How to meal plan and save some cash

Few questions are as unwelcome or unanswerable (at least in my house) as “What’s for dinner?” Every few months, I make futile attempts to meal plan or grocery shop smarter. I spread out cookbooks, I write down recipes, I make shopping lists, and then everything disappears (it seems) and I am back to my usual chaotic “It’s 4:45 and what are we going to eat again?!”

In these moments, I am much more likely to order pizza or stop by for a supermarket rotisserie chicken. Not only are these choices probably not as healthy as what we could make at home, but they are also more expensive. And at the moment, we need to cut our eating out/convenience food spending as much as possible.

I am no domestic diva, as you have already discovered. But there are plenty of people of who are. And some of them don’t even require googling. Take my mother-in-law, for example. She raised eight children on a tight budget, and I think she came up with a genius idea. Listen to this: She served the same seven meals every week. For instance, Monday was always spaghetti night, Tuesday was always chicken potpie, and so on. It meant her shopping list was the same every single week. Of course, it also means that my husband was burned out on repetition, so we definitely can’t adopt the same policy in our house. But I do think it’s a great idea.

Meal planning options

1. Emergency meals. This is the only kind of meal planning I have done successfully. And it’s not really meal planning at all, but more of a quick, one-time fix to prevent ordering pizza. Basically, post 5-10 meals inside a cupboard door that can be prepared in 30 minutes or less (I say 30 minutes because that’s how long a round trip to pick up prepared food would take in my neck of the woods). These meals should be simple and be composed of items that are shelf-stable or produce that lasts longer like carrots, onions, or frozen vegetables. In addition, always make sure you have that certain list of shelf-stable items present in your pantry. When you feel rushed or overwhelmed, check out the list.

Since we buy half a beef at a time, we always have plenty of ground beef in our freezer. I can quickly thaw ground beef, so it can be part of several of our staple meals. My kids actually prefer casseroles, one-dish skillets, and soups to slabs of meat (which is what my farmer husband prefers), so those meals make up most of our emergency meals. Never underestimate what you can create with a can of beans, diced tomatoes, pasta, or spaghetti sauce.

One of my favorite emergency meals relies on the same basic ingredients. However, by switching up the spices, cheese, and bean type, you can make the meal Mexican- or Italian-style. It’s different enough that it satisfies my husband’s need for variety.

Other emergency meal examples include spaghetti or other types of pasta, soups, and breakfast foods like eggs, pancakes, waffles, and baked oatmeal.

2. Independent menu planning. This is where I fail every time I try, but other people do this with success and claim it has revolutionized their life and their food budget.

Some people use Google calendar for this, others use spreadsheets (find a free template at the bottom of this Unclutterer post), and some people just create a paper grid and fill in the meals. However you do it, highlight the winning recipes and get rid of the duds so you don’t repeat the meals no one likes.

What I’ve heard is that most of us repeat the same 21 meals most of the time. Picking out your standard meals, maybe supplemented with one or two new recipes a month, sounds really easy. Creating a systematic way of doing this is where I fail. But here are some tips to help you:

  • Always menu plan at the same time every week (if planning weekly).
  • Create a generic shopping list with items that you get every time you shop (milk, bananas, etc.) and fill in the rest of the shopping list based on your meal plan.
  • If it works for you, create a basic framework of meals. For instance, Meatless Mondays, Chicken Tuesdays, Pasta Wednesdays, Slow Cooker Thursdays, and Clean-Out-The-Fridge-Fridays. Then it narrows down which type of meal you need to cook.
  • On busy nights, plan for quick meals.
  • Cook once, eat twice. For instance, plan for Roasted chicken on Tuesday and then chop the leftover chicken up and give it new life in Chicken Fettucine on Wednesday.
  • Maybe you want to meal plan based on the food you need to use up. If so, I use because I can put in an ingredient I want to use up (like cilantro) and find recipes that include that ingredient.
  • Mark off the days that you won’t be home. This is a no-brainer, but I think this is one of my main problems: We don’t need all the meals I plan. One solution is to only plan for 4 to 5 dinners a week to allow for other plans that may pop up unexpectedly or lots of food leftovers.

3. Paid subscription services. Google “menu planning” and you will find paid subscription services that vary in their scope (although it seems like the pricing is fairly similar between the different companies).

Emeals and $5 Meal Plan are examples. You can pick from many types of meal plans (paleo, slow cooker, clean eating, etc.) and they will give you recipes, meal plans and shopping lists for at least $5 per month. Plan to eat is another one. In this case, you put in your own recipes (or use other members’ recipes). By dragging and dropping the specific recipes you want, your menu plan and shopping list are then created. It is normally $4.95/month, but they will run a Black Friday sale for 50% off a yearly subscription, starting November 28.

