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Planning Meals

Deciding what to have for dinner ahead of time can save you time and money. This guide is about planning meals.


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5 found this helpful
November 29, 2015 Flag

This is so simple. Maybe most of you are already doing this, but I just thought of it a couple of weeks ago.

I tell my family I don't mind cooking or cleaning up but I hate trying to figure out what to cook. I got index cards, and wrote out a menu on each card including beverage and dessert. In the top right corner I labeled them "Chicken, Beef and Pork". On the top left corner, I put a large "O" if this was an oven dish.


In the menu itself I listed a couple of veggies, so I was offered a choice. In the evening after dinner dishes are done, I flip through my cards to see if I need to thaw a roast, or start beans soaking. I'm not limited to those menus but it's so nice to have the help when I need it and to know ahead of time what I'm going to cook without having to think!

By glenn'smom from Oregon

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June 18, 20090 found this helpful

Great idea!

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February 17, 20170 found this helpful

A notebook with spices on a wooden cutting board.

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Meal planning allows you to eat a variety of healthy food without spending a lot of money. This is a guide about developing a meal planning notebook and filing system.


February 10, 20170 found this helpful

Food For Large Meal

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When preparing a large meal, timing is critical so that everything is done in the proper order for serving. This is a guide about organizing and cooking a large meal successfully.


7 found this helpful
April 15, 2013

When we were busy or had to work all at the same time, we had to prep for how we would all eat. There was no going to a drive-thru, because there was no extra money.

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September 1, 201010 found this helpful

I will first start in the pantry. I try to arrange all of my canned/dry goods in categories. I put all tomato based products together, canned veggies, soups, beans, etc.

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November 1, 20112 found this helpful

A ham sliced into slices.

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Whether you're short on time or money, preparing one large meal on the weekend and stretching it all week long is a cost and time efficient way of meal planning.


2 found this helpful
March 18, 2013

I have read many frugal blogs and sites. Many of them rely and support the idea of menu planning for cutting your grocery bill. Those who are supporters of this practice, say they look at the sale flyers and base their menu on the rock bottom prices.

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4 found this helpful
April 6, 2011

I have a friend who budgets wisely every month. She has raised 2 children and gone back to school herself with what she saved. She owns her own home and about 4 acres of land.

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October 6, 2009

Menu index cards are great for when I can't think about what to cook. They have a whole menu, one menu on one index card. Since they are sorted into the index card file, I have them sorted by what types of meat (chicken, beef, ground beef, pork,vegetarian, etc.).

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1 found this helpful
July 16, 2010

I'm starting to think about back-to-school tasks that must be done. Here is one that I thought up as I'll have four kids in school, as well as myself, so this year will be even harder to manage.

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November 2, 20150 found this helpful

Making a Dinner Menu Board

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This is a guide about making a dinner menu board and meal baskets. A dinner menu board is a great way to let the family know what is going to be served. It also is a huge help with meal planning for the week.


0 found this helpful
January 31, 2006

To make my grocery list I then just need to check out the specials, go to my box and quickly choose what I'll cook for the next two weeks and write down what I'll have to buy...

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October 24, 20040 found this helpful

To help save money on groceries, start by making out a menu plan for the upcoming week. Once the menus are made, check your cupboards for the necessary ingredients. Make a list of what you need to buy and stick to this list.

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March 14, 20010 found this helpful

Do you have a set of meals that you eat on a regular basis? Plan ahead at least a week in advance so you don't have to make too many trips to the grocery store. When at the store, buy extras of most often needed items (when on sale) so you will always have some in reserve.

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Ask a QuestionHere are the questions asked by community members. Read on to see the answers provided by the ThriftyFun community or ask a new question.

0 found this helpful
July 18, 2010 Flag

I am new here. I just quit my job to go to school full time and finish my degree. Anyway, I am looking for cheap and healthy meal plans. My husband and I work out a lot, so the healthy part is important. Would love any advice. Thanks!

