Ten Steps for Saving $ with a Menu Plan

     I remember…

I remember my first week as a wife in the kitchen. I was as green as they come! Fresh back from the honeymoon and ready to cook for my husband. It was a great feeling of excitement. I get to cook for him! And then came that overwhelming feeling. What in the world am I going to make???

Honestly, that was the hardest part of being the queen of the kitchen. I was thrilled to make home-cooked meals for my husband, but four o’clock would roll around, and I’d find myself standing in front of the refrigerator, back at square one…

     What in the world do I make this time?

I started planning out our menu a week at a time, mostly because it made me feel organized and “on top of things.” Now I can’t imagine running a kitchen without doing it! This little strategy saves me from the daily dilemma of what to make for supper, and it also helps me be intentional with grocery shopping and using food that is already in the pantry. The fifteen minutes that it takes to plan out a week’s menu saves us money every time! Let me take a minute to show you how…

When people (me included!) shop for groceries without a meal plan or grocery list, they shoot themselves in the foot. Instead of buying things that they need, they buy things that they think they need… which usually also means things that they want.

Without a plan, we inevitably buy more than we intend. We buy what strikes our fancy, what looks good on the shelf. And if you’re like me, there’s a lot that looks good on those shelves!

So let’s say I walk through the grocery store without a meal plan, and I buy $5 worth of groceries that I don’t need. I misguess by $5 – that’s not too terrible, is it? “That’s okay, we can handle losing five dollars in our budget.” But what if I misguess by $5 every week? That comes out to $260 per year, assuming I’m not making any impulse buys or extra shopping trips later to pick up that one thing I forgot.

And what if I misguess by $10.00 every shopping trip? That’s a yearly $520. “That’s okay, we can handle losing $520 in our budget…”  A little harder to swallow, isn’t it?

     This strategy saves us money every week! It pays to have a plan!!!

So whether you’re fresh off the boat like I was, or you’re so used to this meal planning thing that you could do it in your sleep, this compilation of menu planning strategies is for you! 🙂

 

Ten Tips for Saving $ with a Meal Plan

     Step #1 – Pick a time that works for you.

Make the menu plan part of your weekly routine. It’s a priority! The “when” of a menu plan is going to look different for every family. The important thing is that it happens! Our week’s menu is usually planned on Tuesday mornings. That’s coupon day, grocery day, and therefore also menu plan day. After all, I won’t know what to buy at the store if I don’t have any idea what I’ll be making for supper that week, right? 🙂 Every family is different though – figure out what works best for your family, and make menu planning a household habit!

     Step #2 – Write your plan down.

It starts with a choice – be deliberate, sit down with a pencil and paper, and plan your menu! Making a meal plan won’t work if you don’t write it down! Write each day of the week on your paper, and leave the empty space for the meals you plan.

  • T:
  • W:
  • Th:
  • F:
  • Sa:
  • Su:
  • M:

I keep a planner-style notebook handy to write down my week’s menu, to-do lists, and weekly appointments. It’s a system that helps me stay organized. I’ve also seen people get really creative with their menu plan, displaying it on a chalk board or dry-erase board in their kitchen. Go all out if you want too – especially if it motivates you to stay consistent!

 

     Step #3 – Check your calendar!

This tip is crucial for making the menu plan work for you. If you’re going to be out of the house all day on Thursday, make a note to plan something simple like a crock pot meal for supper Thursday night. And if you have company coming over on Friday night, make sure you plan for something bigger than leftover hotdish for your guests. 🙂

  • T:
  • W:
  • Th:
  • F:     Baked Ziti, Garlic Bread, Caesar Salad
  • Sa:
  • Su:
  • M:

 

     Step #4 – Start a new tradition! 

This may be my favorite menu planning tip. It’s meal planning made easy! Pick a meal that your family loves and make it a tradition in your home. Our family has a tradition of pizza and chips on Wednesday nights, and we also like to have a breakfast-for-supper night over the weekend. Having these simple meals picked out beforehand helps me as I plan out the week’s menu. It makes brainstorming meals for the rest of the week that much easier. (And if your family’s favorite happens to be as easy as a frozen pizza, that’s a double bonus!)