Do you have any meal planning tips to share?

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There are 62 comments to "How to meal plan and save some cash".

  1. FI Pilgrim says 02 December 2013 at 04:29

    My wife an I talk about this frequently. She loves to meal plan but doesn’t always get around to it. I love eating meals that she’s planned for, but when I hear “um.. I’ll have to see what’s in the fridge” at 5:30 in the afternoon I want to go out to dinner pronto.

    Saving money in this area is easy for us if we’ve made a meal plan, and posting it on the fridge for the entire week ahead make it easy to look forward to!

  2. Money Saving says 02 December 2013 at 05:20

    These are great tips. One awesome thing that helps us is that my wife’s favorite thing to eat is baked potatoes. I can fix them with ~2 mins prep time and about 10 mins of microwave time.

    Ask you SO – there could be meals they really enjoy that are quick, “emergency” type things to fix in a crunch.

  3. Rose says 02 December 2013 at 05:56

    I plan the meals on Saturday for the following week. I look at the grocery store ads and go to no more than two stores. I found that I routinely save about $25-$30 per week at least by doing this. Plus I have the added benefit of controlling my weight better. My kids are required to make a meal each week (they are teenagers) so it relieves one task from this busy Mom.

  4. Kay says 02 December 2013 at 06:25

    I plan meals for the week (and sometimes more) and make my grocery list in about 30 minutes each week. Here are some tips that work for me:

    – My husband and I use Google Calendars to keep track of our schedules, important dates, etc. I created a new calendar called “Dinners” and just jot down the main course in each date. The default setting makes it an “all day” event, but that doesn’t matter — what matters is that it’s easy, I can drag and drop to rearrange them, my husband can always see what he has to look forward to each night, and I have a historical record of what I’ve made when I need ideas. This keeps me from repeating the same thing every week and helps me plan a variety of protein options, cuisine types, and vegetables, so we eat well and aren’t bored.

    – Another benefit of using Calendar: I can instantly see what days are busy or have other events, and plan meals accordingly. Plus, I can access the Calendar from any device, so I can call home to ask someone to move the pork to the fridge to thaw, for example.

    – I used to be a devoted coupon shopper, but in an effort to simplify my life, I focus instead on sales at the grocery store I prefer. They run 2 week sales, so when I get the flyer, I use it to guide what we’ll be eating for the next couple of weeks.

    – I make my shopping lists at the computer, too. I keep a text file open as I look at recipes, jot down the items I need, then rearrange the final list items in the order I walk through the store. If I need to stop and pick up fresh items on a later date, that note goes right into the calendar.

    – Cook once, eat twice. We’re not fans of leftovers the next day, so extra dinner servings or prepped ingredients are packaged and tucked in the freezer.

    I’ve needed a couple of major surgeries in the past three years, and tweaking this method a little allowed my family to take over the shopping and cooking with little stress. I bought extra ingredients and cooked double amounts for some meals leading up to my surgery, put meals on the calendar for the full time I expected to be off my feet, and prepared shopping lists for those weeks. It was very little extra effort for me and added as little work for them as possible while I recuperated.

  5. Brian@ Debt Discipline says 02 December 2013 at 06:40

    I like the same 7 meals each week. It takes the guess work out of it and makes shopping easier. Keeping the quick meals 30 mins or less on hand, our staple is taco’s, is key to avoiding ordering out and spending that $25-30.

    • Hoping to Adopt says 02 December 2013 at 08:27

      I like to cook up a few pounds of ground beef at one time, and then freeze it in meal-sized portions. For taco meat, I like to mix the ground beef with beans or refried beans, then add the seasoning. On a busy week night, you just have to heat up the meat and pull the taco fixings out of the fridge.

  6. Sam says 02 December 2013 at 06:48

    I suck at meal planning, grocery shopping and cooking. Mr. Sam does more grocery shopping and cooking than I do, but he is sporadic. As a result, we order in and eat out a lot. I’d really like to do better on this front, if I could cook even a couple of meals per week that would be an improvement. I’d like to make this a 2014 non monetary goal.

    • Priswell says 02 December 2013 at 08:09

      Start with the cooking. You can’t meal plan or be a ninja shopper until you have some basic meals you can do well.

      Start with one thing that you’d really love to know how to cook, and add one meal at a time until you know how to do 5 meals well so that you have midweek meals covered.

