Frugal Meal Planning

by Merissa on February 20, 2012

in Meal Plans

Frugal Meal Planning

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Frugal Meal Planning

Last week I did the cooking for 2 weeks. I'm not a super woman that makes all perfectly portioned meals, but I like at least having part of the meal cooked ahead of time so it doesn't get to be 5 o' clock and hubby starts wondering what I'm going to be making...

And in the last week I didn't have to cook once. Well, maybe I did a few things to add to what I already had frozen to make it a meal but I didn't actually even have to turn on my oven.

And it was AMAZING.

I don't know about you but trying a cook a meal from scratch after working a 10 hour day and taking care of a baby isn't really one of my dreams. I love cooking and baking....just not when I'm tired, overworked, and full of spit up.

So then why is it so hard to do frugal meal planning? The end results are so worth it but still, something tends to get in the way of us doing it each week. Here's my theories on what it might be.

1. Frugal meal planning takes time.  As much as I love drooling over Pinterest food pictures, I somehow don't like to find the time on Sunday to sit down and make a meal plan.

2. Frugal meal planning takes supplies. Maybe you are one that can come up with a fabulous meal plan and then already have all the stuff to make it work that week. I'm not one of those people. I "shop" once a month when I order from my co-op. Trips to the grocery store during the rest of the month are rare. So my frugal meal planning has to be based off what I have on hand from that one shopping trip, and often it's not very inspiring.

3. Making new dishes is fun, but sometimes we just want the old standbys. When I first started frugal meal planning I loved added new recipes to my weekly plans...and then when it came to be the day to make them all I was craving was the tried and true good stuff. So there went my frugal meal planning...right out the window.


So what is the solution I've come up with to help with these "unmotivated to meal plan" problems?

First of all, I changed my prep day to Saturday. I used to do my make ahead foods on Monday and honestly I'm not sure what I was thinking. Why would I want to have a hectic Monday and then spend the rest of my afternoon cooking? Saturday's work much better because they are an all around slower paced day. I have time to actually do that cooking and baking and I don't have to feel rushed.

Second, I stopped trying to plan whole meals. We always seemed to change the plans anyway. At least if I had the main item or meat for the meal ready or planned, we can finish making the meal that evening with what we feel like having. I always have staples on hand like beef, chicken, ect, so I know I don't need to make any trips to the store. My plans use what I have and only what I have.

And lastly, I stick with the old standbys. I know what we like so why not make it? Even if I do feel motivated to try something new I won't have wasted anything because I cooked just staples so we can make a "new meal" around those. easy!

Here are some other great articles on meal planning: 

What are some things that help you meal plan? For what reasons are you unmotivated to meal plan?

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9:00 am

{ 34 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Donna K February 20, 2012 at 10:34 am

Meal planning is something I’ve gotten better about over the last few years. I work full time, so having this all planned really helps me (and my family of 4).

I have 5 full weeks worth of dinner menu’s all set to go in rotation. It is so much work to set up in the beginning. But so worth it, when it’s completely in place.

I have a spreadsheets all setup with these meal plan ingredients (grocery lists) on it for each week. Whichever week of meals is next, that’s the grocery list I print and make sure I have all I need for the week. I do shop once a week though. Alot of the items like frozen or canned goods are in my stockpile. I usually make my own stock, BBQ sauce and red sauce. So usually all I have to buy is produce, dairy and breads etc, and maybe a few extra’s.

Sunday is usually my planning/prep day for the week. Anything I can do ahead that will make things easier during the workweek (meal-wise), gets done. I usually make notes on the recipes on what I can do ahead of time.

Every once in a while, I’ll revise things and throw in a new recipe or two for something that everyone might be getting tired of. All in all, it’s a system that works pretty well for us (me).


2 Adrea Vandeventer January 8, 2014 at 9:05 pm

Love this idea


3 Melissa February 20, 2012 at 11:29 am

I meal plan almost everyweek. I make it a priority on Sunday because if I don’t, I get home from work at 6:00 and am faced with “what on earth am I going to eat for dinner?”, resulting in something very boring (rice & beans) or very un healthy (a cookie).
I meal plan on by looking in the yard at what needs to be picked and using that for the key ingredient for each dish.


4 Heather :) :) :) February 20, 2012 at 7:13 pm

Oh wow, this is something I struggle with for sure. What kind of containers do you use to keep your meals in the freezer? Love and hugs from the ocean shores of California, Heather 😉


5 Merissa February 21, 2012 at 11:43 am

Right now I just use freezer bags (and I reuse them when I can) but I’d really like to find a good freezer container that works better!