  • T:
  • W:  Pizza & Chips
  • Th:
  • F:     Baked Ziti, Garlic Bread, Caesar Salad
  • Sa:   Pancakes & Apple Sauce
  • Su:
  • M:

 

     Step #5 – Transfer unused meals from the previous week.

Sometimes we get invited out to eat unexpectedly, or I have more leftovers that I’d counted on, and we end up with extra meals on our menu. These get entered right away on the next week’s menu plan. After all, you’ve already bought the groceries you need for that meal – why buy more when you already have what you need?

  • T:    Leftover Sloppy Joes
  • W:  Pizza & Chips
  • Th:
  • F:     Baked Ziti, Garlic Bread, Caesar Salad
  • Sa:   Pancakes & Apple Sauce
  • Su:
  • M:

 

     Step #6 – Shop your pantry!

I’ll never forget The Macaroni and Cheese Sale of 2016. Mac and cheese boxes were on sale at HyVee for $0.29 a piece, while supplies lasted. I brought 14 boxes of mac and cheese home that day, and I was so proud of myself. After all, that’s an easy meal with hot dogs and brats, and it’s cheap! My husband’s comment? “I didn’t know we liked mac and cheese so much.” Well, we do now!

But here’s the clincher – if I buy 14 boxes of macaroni and cheese on sale and forget that I have them, I’m not saving my family any money! Take a peek at your pantry as you plan your menu. It’ll save you money in the bank and space in your cupboards!

  • T:     Leftover Sloppy Joes
  • W:   Pizza & Chips
  • Th:   Macaroni, Hot Dogs & Brats
  • F:     Baked Ziti, Garlic Bread, Caesar Salad
  • Sa:   Pancakes & Apple Sauce
  • Su:
  • M:

 

     Step #7 – Brainstorm simplicity.

By the time I’ve worked this far through my tip list, I’ve usually planned out 3-5 days for my meal plan. Now it’s time to start brainstorming. I try to cook on a budget, so I like to start this stage by adding one more simple meal to our plan. Please note: simple and cheap does not have to be bland! Eggs are a good example of what this looks like at our house. They’re pretty cheap, and I can turn them into frittatas, omelets, fried egg sandwiches, or scrambled eggs!

Btw, mac and cheese works for this category too… 😉

  • T:     Leftover Sloppy Joes
  • W:   Pizza & Chips
  • Th:   Macaroni, Hot Dogs & Brats
  • F:     Baked Ziti, Garlic Bread, Caesar Salad
  • Sa:   Pancakes & Apple Sauce
  • Su:
  • M:    Egg Salad Sandwiches (lunch)

 

     Step #8 – Add variety!

This is the fun part. We’ve got 2-3 meals left on our meal plan, and the recipes that we pick here will add variety to our week in the kitchen. Think of meals that your family enjoys or recipes that you want to try from Pinterest. I try to make these “real meals” – something homemade that requires more work than a frozen pizza. Sometimes we have staples like spaghetti or tacos. Sometimes I experiment with something I’ve found online. This is your chance to get creative in the kitchen!

  • T:     Leftover Sloppy Joes
  • W:   Pizza & Chips
  • Th:   Macaroni, Hot Dogs & Brats
  • F:     Baked Ziti, Garlic Bread, Caesar Salad
  • Sa:   Pancakes & Apple Sauce
  • Su:   Ham & Scalloped Potatoes (lunch)
  • M:    Egg Salad Sandwiches (lunch) / Spaghetti (supper)

 

     Step #9 – Flyers and Coupons

We usually get our grocery ads after I’ve planned out my meals for the week, so it doesn’t always impact our menu, but I do try to at least glance at the ads before going to the store. Sometimes I’ll see a great deal and work that into our meal plan. If chicken is on sale, put chicken on the menu!

 

Tip #10 – Smorgasbord!