      • Renee s says 05 December 2013 at 11:59

        Good suggestion–I am similar to Sam. I need to just start simple! Thank you 🙂

  7. Jessica says 02 December 2013 at 06:49

    The thing I do that really helps is to write the meals on a chalkboard in the kitchen with the date they will be cooked. Then, each week, I take a picture of the chalkboard and put these pictures in a special folder on my phone. That way, if I’m looking for dinner ideas, I can easily flip through and see what I made.

    Now that I’ve got about a dozen solid dishes under my belt, I plan the meals Saturday (with a quick flip through my pictures/some websites/cookbooks), hit the farmers market & grocery store Sunday morning, and then cook at least 2 large meals Sunday night–one for us to eat Monday night (when I work), and one for my husband to eat for lunch during the week. I always, always make enough for three meals, not one. After three servings of the same stuff, you’re satisfied with it. After four, you can’t look at it.

  8. snarkfinance says 02 December 2013 at 06:59

    Man oh man do my wife and I struggle with this… we try to save money on food, but end up eating the same things week after week mostly as a result of our attempts to save money. I have tried recipes off Early Retirement Extreme type sites and forums, and they bear more a resemblance to a hamster’s diet than something a human would eat. Perhaps I will try the paid subscription service…

    • Renee s says 05 December 2013 at 12:02

      Snark–I tried a subscription service and although the meals sounded good and the service made the recipes look easy…I still didn’t do any of them, haha. Maybe that’s my own laziness? That could be. Maybe you will do better! Good luck 🙂

  9. ONE EC says 02 December 2013 at 07:01

    One twist I have done on meal planning is check a cookbook out of the library and work my way through it, there are tons of family meals, dinner in 30 minutes, 1 bag of groceries books. They will have weekly meal plans, grocery lists, recipes, instructions, etc all in one place. They are usually divided into seasons, so I can use a season from 2 or 3 of the books and have it covered, then start again.

  10. Matt @ YLBody says 02 December 2013 at 07:07

    Use the seasons to your advantage. There is a reason certain fruits and vegetables are cheaper during certain times of the year – it’s because they’re in abundance and farms have plenty of them!

    Also, forget the supermarket. Check out the farmer’s market towards the end. Often times you can bargain with the farmer as they’re trying to get rid of what they can and you can get more for your buck.

    One thing you shouldn’t do when it comes to food is to sacrifice your health at the concept of trying to save money. Don’t buy some crappy refined carbohydrates just because it saves you money. Your body will thank you down the road.

    • El Nerdo says 02 December 2013 at 12:23

      Speaking of seasons, and non-crappy-refined carbs, sweet potatoes (or yams or whatever people call them) are plentiful right now.

      Roast a full pan in the oven at 400 for about an hour (you know they are ready when you smell the caramel) and keep in the fridge for the week to eat as a side for main dishes, as a fill for fritattas, even as a dessert with some nuts, honey, and cinnamon. Awesome staple.

      • stellamarina says 02 December 2013 at 13:33

        Just want to add that sweet potatoes can be easily boiled and used just like potatoes….I say this because as a Kiwi this was the usual way but many Americans do not seem to realize that sweet potatoes can be used in other ways than sweet type preparations. I love them roasted as well but left over boiled sweet potatoes cut up and fried with onions with an egg is a lovely easy meal. Add a bit of Portuguese sausage and it is fabulous.

      • Lisa Aberle says 02 December 2013 at 14:21

        Oh, sweet potatoes! I cook up a batch, but I make breakfast smoothies out of them. I think it’s one of the most delicious smoothies I’ve ever had, though my husband does not agree!
        Autumn Sweet Potato Smoothie
        1 c. red grapes
        1/2 medium orange, peeled
        1/2 sweet potato, cooked and cooled
        1/2 apple, seeded
        1/4 c. fresh or frozen cranberries
        1/2 t. fresh ginger
        2 dates
        2 c. ice


  11. Courtney says 02 December 2013 at 07:56

    I menu plan on Thursday evening every week, usually while waiting on my daughter at dance class. Meal planning is the biggest way that I save money on eating real, whole foods. Also, when we make soup, we always make extra and freeze it so we have an easy meal on those “what’s for dinner?” nights.

  12. El Nerdo says 02 December 2013 at 08:32

    No way I’ll pay for recipes in an era of free massive internet databases.

    What I’d recommend instead of “recipes” is to master a few cooking methods (grilling, frying, baking, boiling, sandwiches, smoothies, ha ha).