6 Tammy February 21, 2012 at 7:50 pm

I’ve been reading up on meal planning and want to give it a try but my husband does not like to eat a heavy dinner. When I do try to make a “real” dinner, my husband gets exasperated at me because he thinks I am sabotaging his diet. I told him he did not have to eat it if he just wants a bowl of cereal, but the smells coming from the oven have just been too tempting for him (hee hee hee). I’m going to try your method of just planning the entree and not worry about the sides. I may not be in the mood for what was planned and I think that has really been a good part of what has deterred me from jumping in head first.


7 Darlene Kozak April 3, 2012 at 12:14 pm

I fail because i am lazy


8 Patty April 20, 2013 at 10:37 pm

OH, Darlene…I just laughed and laughed. I think I just discovered my reasoning, too!!


9 Erica January 8, 2014 at 11:07 pm



10 williamsmommyof5 January 9, 2014 at 4:55 pm



11 williamsmommyof5 January 9, 2014 at 4:57 pm

Yup! Me too! Straight up lazy

12 Marty Rollo April 3, 2012 at 12:19 pm

I have fibromyalgia and somedays I just cant get up long enough to cook. I have taken to using my food storage on those days. I use lots of dehydrated vegetables and have canned alot of meat. On a rough Fibro day I (or my hubby) can easily open jars and have a nice meal with little to no prep. Yay for casseroles!


13 Alex December 4, 2012 at 7:31 am

Hi Marty,
I too have fibromyalgia. On bad days I don’t even feel like chewing, let alone standing up and cooking. And frozen meals are a great help on bad days. It’s nice to know I’m not alone. 🙂


14 Nichole Hirsch Kuechle April 3, 2012 at 12:22 pm

I commit to meal planning because it makes our life so much easier!


15 Anne Chiarelli April 3, 2012 at 12:30 pm

I fail because my mood can change between the time I plan meals and the time they’re to be served. For example, I can plan on chef salad for Thursday, but if it’s cold and rainy that day I want hot food instead. Or maybe I’ll plan spaghetti for one night only to have it served to me the day before.


16 Prairie Homestead April 3, 2012 at 12:36 pm

The pioneers had to plan ahead — no freezer, no take out, no prepared meals — I feel lazy with my cooking ;(


17 Charity Meyer April 3, 2012 at 12:56 pm

I’ve been a BIG failure at this with this spring season – peeps, goslings and 5 new garden beds. My plan is to sit down tonight and make a two week meal plan so we’re prepared.


18 Rebecca Jolley April 3, 2012 at 1:33 pm

We go in waves. We lost it when I ended up pregnate because I couldn’t deal with food and my husbands is more likely to be digging in the draw for a take out menu at 6:30. Getting back on track as I have more intrest in food.


19 Angie July 25, 2012 at 6:16 am

I never liked meal planning because I didn’t know what I would be in the mood to eat three days from now, so making menu plans seemed really difficult. It is also a lot of work to go through & count how many slices of bread, how much cheese, etc. in all those meals. However, I need to be more frugal than I have been lately, so I committed to doing it “for real” this time. My son actually thought of something that made it easier & a bit more fun. We decided that lunch will be some variation of green salad every day. Then we wrote main dish ideas on strips of paper & he drew one out for each breakfast & dinner. If a complicated breakfast fell on a morning that I work early, then we just changed it to that night’s dinner and picked something else for breakfast. If we chose something like casserole that is more than we’ll eat in one meal, then I put it down again within a couple of days so the leftovers will be sure to get used in time. We opted to just plan main dishes and let sides take care of themselves, although a lot of our main dishes are combination things that don’t necessarily need sides, which also helps make things easier. We decided to let desserts take care of themselves by deciding that we’ll just make a dessert when we (I) have time & energy to do it, and that’s what we’ll have for several nights. It was still a ton of work to figure out what groceries we will need for two weeks, and I’m not sure I really got enough of everything, but it is a learning experience, and I was pleasantly surprised because last night’s grocery bill was less than I expected. 🙂


20 Danielle December 26, 2012 at 2:22 pm

I love meal planning. I base mine on what’s on sale at the store. We do 2 weeks at a time, and don’t always eat what is planned on a certain day, but what we are in the mood for. We save a lot of money by buying on sale, and tend to get a lot of buy one get one (or more) items. Sometimes we have enough food for 3 weeks that way! 🙂


21 Angie January 14, 2013 at 3:20 pm

Haha! I’m coming back here for ideas now because I haven’t done any meal planning for quite a while, and came & saw that I had already commented on it. 🙂 I have to tighten our food budget WAY down, starting a couple of weeks ago. I work in a deli, so the thought of coming home & doing more cooking is not the least bit appealing most days of the week. Spending my day off work in my own kitchen isn’t my favorite thing, either, but I need to do something so that we’ll eat regular meals without spending too much money. Thanks again for posting this!