Make sure you’re using your leftovers well. I often pack them for the next day’s lunch, which is why you see I skip planning lunches on most days. But sometimes I’ll plan the leftover chicken from Thursday night to make a chicken pot pie on Friday, for example. If you can stretch one meal into two, that’s money in the bank! During weeks when we have a lot of leftovers on hand, I hoard them quite shamelessly and have a smorgasbord at the end of the week. All the leftovers come out of the fridge, we load up our plates buffet style and throw them in the microwave. An easy meal with no-stress prep!

  • T:     Leftover Sloppy Joes
  • W:   Pizza & Chips
  • Th:   Macaroni, Hot Dogs & Brats
  • F:     Baked Ziti, Garlic Bread, Caesar Salad
  • Sa:   Pancakes & Apple Sauce
  • Su:   Ham & Scalloped Potatoes (lunch) / Smorgasbord! (supper)
  • M:    Egg Salad Sandwiches (lunch) / Spaghetti (supper)

 

10 steps, 15 minutes per week, a couple of coupons… That’s not so bad!

See, you can do this! And when you think of all the money you’re saving by having a plan? That’s definitely worth the time! These strategies are implemented every single week at our house. The result directly impacts my spending at the grocery store… and my sanity when it comes time to make supper. 🙂

What strategies do you use to plan meals for your family? Any tips to add? I would love to hear them in the comments below!

In the meantime, have fun menu planning!

~ Erin

14 Easy Meal Solutions

     14 Meals in 20 Minutes or Less (for when you’re in a pinch)

My heart goes out to parents and teachers at this time of year. It seems like everyone goes from 10 mph to 100 mph in the space of a week! I’m not at that season of life yet, but as a teacher’s daughter and an elementary education graduate, I know a little of what goes on at the beginning of the school year. And it’s crazy!

So this post is in honor of Meet-the-Teacher Days and Back-to-School Nights. Life is busy, and there are some days we need all the breaks we can get. 🙂

     Disclaimer:

I had to laugh when I researched 20-minute meals online. I found recipes for orecchiette (which is apparently a pasta 😉 ), broiled snapper, and ratatouille on some of the lists. The recipes that I’m including below aren’t going to be fancy or gourmet. They’re going to be practical, real-life, and hopefully, helpful. Here we go!

 

pexels-photo-95212

     Tip #1 – Keep It Simple

There is a myth out there that a good wife makes really nice meals all the time. That the spaghetti is garden fresh and the garlic bread is always homemade.

Here’s the newsflash – that’s not true! Simple meals are just as yummy and filling as gourmet dinners. And shortcuts are definitely allowed. Your husband will not mind if the garlic bread isn’t homemade!

Below are a few simple recipes that you can pull out in a pinch. They’re some of my favorites!

Pin - Bean and Cheese Burritos
Bean & Cheese Burritos

 

  • Bean & Cheese Burritos – This recipe is delicious and easy on the budget! Heat refried beans, chili beans, cheese, and diced tomatoes in a sauce pan, and serve with taco fixings for an easy burrito night! (From LittleYellowHouseAdventures.com – Link)
Pin - Quesadillas
Quesadillas
  • Quesadillas – We like Mexican food. Especially when you can have it on the table in 15 minutes. 🙂 Heat your taco meat and fixings in a soft shell on your pancake griddle, and supper’s ready before you know it! (From LittleYellowHouseAdventures.com – Link)
DSCN0647
Homemade Pancakes
  • Pancakes – I love breakfast for supper, and pancakes are an easy go-to served with peanut butter and syrup! (From LittleYellowHouseAdventures.com – Link)
DSCN1299
French Toast
  • French Toast – This might be my favorite food of all time. So it had to make the list. 🙂 And would you like to know the easy secret that makes French toast taste sublime? Check out the link and find out! (From CountryRecipeBook.com – Link)

 

vegetables-italian-pizza-restaurant.jpg

     Tip #2 – Make Use of Traditions

I never have to wonder what I’m going to make for supper on Wednesday nights. Pizza is assumed to the point that people in our family are disappointed if we miss a Wednesday. How awesome is that?!? This little trick saves me lots of time, and our family loves it. I also try to have eggs once a week, just because they are cheap, easy, and versatile. Here are a couple family favorites for you to try!