    This is winter, so let’s say: stew (a mix of frying and boiling). *They all work the same.*

    -Brown your meat in whatever fat you like (olive oil, canola, lard, bacon drippings, whatever). Put aside.

    -Fry your onion & flavor veggies (peppers, celery, mushrooms, etc) with the garlic last as you don’t want to burn it

    -Add spices (chili powder, cumin, paprika, whatever.)

    -Add your thick liquids such as crushed tomato, liquefied cilantro, whatever and scrape the bottom so it doesn’t burn.

    -Add herbs like bay leaf, oregano, thyme, whatever you like

    -Put back meats & toss well

    -Add liquids such as water, broth, beer, wine, cognac, etc.

    -Touch up the seasoning

    -Slow cook for several hours or pressure-cook for about 1.


    All stews are basically the same from a texas chili to a beef bourguignon with variations and omissions of course but if you get the basic idea you can do all of them easy or invent your own without recipes and then maybe you want to add this first or that later and it’s up to you.

    You make a lot, put in freezer bags, and it’s easy to reheat in 10′, no need to make a new thing every day.

    If all this sounds too hard then make some ramen+beaten eggs+veggies+cooked meat=teh win.

    • ONE EC says 02 December 2013 at 10:16

      Agree with not paying, a little google-fu will provide you with lots of free meal planning sites. Yahoo Shine has a weekly menu, as does, there are a ton of “mom blogs” that post weekly meal plans.

  13. Peter Bülls says 02 December 2013 at 08:52

    In my experience, people who eat out a lot – especially at work – severy overestimate the the variety they actually use. While a staff canteen or restaurants offer a lot of different meals, many are just minuscule variations of each other or repetitive and people tend to chose stuff they already know.

    While the 7-day-cycle mentioned in the article is pretty restrictive, a 28 days cycle would probably offer a wider variety.

    Also, it’s not really necessary to constantly hunt for bargains w/ regards to perishable items: Vegetables have seasons, which are not that hard to track.

  14. Laura says 02 December 2013 at 09:02

    I am easily bored, so I plan our meals each weekend before I go grocery shopping. I pull out my calendar to see which nights are busy, so I can plan easy or easier meals, or just let everyone know that they’re on their own for dinner that night. Then I sit down with a cookbook or two and select my menues, and write down the menu for each evening on a piece of paper, which is tacked to the fridge, so everyone can answer the “what’s for dinner?” question. My grocery list is based on that menu. This is the way my mom taught me to plan, and I’ve never figured out how anyone can do their grocery shopping if they don’t know what they plan to eat! We usually have leftovers that become lunches, and I also buy some extra salad fixings or cold cuts for lunches.

  15. Bree says 02 December 2013 at 09:13

    I use the Ziplist app religiously when meal planning – it has a meal planning function that I can export to my Google Calendar, and it can also “clip” recipes from the internet and add ingredients to my shopping list. Then I just use the app on my phone whenever I’m shopping.

    • Erin says 03 December 2013 at 19:40

      We use this too, and it’s made meal planning SO much easier.

      I don’t actually keep my recipes there, but instead list ‘meals’ as recipes, with a list of things I need to buy for each one (so enchiladas includes rice and beans as well as enchilada ingredients).

      Every week we scroll through the pictures, pick out meals (I write them on a little white board that hangs on our fridge), and I add them to the planner, then auto-add ingredients to my grocery list.

      It’s super easy and fast, and the list of meals helps us come up with ideas.

      We also do one new recipe a week – we do it with friends who also cook the same recipe, which encourages us and keeps us going. We only like maybe a quarter of them enough to make them again, but it’s a good way to expand our repertoire.

      We have probably 40 recipes by now, 20 or so of which we make regularly (every other week or so) and 20 of which we scatter in when we feel like them.

  16. Jeremy Reeves says 02 December 2013 at 09:16

    I love to cook, my main problem is always making too much. I usually hope that it will freeze well or that i can eat it every day. I hope i can plan as well as this in the future though. Any savings are good!

  17. Sarah says 02 December 2013 at 09:33

    Frozen vegetables! So often I buy fresh veggies with the best intentions only to forget about them rotting away in the fridge. Such a terrible waste!

    We stock up on all different varieties and they are ready to supplement any meal in just a few minutes. Experiment with roasting them, sauteing them, or making quick sauces to dress them up.

    We still buy fresh when I have something specific in mind, but frozen veggies are such a mindlessly easy way to get healthy stuff on the table every night.