By Jessica from UT

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July 20, 20100 found this helpful

I think the cheapest things I make are soups. A chicken noodle soup that I just made used $1.21 piece of chicken. It made 5 large servings. You can use leftover chicken too. Any vegetable scraps you have (save little bits in a container in the freezer until you make your soup) can be added. I used green beans, onions and kidney beans in my last soup, but any vegetables are good. I make a good hamburger soup that has the same basic ingredients as any vegetable soup but add some canned tomatoes.

I think it is easy to eat a lot of starchy food when you are trying to save money, but I personally don't think that is healthy. Sure pasta is cheap, but as a diabetic I limit carbs.

A chicken can stretch a long way.

First night: baked chicken

2nd night: chicken in salad, sandwiches, etc.

3rd night: soup

Freeze the rest of the soup.

I also find that the less food is processed, the cheaper it is. No soda, limit junk, & buy a few treats.

Good for you for going back to school. Good luck.

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July 22, 20100 found this helpful

Thanks for all the help. It gave me some great ideas!

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0 found this helpful
June 4, 2005 Flag

Tips to help with meal planning. What do you do to make your meal planning easier and more cost effective? Post your ideas.

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June 4, 20050 found this helpful

Plan your meals so you can cook several items at a time, while using the same temperature. While baking tonight's pizza, have a casserole ready to bake for tomorrow's lunch and maybe a few baking potatoes for tomorrow's breakfast home fries. Not only will you be saving energy on your power bill, but time you can spend with your kids or that good book, you've just started.

By Terri

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June 7, 20050 found this helpful

I do a monthly menu on a calender-

I select a catergory for each day of the week (eg. monday is meat & vege night, tuesday is chicken & rice night, wednesday is vegetarian night, thursday is pasta night, friday is burger and home cooked chips night, saturday is soup night & sunday is roast night) I then go through my favourite recipes and select appropriate ones for each night of the week. I note the recipe book & page no (if req)on the calender as well. Also as I go I write up my monthly shop menu (or you can do it in weekly lots) so I can buy everything I need for the month.

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October 21, 2010 Flag

My trick to avoid eating out is planning! I have a magnetic white board with each week's menu at the top and a spot for requests at the bottom. The kids love making requests and sometimes we do fun theme weeks like "Family Favorites" where each person gets to pick dinner for a night. This gets my kids involved in meal planning and knowing they sometimes get to pick reduces "complaints".

Tuesdays and Thursdays are allocated left-over nights, because my oldest son has football practice those nights. I find we often avoid fast-food temptation purely because we know the marinated meat for broccoli beef is waiting in the fridge and needs to get eaten up or it will go to waste. I make sure to plan crock-pot meals or frozen casseroles for nights we have a late event and might be tempted to grab something on the way home. With three kids, we just can't afford to eat out and I find that I enjoy it more if it's a very special event anyway.

This method has helped me avoid food waste because I only shop for what I'm cooking, and I actually have all the ingredients I need on hand which has reduced emergency trips to the pricier store nearby. I put the menu on the back of my shopping list so if there's a great sale I can adjust it as needed. I only shop for groceries once a week and make my list as I move items from requests to the menu. It's much easier to add items to requests as I think of them, than it was to brainstorm five meals at once, plus this way I know my husband has really been craving homemade pizza.

I save time too, as knowing what's for dinner allows me to prep over the weekend or the night before. Since I work late, the menu means my husband can start dinner while I'm on my way home (I stick the recipe cards for the week on the board with magnets). Anyhow, I've tried several systems, and this has worked the best for me. I stole the idea from the kid's lunch menu :)

By cs_jag from Hillsboro, OR

White board being used to list a weekly dinner menu with an area for requests

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0 found this helpful
April 6, 2011 Flag

Don't "crisis cook." Shopping after work for the day's dinner gets expensive. Plan a weekly menu before shopping and watch your grocery bill shrink.

