Meal Planning on a Frugal Budget

Frugal Meal Planning

Mealtime in our home feels like the culmination of everything that I work towards.  A cleared table, clean dishes, family together, a wonderful meal…  this is what I do.  But it only happens if I am prepared.  Living on a budget means a lot of planning and work if I am going to pull it off.  Most importantly, having a weekly meal plan.

It’s nightmare time if I find myself standing in my kitchen at 5 o’clock with no clue what I’m going to feed my family–all of whom are already hungry and starting to circle. There’s nothing worse than being frustrated and tired and trying to make decisions about what to fee my family.  It usually results in making a trip through drive through.  That is something that kills our budget, but is bound to happen if I feel frazzled come meal prep time.

Meal planning saves me a lot of time, anxiety, and a nice chunk of money. So much money that learning to save money at the grocery store has become my main source of income.  I really think that NOT spending is creating income, and when I have my meals planned my spending is lowered by more than half.

Now, that being said…  THRIFTY meal planning is not as simple as choosing some fun recipes on facebook and going to the store!  It takes organization, a bit of time, and really rocking it out.  Now I use a notebook at home to help me keep track of what I have, what I need, and what I can get from the ads from that week.  Stocking up on the store loss leaders, using long term storage for the excess, and then planning based on what I have at home have been my best money saving trick.  Yummly has also been a recent find and great resource for planning meals based on what I have at home.

Meal Plan

I only plan dinner, but you could plan lunches (really helpful if you’re trying to pack something for people to take with them to work or school everyday) or breakfasts or both.  It’s my intention to get back to planning weekend breakfast/lunch.  During the week it’s just Sophea and I at home for lunch.  Leftovers and sandwiches are our staples.

Think about your schedule while you’re making your meal plan, so that you can plan accordingly. I know that on during the week in the school year I need to plan something that takes under 1/2 hour total to make or a slow cooker meal, because we eat early and we are very busy in that hour or 2 after school. If I don’t have something ready to go, it means we are eating McDonald’s.  The kids will be asking for it and I will give in because I won’t be prepared.

Take a look at the grocery flyers for the week as well so you can plan your meals around what’s for sale.

So think about things like who will going to be home to eat, what ingredients you’ll have available, and how much time you have to cook that day, and pencil in dinners for a week. (Please pencil, trust me. Otherwise you’ll end up with a meal plan that looks like a 2 year old’s sketch book by the end of the week.)  I don’t always (aka: ever) know who is going to be here for supper, so I plan to feed them all and just use the rest for leftovers or freeze what’s left for later meals.

If making a meal plan isn’t something you want to do every week, think about writing out a full 4 week meal plan and then just rotating it out.  Then you can have a basic model of a meal plan and sub in whatever else you decide on before you head to the store.  I also have a chalk board on the fridge where my family can list anything we are running low on or any meal requests.  This is so helpful when someone says they don’t want what we are having.  I just tell them if they want something else they should be writing it on the list.

Grocery List

Once you have your menu planned, look at each meal and write down what you need to buy.  If I realize we’re running low on something or someone make a request, I write it down on the next week’s shopping list.

I have a really lazy way to get the deals that I go over better in this post.

Making a solid grocery list and sticking to it is so important to my organization and personal finances.   I have gone through stints where I go and try to get groceries 5 days a week to keep my family from eating   everything as soon as I buy it to trying to shop only once a month.  In the end it just works best for me to hit the store about twice a week while I’m doing errands.  This way we aren’t running out towards the end of the week but I don’t have to try to fit a trip in daily.  You’ll find a routine that works best for you.


Do you meal plan?  Do you have any great tips to share?


  1. Linda Hobbis says:

    You’re so right about meal planning. My husband is away a lot but he loves to cook so we eat well when he’s here and not so well when it’s left to me. I can do a salmon or chicken dish, possibly bolognese and reheat a pizza but it’s not much more adventurous than that.

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