    • Lisa Aberle says 02 December 2013 at 14:23

      I do the same thing: buy fresh veggies that sometimes go to waste. Ironically, I just got home from a trip to the store – and bought mostly frozen veggies this time.

  18. PawPrint says 02 December 2013 at 09:37

    You brought back memories of my childhood when Wednesday night was spaghetti night. Since my mom worked (relatively unusual in the 50s), and she was the cook, we did a 5 day rotation. On the weekends, she’d do something different, as I recall. My father made the turkey soup following Thanksgiving and Christmas, however.

  19. Mrs EconoWiser says 02 December 2013 at 10:32

    I am addicted to freezer cooking. Whenever I make an oven dish or soup or something that’s easy to freeze I’ll make 8 severings instead of 2. This way I get to freeze 6 servings. The trick is to remember to take 2 servings out of the freezer in the morning. I have a great supply. This week I only have to cook once, the rest of the evenings I’ll only have to microwave the stuff I cooked previously. It’s a time and money saver. It also saves lots and lots of stress. Plus, it’s a lot healthier. I even make my own pizzas and freeze them. I wrap them in baking paper and put a plastic bag around them. That way they’re freezable if you will. So whenever we really want some pizza, they’re right there in the freezer! You’ll need to invest in a lot of plastic containers…but they’re probably available at your Dollar Tree kind of stores. Good luck!

  20. Jess says 02 December 2013 at 10:46

    I try off and on to plan – made pre-set shopping lists with boxes to check off if I needed that item (organized as best I could by section of the supermarket), spaces for lunches, dinners, and “extracurriculars” (aka, nights I might not be able to cook). I had mixed results – I mostly just like reading cookbooks!

    I have trouble planning and executing during the holiday season, in part because my second job eats up most of my weeknights and the majority of my weekend days (and hubby doesn’t like to cook, and didn’t seem super thrilled with a theme-day rotation for meals when I brought it up a couple years ago).

    I do have a slow cooker cookbook that needs some exercise, though. I think I’ll take a look through tonight and see what I can come up with!

  21. nicoleandmaggie says 02 December 2013 at 10:58
  22. Tyler Karaszewski says 02 December 2013 at 11:48

    Haha, the notion that spending 30 minutes cooking is for an “emergency meal” is pretty funny to me. Around here, that’s an elaborate meal. Yesterday I had a sandwich for dinner. I only make about half a dozen different things for dinner, and generally they don’t take any more than 10 minutes of work. I always keep plenty of extra ingredients for these things on hand. If I want something fancy, I’ll go out.

    • Lisa Aberle says 02 December 2013 at 14:26

      Ah, yes, but I may not be cooking the entire 30 minutes (pasta cooking, soup simmering, etc. while I am doing something else).
      But there isn’t a reason to complicate things, for sure.

  23. Laura says 02 December 2013 at 12:25

    What I need is to learn more slow cooker recipes; I’ve only mastered two (beef stew and shredded BBQ pork). My problem is that I often get stuck late at work – and when I’ll get stuck is unpredictable, as the problem is half my work flow and half the absolutely wretched public transit system in Boston – so even when I’ve planned dinner, I get home 60-90 minutes later than expected and the troops are ready to eat ME when I walk in the door! This is why we go out so frequently… (And no, making DH or DS do the cooking is not an option, lovely a fantasy as that is; at least what I make is edible, unlike their few “experiments”.) Our other option is frozen entrees and sandwiches. Lots of sandwiches.

    • cathleen says 02 December 2013 at 12:44

      i would suggest taking a cooking class all together as a family!

      Another suggestion for the people who don’t like to “cook” is to think “assembly”.
      A couple of ideas that anyone can do, without really cooking:

      Salad bar
      Pasta Bar
      Homemade pizza *(buy dough and grab ingredients from salad bar if you must)
      Tapas or antipasti platters (meats, cheeses, pepers, olives, veggies)

      Since you like sandwiches, get a panini machine or grill pan with press. Set up sandwich bar. Even a humble sandwich tastes better toasted.

      As for slow cookers, set a reminder on your phone or computer to remind you to prep the dish the night before and put it in the fridge to take out the next day.

      I just bought “The French Slow Cooker” and love it. Still easy but doesn’t use processed foods like canned soups etc.

    • kate says 02 December 2013 at 12:56

      Can your family start the meal that you’ve already made/planned?