By Chell


Plan Your Menus

I agree so much. Right now I am only shopping for my husband and me. I plan out a dinner menu and grocery shop every two weeks. I make a grocery list accordingly and it keeps me on track when shopping. I spend about $280 a month on groceries give or take. This includes dinner items, snacks, lunch, etc. The dinner menu keeps me organized as well. I need all the help I can get there. I type or write it out and post it on the fridge and mark off each meal as we make it. (04/25/2005)

By Chelebugg

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0 found this helpful
October 21, 2010 Flag

By Rachel Paxton

It's no fun trying to decide what to make for dinner every night. Planning your meals ahead of time often saves you time as well as money.

There are many different ways to plan your meals. How you plan yours depends on how much time you want to spend now to save yourself time later.

I plan my meals once a week. Because I have limited refrigerator/freezer space and a small family to feed (3), this plan seems to work best for me. I only go to the grocery store once a week. When I'm getting ready to go to the store, I sit down and starting planning my menu for the next week.

This is a good time to go through this week's grocery ads to see what's on sale this week. I also take this time to clean out my refrigerator to see what needs thrown away and what can be re-used as leftovers in the next couple of days. Cleaning out your refrigerator weekly is crucial in avoiding wasting food that could still be used to make a perfectly good meal.

So after I've cleaned out the refrigerator and scanned the grocery store ads, I start my shopping list. I try to plan around what I already have in the freezer. For example, if I know I have a pound of hamburger in the freezer and I know I have spaghetti noodles on hand, then I just need to put spaghetti sauce on my list in order to have spaghetti for dinner one night.

I've also found that often we don't need as much meat in our meals as you might think. For our family of three, a pound of hamburger can be used for both spaghetti and tacos. If I cook the hamburger all at once, I can just put half of it in the refrigerator for the next meal (a big time savings!). If I already have taco shells on hand all I need is to make sure that the sour cream I have in the refrigerator is still good and put lettuce and tomatoes on my shopping list.

You should always stock up on meat when it's on sale. If you do you'll find that some weeks you'll end up buying almost no meat at all, if any. I also stock up on items like jars of spaghetti sauce when they're on sale. Then I'll always have a quick dinner ready on a moment's notice if I already have hamburger (also bought on sale) and spaghetti noodles on hand.

Some weeks I realize that I already have much of what I'm going to need for the week. Some of the staples I keep on hand: sour cream, cheese, taco shells, spaghetti noodles, egg noodles, cream of mushroom soup, onions, potatoes, garlic, tuna, spaghetti sauce, tomato sauce, black olives, canned clams, and rice. These ingredients make a lot of the meals we eat, like: hamburger and rice, beef stroganoff, tacos, spaghetti, clam chowder, and hamburger gravy and mashed potatoes.

I usually plan for only 5 meals a week. I know that sometime during the week we'll be eating leftovers or fending for ourselves due to time constraints.

This system has worked really well for me and saved us lots of money. I plan once a week, shop once a week, and don't give a thought to meal planning for the rest of the week. And I don't hold myself to cooking a certain meal on a certain night. I usually decide that day what I'm going to cook for dinner to be a little flexible.

There are many other ways you can plan your meals. Some people cook once a month and freeze their meals for later use (requires a lot of freezer space). A couple of books on this subject are Frozen Assets by Deborah Taylor Hough and The Freezer Cooking Manual by Tara Wohlenhaus.

Meal planning doesn't have to be hard. Modify your plan to suit your family's needs. Just make sure you HAVE a plan. It will inevitably save you time as well as money.

About The Author: Originally published at Suite 101. Rachel Paxton is a freelance writer and mom who is the author of What's for Dinner?, an e-cookbook containing more than 250 quick easy dinner ideas. For recipes, tips to organize your home, home decorating, crafts, holiday hints, and more, visit Creative Homemaking at

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