What my meal planning looks like

I tallied up my grocery spending for the month– $661 so far –and I’m not really wanting to spend more than another $40.  So I sat down with  my cookbooks and went through the freezers for ingredients and did a menu plan for the rest of the month that would allow us to eat mostly from the pantry, freezer, and garden.  I usually do a menu plan every couple weeks, and stick it on the side of the fridge to remind me of the plans. Here’s what I came up with this time around.  Some of the meals will be made two separate times (thus the x2 notation), and a few others will be doubled to serve at two different meals.

 Burgers and oven fries  for Sunday lunch (x2)
 Hamburger zucchini stir-fry  (x2)
 Make-your-own pizza- crust from FF  (x2)
 Thai chard wraps (x2)
 Lentils and rice (doubled)
 Chicken and rice soup (doubled)
 Chicken, sweet potato, squash stir-fry
 Homemade corn dogs (Friday sleepover, per kid request)
 Spaghetti frittata
 Injera and shiro, plus dinich wat or doro wat
 Spaghetti and meatballs
 Cranberry chicken walnut salad

You’ll notice that in most cases I don’t specify when I am going to cook each meal.  I like the freedom of being able to decide on the fly, depending on how the day went and how much time I have to cook.  I find that if I have the dinners figured out, the other meals are easier.  Breakfast is usually pancakes, or oatmeal, or eggs/toast. Cereal is usually saved for Sunday morning. I also plan to make a batch of granola, and we usually have homemade yogurt in quart jars in the fridge. Lunch is our leftover meal. I pull recent leftovers out of the fridge and the kids zap whatever they choose from those options.  Pretty easy.

My grocery list after making the menu is pretty short. Because I’m making corn dogs AND Ethiopian food, I’ll need to buy oil.  I don’t have enough potatoes or milk.  And doubtless there will be other things that I discover are running low.  But I’m pretty confident that I already have a good 90% of the groceries we’ll need for the rest of the month.  What about you?  Do you meal-plan, or do you fly by the seat of your pants?



  1. Tiffany says:

    I plan mine out one month at a time. I move things around as needed. I try to buy the “bulk”, non-perishable stuff monthly. And buy produce and fresh items weekly.

    • Wow. Just when you think there is nothing new to learn. What a great idea, Tiffany. I never thought of breaking things out that way. I’ve always felt like I have to have a complete plan for the week when I go to the store. I would love to only go in the store for 15 minutes and do the outside boundary once a week.


  2. I do my meal plan twice a month to coincide with payday. Then I go through the pantry to see what I have and put the needs on a list. Usually I’ve scanned the grocery ads first so I may plan based on what meat is on sale etc. Of course we have friends who gave us 1/2 a grass fed cow for Christmas so that’s been a huge blessing.

  3. My daughter, Grace, just planned out a month of meals and made the grocery list. I got the fun part, going and buying them. It seems if we plan it out we actually don’t eat “on the fly” as much…I like that!

  4. I hate grocery shopping for just the 1 item I need, so I meal plan for sure! I base my menu on what leftovers we already have and what’s on sale. I shop once a week and usually don’t have to go back to the store just cause I forgot something. Usually. Not always though.

    I do plan out the days, but we’ve been known to re-arrange things. With just 2 eaters (we have a 3-month old who isn’t considered in the meal plan), one recipe usually makes 2-3 meals.

  5. christy says:

    I meal plan twice a week also. Sometimes I do really good and other times not so good. I have started planning more crock pot meals or quick meals for soccer nights and we have ate out a lot less. I use Pinterest quite a bit but almost always go back to my cookbooks when I am at a total loss.

    Just a side note, we had lots of family over and made taco salad. My 14yo made your french dressing recipe from your book and it was amazing! She asked me why we even buy salad dressing when making it is so good! It might have helped that we also had home grown tomatoes. :oP

  6. I shop sales for pantry (shelf stable) items, as well as items I can stick in the freezer. We buy our meat from local farmers rather than through a store, so I always have meat in the freezer. Then, I menu plan on Friday evenings after I pick up my CSA share – using pantry and freezer items. I fill in at the grocery store once per week with whatever we need, generally less than $20 worth for the 4 of us.

    I used to menu plan once per month and make a huge shopping trip just one time, but since we changed how we purchase our food I’ve changed how I plan.

    I also don’t plan for specific days, I just jot down my plans and then decide each day what I’d like to make. But, I do make notes for days that are more rushed or if we have other plans, so we have something that cooks more quickly that day – for instance, late Friday afternoons are my CSA delivery/pickup day, so we get home a bit later. So, Friday evenings are either homemade pizza (with homemade but prefrozen crusts) or stirfry.

  7. Christy M says:

    I’m trying to be better about flying by the seat of my pants a little less. We eat a lot better when I know what’s for dinner more than 2 hours before we eat. My trouble is that with both adults working full time, we usually grocery shop on Sundays. The problem? The CSA box comes on Fridays, so I’m thinking something like what you’ve done here is what I should do. Just a list of meals and we can pic as we go. I can usually anticipate what will be in the CSA box for the most part and modify my weekend grocery list to get anything I don’t have.

  8. Like you did here, I usually jot down ideas but do not assign days. Some things naturally follow others though. There’s usually at least one meal that is made from leftovers of another (fried rice, burritos, stir fry, etc.). As the garden picks up, the vegetable/salad is usually based on what’s ready to eat. When I started meal planning, I did assign days and that was easier when I was learning I think. Now I’ve got a good repertoire of meals I can fix from what we normally have around so am much more flexible.

  9. Meals and shopping are much easier when I do menu-plan. Sometimes I assign days, but usually switch meals around anyway. I have to be flexible. My husband doesn’t work a regular 9-5 job. He may be away over dinner with little notice, or may be home when he thought he’d be working. He also enjoys cooking, and is quite the chef. So when he is home, he’ll often hijack the menu and cook something else. It’s great, but definitely makes planning ahead a challenge!

  10. No meal planning anymore–did that for years and found too constrictive. With an extremely healthy and mostly vegetarian diet, it is super easy to ‘plan’ meals. I don’t really plan meals so much as be creative with the foods that are in the kitchen until they are gone and then we buy whatever is on sale and try to create dishes that are edible from them. Also being creative allows kids more freedom to experiment with different food combinations.
    For example, we had for supper last night: sliced sweet potatoes with three pieces of eggplant on top with goat cheese over that and baked- along with a salad, watermelon, iced tea and for a late snack we had homemade snow cones.
    I know my youngest is planning on making for us all tonight: wheat tortillas with scrambled eggs, tons of green peppers, celery, carrots, mushrooms and using a cucumber sauce poured over them along with sliced fruits and shakes. Yum can hardly wait to get home from long day at work. It is great having children old enough to help with the cooking these days.

  11. What do you guys do for snacks? My kids always seem so hungry…especially in the summer.

  12. My menu plan looks a lot like yours. Mine is handwritten and stuck to the fridge using a large metal clip. I write words lunch and then 1 to 7 underneath and dinner with 1 to 7 underneath, then I figure out what nights my husband will be home for dinner (he normally works through dinner hour) and Mark a big D next to how many nights he will be home. I maker one night when dad is home as eat out night, and then fill in the rest of dad nights with bigger meals and the nights the kids are I are alone we eat small simpler meals like pancakes or taco’s or homemade pizza. The whole process really only takes 10 to 15 minutes tops .


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