      When I was a kid (middle- and high-school), I did a lot of that on the days my mom worked. Start the pasta water boiling, pre-heat the oven and put the caserole in at the appointed time, make a salad, etc. My sister and I would come home to a note on the kitchen table with detailed instructions. For example, my mom would make a lasagna after dinner on Tuesday night and put it in the fridge. On Wednesday, we’d get home from school at 3:30, pre-heat the oven at 4pm, put the lasagna in at 4:30, set the table and make a salad, and dinner would be on the table shortly after our parents got home at 6. Or, chop the lettuce and tomatoes and whatever else for tacos, so mom just had to brown the beef when she walked in the door. Put the potatoes in the oven and dinner was a baked potato bar. Easy peasy.

      • Donna Freedman says 02 December 2013 at 19:41

        Cranky Old Lady alert….:
        Kids are actually much more capable than they seem to be allowed to be these days. When my oldest sibling turned 11, our mom decreed that we should come home after school instead of walking to a sitter’s house.
        That was the point at which much of the meal prep fell to us. These were not rocket-science meals, mind you — baked chicken, meat loaf, chili, spaghetti, hamburgers, sloppy joes, chicken and dumplings, beef stew and the like — but we did the whole typical-for-that-era meal of main dish, starch (usually some form of potato) and at least one vegetable, plus dessert. All of it was homemade because my mom would have looked askance at any prefab foods.
        Guess what? Major knife cuts or disfiguring burns did NOT result. We’d been watching/helping in the kitchen for years anyway, so all we had to do was transfer that knowledge to the stove.
        Put another way: Some middle-schoolers aren’t even allowed to microwave brownies (ick) by themselves. When I was 11 years old I was rolling out homemade pie crust.
        Teach your kids to do their part — after all, they will have to fend for themselves one day. Knowing how to cook when you leave the nest is a HUGE budget-booster.
        Encourage them to look up free recipe sources for the foods they like/would like to try. This is especially true for kids who are interested in vegetarianism or veganism — instead of saying, “But what would you EAT?” say “That sounds intriguing. Let’s look up some foods that the whole family could enjoy and we’ll prepare them together.”

        • Priswell says 03 December 2013 at 06:36

          Exactly! My mom worked, and at 11, I was making Shake & Bake chicken, meatloaf and spaghetti sauce. By the time I was 16, I ran the whole kitchen.

          Now as an adult, out of all of the skills I have, I am exceptionally grateful that being able to cook is one of them.

        • Laura says 03 December 2013 at 08:53

          I would love to get DH and DS interested in cooking, but I don’t see it happening in this universe. DH is infamous for “substituting” in recipes, like using water instead of butter and eggs in a cake mix (hint: flour + water = glue), and creating his own instructions instead of following the recipe’s because “it’s too much bother.” DS will literally go hungry rather than fix himself food thanks to the joys of certain developmental delays. I fix meals or we eat out or we eat frozen entrees/sandwiches or we starve.

        • Renee s says 05 December 2013 at 12:11

          My parents were great and I learned a lot from them BUT cooking was not a thing that I learned. I’m 25 and know some basics, but I have followed my families habits and go out/order in WAY too often. It’s not new years yet, but I am starting my resolution now to start cooking at my apartment.

  24. cathleen says 02 December 2013 at 12:35

    My best advice (as a restaurant owner and wife to a chef) would be to learn techniques, not recipes. Then you can cook anything you have on hand.

    Stock basic staples (different for each family) so you don’t have to run out for 1 or 2 ingredients

    Buy what’s on sale and cook “from the pantry”.

    Cook seasonally for best value and nutrition.

    Experiment with different cuisines and ingredients.

    Shop at local “ethnic” markets. Huge price savings in my area. Also, farmer’s markets, CSAs to expand your “mystery box” skills.

    Have a garden, even just the basics, if possible. I live in the SF Bay Area so we grow all our own citrus (no work) and all of our herbs plus a few veggies. Lettuces and broccoli during the winter.

    Use a software program like “Mealfire” or “my recipes” so you have access to your recipes with your phone when you are in the market.

    Don’t stereotype about who does the cooking!

  25. erica says 02 December 2013 at 13:09

    Binders of recipes!

    My spouse developed a food-based allergy several years ago but it took awhile to determine the exact culprit. In the meantime, we had to pull lots of different things from our diets and it became easiest to learn how to cook! We started keeping binders of recipes that we’d printed off the internet and working our way through those. Every Saturday morning I determine our recipes for the week and make a grocery list. We cook on Sunday and eat the same thing all week.

  26. SAHMama says 02 December 2013 at 13:31

    Mama doesn’t have time for fancy meals around here. Plus I live with little kids and picky eaters.