22 Patty April 20, 2013 at 10:43 pm

I used to plan our meals out for two weeks at a time because my hubby likes to eat DIFFERENT THINGS ALL THE TIME!! He only likes the stand-by ‘soup and sandwich’ in the fall. I realize that I saved so much money because I didn’t buy whatever looked good, but when he lost his job and we knew we had six months of paychecks coming, we started buying whatever was on sale and we had coupons for so we could ‘stock pile’ quickly. It worked, but now that we are both working, I’m thinking that I need to get back to menu planning, so I can be more aware of how much we’re spending. THANK YOU for posting this!!


23 Laura November 9, 2013 at 1:38 pm

I have a meal plan, but it is flexible. If I don’t feel like cooking much that day we swap one day for another and I usually have back up super easy meals just in case (scrambled eggs, ramen, ect). I don’t do all my prep one day a week so I always write on a certain day what needs to be done (make bread, soak beans, stuff like that). It works for my family, but you have to find what works for you and your family.


24 Lori November 12, 2013 at 2:46 pm

I meal plan, but it’s really more a generic plan for four dishes with leftovers. That way it can be tweaked and I don’t feel bad if I grab takeout one night when the kids are heading to sports. Also, I have stuff for meals that include meats that last longer in the fridge–like sausage/bacon or pepperoni.


25 Kristine McAllister January 9, 2014 at 6:12 am

OMG! Did you ever hit the nail on the head with those reasons! I have yet to make meal planning work. Something always happens to make it where it doesn’t fit what is going on that day.


26 Joan Young-Santiago February 5, 2015 at 6:12 pm

I menu plan for the week based on weekly flyers & what I have in the house. For me it doesn’t matter what day I set on paper, I’ll re-arrange if I’m not feeling meatloaf that day, lol


27 CINDY March 26, 2017 at 9:51 pm

When I make our meal plan I look at our other calendar I write down things that will affect what I can make certain days. If I have the grandkids I need to start something in the slowcooker in the AM before they ware me out. I have fibro also so the slowcooker is my friend!


28 Lindsey in AL January 9, 2014 at 8:10 am

I’m never sure what I will want from day to day either. My best solution is to make a list of 7 dinners, lunches, and breakfasts to make for the coming week. Then I can choose what sounds most appealing or what fits in with our schedule from day to day. I still have all the ingredients purchased during my weekly trip. Breakfasts and lunches tend to be the same from week to week but I try not to repeat dinners more than twice a month.


29 Pamela January 9, 2014 at 12:45 pm

I would like to get better at meal planning. However, I find homeschooling and meal planning just too much planning. I often just pull things together haphazardly. Crockpots are good. On Sunday’s, I just want to rest my mind.
Perhaps, I will get better a meal planning. I hope so.


30 Pam Johnstone March 23, 2014 at 8:36 am

Hi all,
This is my first post to your lovely site. I have gained so many great ideas and have become much more motivated with being frugal!
I have attempted meal planning before with little to no success. This has motivated me to try it again.
Great stuff!
Pam Johnstone


31 Amy Jo November 6, 2014 at 2:24 pm

I have a big health problem, and I like to plan ahead for my 9 years old son, with love. I learned to manage my food shopping just like you all but with the limited time. I hate to shop! I will buy lot in the bulks from Sam’s Club, cooked big, serve some and store some either in freezer or in the sturdy plastic containers. Work great for me in a long run.


32 Joan Young-Santiago February 5, 2015 at 6:10 pm

I just found your site thru a link. In terms of menu planning, I love my crockpot and George Foreman grill and double batch cooking. Marinate (you can make from scratch) cheaper cuts of meats . A major key is to have a plan what to do with leftovers! I use leftover steak & cut it on a slant for pepper steak another night. I hope this helps!


33 Elizabeth November 16, 2015 at 3:45 pm

Can someone suggest help for me. I make ahead dinners and freezr them, but my husband gets snacky during the evenings or on weekends and eats my freezer foods. Any suggestions there? I got to where I hate to keep too much on hand, because he will eat them all. Need any ideas, please.


34 Merissa November 16, 2015 at 6:43 pm

I have a special “snack cupboard” in my house, one for the kids and one for the hubby and I try to keep them well stocked so I don’t have too much of an issue with them eating what I’m planning for a meal. 🙂


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