eggs.jpg
Eggs are easy!
  • Scrambled Eggs – Scrambling eggs is easy, but there is an art form to making a perfect batch. This mommy blogger lays all the secrets out there – you’re going to want to pin that post! (From MyMommyStyle.com – Link)

 

  • Cloud Eggs – Not all of my Pinterest finds are successes, but these passed the test. (Whew! 🙂 ) Cloud eggs are as easy as whipping the egg white until it’s stiff and then baking the yolk on top. Serve on toast! (From JustATaste.com – Link)

 

  • Omelets – This one is my husband’s specialty from his bachelor days. 🙂 It’s a great option for when you’re hungry for something quick and easy, and they’re personal size, so fix up yours however you like it! (From TheSpruce.com – Link)

 

pexels-photo-94436.jpeg

     Tip #3 – Get Creative

There are lots of ways to make everyday recipes easy and fun. Check out the ideas that these bloggers have come up with!

Pin - Bean and Cheese Burritos
Bean & Cheese Burritos
  • Bean and Cheese Burritos – Try substituting refried beans for ground beef in your Mexican dishes – it’s faster and cheaper! Our family loves the variety that we get from Bean and Cheese burritos. (From LittleYellowHouseAdventures.com – Link)
garlic-parmesan-panini-1-final
Garlic Parmesan Panini
  • Panini Sandwiches – Everyone knows sandwiches are easy, but did you know they can be exciting too? It’s true! Break out some creativity and try something a little out of the box… (From Lilluna.com – Link)

Sheet-Pan-Nachos

  • Nachos – Another Mexican dish because we loved this one so much… Spread your taco meat, fixings, and lots of cheese on top of tortilla chips and bake for an unbelievable easy solution to supper. (From GracefulLittleHoneyBee.com – Link)

 

Tip #4 – Soups for Supper

Bear Creek soup mixes are a fantastic option if you’re in a pinch! Someone in our church gave us a few mixes last year, introducing me to one of the most delicious time-savers yet. Our family has tried five of the fifteen Bear Creek soups, and we love them. Just boil your water, add the mix, and simmer for 15 minutes or so. Then you’re ready to serve a soup that really does taste homemade.

Interested in more info about this awesome soup mix? Here’s a link – Bear Creek Soup Mix – to see their selection. I haven’t tried all of their varieties, but we’ve loved the ones we have! 🙂

pexels-photo-105588.jpeg

     Tip #5 – Use Leftovers!

I’ll be the first to admit it – I love leftovers! I make big meals on purpose, knowing it will knock out two more meals later in the week. My favorite is tacos – it’s not uncommon to get three or four meals out of one batch between Doritos casseroles, nachos, and quesadillas. The recipes below take longer than twenty minutes to make… but the leftovers take less than 10 minutes to warm up! 🙂

Pin - Tacos

  • Tacos – The secret to a big batch of tacos is the rice and beans! I make three cups of rice and add one can of chili beans for every pound of ground beef, and the leftovers knock out half of my meals for the rest of the week! (From LittleYellowHouseAdventures.com – Link)
Pin - Spaghetti Success
Spaghetti
  • Spaghetti – Another family favorite! My trick here is to add a half cup or more of cottage cheese to the spaghetti sauce to stretch it a little farther. Then I cook double the noodles that we’ll need, and we’ve got leftovers guaranteed! (From LittleYellowHouseAdventures.com – Link)

Pin - Cheesy Taco Pasta

  • Cheesy Taco Pasta – This is a Mexican spin on spaghetti that our family enjoyed. Once again, lots of noodles with extra cheese and salsa for lots of leftovers! (From LittleYellowHouseAdventures.com – Link)
DSCN0693
Fondly known as “Egg Soup”
  • Creamed Eggs on Toast – I know, this one sounds a little out there, but trust me, it’s delicious, and it works great for leftovers! (From LittleYellowHouseAdventures.com – Link)

Stay tuned for more!! I’ll keep you posted as I find more easy recipes. Feel free to give suggestions in the comments section below! 🙂 In the meantime, check out my post on Ten Steps for Saving $ with a Menu Plan too. That simple strategy has saved me a lot of hassle on busy nights!

Blessings!   ~ Erin

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