    Meals I regularly make include:
    homemade pizza (dough takes maybe 10 minutes of messing with; rest is rising time)
    grilled cheese (takes 5 minutes and even my DH can do it)
    mac & cheese
    shredded pork/chicken/beef
    spaghetti & meatballs (I make a huge batch of meatballs and freeze them every few months)
    fried rice
    tuna casserole

  27. Andrea says 02 December 2013 at 13:32

    On the weekend I make double (or triple) batches of food. We freeze one meal and eat the other during the week. Do this for a few weeks and you will have decent size freezer inventory. I also freeze items in flat foodsaver bags as those shapes defrost rather quickly. Also the foodsaver bags can be boiled on the stove in a pot of water to warm up (even from frozen). I have done this with bbq chicken and burger patties and they taste great. Love this topic.

  28. Emily @ evolvingPF says 02 December 2013 at 14:18

    I tried meal planning for a few months last winter in conjunction with once-per-week shopping and it didn’t work so well for me. I ended up over-buying food because I overestimated my needs and wouldn’t let myself run out of anything since I was trying to not run to the store. Before that experiment and since I just batch-cook and eat the same thing for a few days in a row (I don’t mind the monotony). I like that more than planning in advance because I can take advantage of seasonal foods.

  29. Jamie@SoyMilkMustache says 02 December 2013 at 16:06

    I’ve settled into a routine that works well for me and my dude: Every Sunday morning, we take about two hours to drink mimosas and make a week’s worth of food together– Sometimes it is a casserole, sometimes it is a crockpot meal, and sometimes it’s more random– Like, yesterday we made a ton of falafel balls, hummus, and cucumber/tomato/feta salad.

    These meals will either be our dinners for the week, or our lunches. Usually dinners, since we can throw together lunches pretty easily.

    Of course, this means that we eat the same thing every day for five days (the work-week), but usually it’s something that we can mix and match to make slightly-varying meals (Think Mexican food).

    For quick emergency meals: (1) whole wheat pasta, (2) salad, (3)eggs. (We eat eggs all the time if we need something fast and filling.)

  30. Michele says 03 December 2013 at 06:37

    My husband is the one in charge of the meal planning and most of the cooking (hurray!). One thing we’ve done recently that works well is having extremely easy foods on hand for nights when he doesn’t feel like cooking. We keep about six cans of Campbell’s soup and a three-pack of frozen pizzas from Sam’s Club. It’s worked really well for the one night a week we need it. Previously, we were so hung up on not eating “junk” that we’d just go out to eat on those nights — therefore consuming more fat and calories than what’s in soup or frozen pizza.

    • Mom of five says 03 December 2013 at 07:01

      We take a similar approach. We’ve found it’s better for us to keep a supply of these foods in our home. Not only are they probably healthier (read less unhealthy) than the Chinese food or cheesesteaks from the place on the corner, they’re also a good bit cheaper.

  31. Mom of five says 03 December 2013 at 06:57

    When one of our adopted kids was in the throes of attachment issues, frozen pizza and scrambled eggs were about all I could emotionally or physically handle without having a nervous breakdown. Even the thought of going out to pick up takeout was too much for me.

    Life is much more normal these days and somewhat hectic. My husband and I have to watch our sodium and our carbs. What I try to do is cook up a fair amount of chicken breasts at the beginning of the week. These can be used in a variety of different easy meals. Once the chicken is all cooked, chicken and broccoli (in a light white sauce), chicken fajitas, and chicken pot pie are all super easy, 10 minutes or less of prep time.

    Sometimes I’ll make tacos and we’ll usually eat them for two or three days until they’re all gone. Also, often I make meatballs, cook them, and then freeze them. My boys will come home famished from practice and just heat up some meatballs in a little spaghetti sauce. I try to make them eat salad with dinner with varying degrees of success, but pretty much all of them will eat celery with peanut butter or broccoli with ranch dressing. I figure that way they’re getting a balanced (enough) diet.

    Quiches – or as they’re known in my house, “scrambled egg pies” – are great, easy prep, one dish meals that usually get finished up for breakfast the next morning.

    And some nights, like last night, when we were all sick with a coldish/flu sort of thing, I’ll open up a few cans of soup. We ate soup and we all went right to bed. Sodium be darned – we’re sick!

