night based on what’s going on that day and what I already have in my pantry/freezer(shopping your own “food store” is always the cheapest way to eat:).  I recently started subscribing to Make 5 Dinner in ONE hour.  The concept is to do much of the prep for your dinner meals on one day(for me it’s Saturday).   Although some of the dinners required some processed foods that I don’t buy or some meals that aren’t on our families’ tast palatte, I love the concept and have mixed and matched her recipes with my own.  I am also planning to include breakfasts & lunches, but thought I would start with the dinner hour since that’s when #2 usually happens most:)

4) Make a grocery list of EVERYTHING I will need for the month to make those dinners. 

5) Separate the list by where I will buy particular items(Local farms, Costco, Trader Joe’s, Grocery store, etc).  Of course, perishables will still require me to go more than once a month, but I am determined not to go as often!  There are lots of great sample pages in Excel that will help you plug all this in and sort it:)

6)Go shopping!  I love that first shopping trip of the month – especially when my hubby lets me go without the kids:)

7)Each Saturday do the prep for any meals possible using the Make 5 dinners in 1 Hour model- chopping veggies, marinating meat, putting together sauces, putting crock pot meals together so they just need to be dumped in the morning, etc.

8)Each morning, checking my calendar, I take a second to think about dinner – Does something need to go in the crockpot? Does meat need to be defrosted?  Is  there any prep work I can do?  What time does that dish I made on Saturday need to go in the oven?

9)Finish off making dinner in the evening…

10)Eat what you’ve planned & prepared rather than eating out that night!  Each night that we don’t eat out is a victory for our budget and our health! 

Of course, I’m not swearing off pizza night and I know that trips to McD’s will happen on occasion, but if we are able to keep it under control we will have saved some money for other priorities and eaten a little healthier.  I also realize that if you have never meal planned before this may all seem extremely daunting.  For you, I recommend just planning a week in advance.  Once you’ve seem some success, then expand it a week at a time.

Happy Planning!




  1. This is great, Jennifer. I have gone through phases of being well prepared because I planned, and not so much. Swim team wrecked havoc on all our planning this past spring/summer and I’ve never regained my footing. I think the fact that I seemed to prepare whatever was coming out of the garden that day kept it a bit of a mystery as well. Hmmm… I really need to do some meal planning; perhaps this will be the week!

  2. […] purchase much in the way of processed foods, make many things from scratch that I never did before, meal plan a month in advance so we don’t eat out as much, buy mostly organic produce, purchase farm fresh eggs and raw […]

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