Frugal Meal Planning 101

For many households, food can be one of the highest monthly expenses (second to rent or mortgage). Fortunately, there are several tricks to slashing your grocery bill while still maintaining a healthy diet.  Meal planning is one technique, and you may find it works well for your family. If you have never tried to reduce your food bill before, this may be a good place to start. You can begin by just planning meals for one week, and try increasing this to two weeks to help limit the number of trips you make to the grocery store.

First, draw up a chart for each day of the week Sunday-Saturday. Next, list a week’s worth of breakfasts for your family. Here’s an example of one week worth of breakfasts for our household:
Sunday: Banana Nut Waffles
Monday: Scrambled Eggs and Whole Wheat Toast
Tuesday: English Muffins with Peanut Butter
Wednesday: French Toast and Sausage
Thursday: Homemade Granola Cereal
Friday: Breakfast Burritos – scrambled eggs, cheddar cheese, and sausage wrapped in a whole grain tortilla
Saturday: Pancakes and Low Sodium Bacon
(We usually drink orange juice, water, or hot tea)
Next, draw up the same chart, but list lunch items for one week. Here’s an example from our household:
Sunday: Grilled Cheese Sandwich and Tomato Soup
Monday: Tuna Melt on Whole Wheat Bread, Apple, and Fat Free Yogurt
Tuesday: Mini Pizza on Whole Grain Tortilla
Wednesday: Bean Burrito with fat free refried beans, cheddar cheese, and salsa
Thursday: Grilled Chicken Caesar Salad
Friday: Loaded Baked Potato with leftover chili, cheddar cheese, and low fat sour cream
Saturday: Leftover Homemade Buffalo Chicken Pizza
(we usually drink seltzer water, juice, or hot tea)
Getting hungry yet?  Another tip — Do not do the grocery shopping when you are hungry. The best time to go is after you have had a good meal, or at least a snack to tide you over. Why? When you are hungry, you are much more likely to pick up impulse purchases which can wreck havoc on your food budget!
Now it’s time to think about dinner.  Here’s a one week example from our household:
Sunday: Broiled Salmon, Brown Rice, and Green Beans
Monday: Blackened Cajon Pork Chop, Roasted Potatoes, Honey Glazed Carrots
Tuesday: London Broil, Baked Potato, and Petite Peas
Wednesday: Beef Fajitas, Spanish Rice, and Fat Free Refried Beans
Thursday: Homemade Chili with Corn Bread
Friday:  Lemon Pepper Chicken, Brown Rice, Broccoli
Saturday: Homemade Buffalo Chicken Pizza
(we usually drink water, skim milk, or hot tea)
The next step is to the list the ingredients for the week onto a shopping list, and compare your list to the items you already have in your refrigerator, pantry, or freezer. Try to only buy what you need so no food is wasted. Cross off whatever items you already have at home, and the remaining items will become your official shopping list for the week. 
Tip — Some ingredients can be used for more than one dish. For example, our family rarely finishes a London Broil in one dinner, so the leftover meat is used for Beef Fajitas the next evening. Similarly, we usually have some leftover pizza from dinner, so we will have this for lunch the following afternoon. You may want to try cooking a slightly larger dinner and having leftovers for lunch the next day.
Have you tried meal planning? I would love to hear from you! Leave a comment and share your stories with us!


  1. Valerie, I love your blog! I am going to try and plan next week’s meals ahead of time. Wish me luck! Debbie

  2. We do menu planning too. We actually just started at the beginning of the month and have only steered away twice (forgot to thaw the turkey on sunday). We use and I add our dinner menus to our regular calendar. I can then make my grocery list according to my menus. It’s so easy and was glad to see you post about it! My next step is to tackle doing breakfast/lunch menus, but since some of us are at school/work during the day I’m putting this off a bit. Thanks again and I love reading your blog!

  3. brentandsarah says

    I really like to meal plan b/c it takes away the stress of the daily, “oh no what to have for supper!” B/c I live 45 mins from the nearest bigger stores I plan a months worth of meals and then go one time and do all the grocery shopping. I recently discovered the website and have saved a lot using their coupons.

  4. Jenny Henny says

    I took baby steps – for about three years I was meal planning for a weeks worth of meals, then just a few weeks ago, I started planning and shopping for two weeks. I can’t believe how much money I’m saving from going to the store twice a month instead of four times.

  5. Under The Hood says

    just talking about meal planning with my hubby this past weekend. Thanks for sharing yours! Would you mind giving me your mini pizza and bbq pizza recipes please?

  6. I just found your blog and wanted to say great meal planning tips! It’s so true about the importance of listing out your lunches and dinners…and not grocery shopping when you’re hungry! ;o)

    Have a lovely week!


  7. Valerie Deneen says

    Debbie, good luck with your meal planning, and please keep us updated with how you do!

    Tory,I have used Cozi before, but I never thought to use it for meal planning.. GREAT idea!!

    Sarah, I have never been to couponloop, but I am on my way to check it out…. thanks for passing it along!

  8. Valerie Deneen says

    Jenny, we started with once a week and increased to two as well. Once I saw how much we were really saving, I was so motivated to try to make once a month shopping work. You can save so much money by avoiding the store!

    Under the Hood, you have given me a great idea for a future post dedicated to homemade pizza!

    Kelly, I am so happy you found the blog…

    Your comments have made my day!! 🙂

  9. Lovingmama says

    We plan for a 10 days and try to avoid the grochery store until the 10th day. We also joined a local plow share group and pick up a bag of local, organic, in season veggies and fruits from a local farm for a yearly membership fee. It has kept variety and healthy foods a main priority in our diet.

  10. We are doing better trying to shop once a month – we still have some small runs here and there…but I think with time we will get it down. Also, the menu planning has changed our life. It’s only been two weeks – but what a difference….dinner time is no longer stressful for me. Thanks Valerie!!

  11. Nothing was mentioned about menu planning for snacks and desserts. Any ideas? Also, anyone have any suggestions about how to get hubby to go along with the monthly food budget and not make extra trips to grocery store or convenience store whenever he feels like it?