  32. Marie-Josée says 03 December 2013 at 08:03

    In order to avoid food allergies, we rotate our protein sources for dinner. Monday is fish, Tuesday chicken, Wednesday is pork, Thursday is beef, Friday is turkey. These are interchangeable, of course. We create recipes around the protein source and eat the leftovers for lunch. We have green smoothies with lunch. These cover our raw green veggies for the day, plus the wonderful anitoxidants from berries. We make two batches of soup per week, made from different yellow and green veggies (broc or kale, sweet potatoes or squash, always with onions or leeks and different herbs or spices). These covers our cooked veggie requirements. No smoothies or soups during the weekend. Lovely salads, homemade pizza, take-out ethnical foods such as thai or lebanese food. This gives us a break from our weekly menu. We use the BBQ daily in the summer and cook more hearty meals in the winter, which takes a bit of the monotony out of our meals. Prepping our food is time consuming, but prepping each seperate dinner takes less than 30 minutes. I agree with a previous commentor, people need to learn basic cooking skills (technique) and then they can compose meals with what they have on hand. We buy organic, fresh produce. Food is our biggest expense – we feel it is worth it for our health and our planet’s health too.

  33. Tiffany says 03 December 2013 at 08:43

    My local newspaper publishes a food section once a week that includes 7 days of suppers, including the recipes for those meals and the grocery list of ingredients. I’ve looked at them and they are pretty frugal choices with a good variety, plus many of the meals use/reuse the same ingredients. If nothing else it gives you ideas!

  34. Catherine says 03 December 2013 at 12:28

    I do a meal plan each week and post it on the fridge. I’m out of the house from 5:30-6:30 every weekday, and my partner typically doesn’t get home until 7 or even 8, so if we want to eat dinner at a decent hour, we HAVE to have a plan. That gives us a lot of motivation.

    In addition to the weekly meal plan, we do a big batch cook Saturday every couple of months and fill up the freezers with different soups, casseroles, etc. Most weeks I plan on pulling 3-4 meals from the freezer, then supplementing with something cooked on the weekend. During the week I try not to have to do more than reheat an entree and cook some vegetables or make a salad.

    For us, the batch cooking is really key to keeping things varied without getting bogged down in a lot of cooking and kitchen cleanup during the week. I would seriously recommend giving it a try!

  35. Ronald W says 04 December 2013 at 13:23

    My fiance and I like to shop for two weeks worth of food at a time. We’ve noticed a significant difference in the grocery bill since we’ve stopped shopping throughout the week for individual meals. It saves us a lot of time aswell!

  36. Amber says 04 December 2013 at 13:28

    I have a menu board that has been neglected in my kitchen. I don’t know why I haven’t used it yet. It would make life so much easier. Thanks for the reminder!

  37. Randy C. says 04 December 2013 at 13:33

    Adding a quick meal list to the cabinet is a great idea. I know I would definitely use that when I get home late and don’t want to order fatty delivery.

  38. Jordan says 04 December 2013 at 13:45

    I like to keep track of the different meals that I cook by writing them down on my iPad and taking a picture. It helps when I can’t decide what kind of dinner I would like to make.

  39. Joshua says 04 December 2013 at 13:51

    I’v never tried online meal planning. I wouldn’t mind trying one of those sites to see what kind of delicious meals I can make! Thank you for the helpful tips!

  40. Cassie says 04 December 2013 at 19:58

    One thing I like to do is prep the ingredients for dinners in advance. As I’m putting away the groceries, I’ll chop the vegetables and anything else I can in advance. Then when I get home from work later that week it’s a lot easier to make dinner. Dinner doesn’t take as long to make each night because most of the prep work is already done.

  41. Nancy says 06 December 2013 at 09:39

    I keep recipes I’ve collected on my computer in a web program called Evernote. Then I can search based on a key ingredient or a tag word. Chicken thighs on sale? Kale to use up before it’s past its prime? Time for a meatless meal? Being able to search recipes quickly really helps me plan meals and prevent wasting food.

  42. Jennifer says 06 December 2013 at 13:32

    Hey, just wanted to add my quick two cents and let you guys know, there are tons of websites that cater to people that aren’t sure what to eat with what they have. Sites like recipepuppy, you can take what you have in your pantry and then hit submit and it gives you recipes based on your pantry items. From there if you don’t have something, you can base your grocery list off of the things you need to make those meals. Hope it helps!:D

  43. leisurelyviking says 29 December 2013 at 20:45

    I really love the app Pepperplate. I can import all my recipes and easily add their ingredients to a shopping list accessible from a phone app. It organizes the list by aisles at the grocery store so that you can check them off. I tend to bookmark recipes I want to try, and once I decide I like something I’ll add it to pepperplate.

  44. Shiv Sharma says 10 April 2014 at 05:22

    Nice tips to keep health in good conditions…I follow the same…

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