A Meal Plan Made For You: Save Money by Planning Ahead

woman doing shopping in a grocery store and paying by credit card

Buying food on a whim is expensive. It took me a while to learn that taking a little time to make a menu saves a nice chunk of money.

Before I lived in a tiny town with a tiny grocery store that sold over-priced food, I could go to a reasonable grocery store whenever I wanted something. Then, when I married my husband and settled in a small town, I would take weekly trips to town to go shopping because that was what I was used to doing. I never planned meals, and I spent a lot of money on gasoline. I have learned that living in a convenient world kind of kills the need for a plan. If you run out of this or that, you can always run to the store and get it … along with ten other items. It gets pricey. 

I can’t go to any of those healthy food places because I live a very inconvenient distance away from all grocers. I did get to go to Whole Foods once when I was visiting my sister. I probably should have hid how happy I was to be there. I realized then that having a long commute to a grocer was probably a good thing. (Living far away from fancy coffee shops is probably a good thing, too, dangit.) I’ll tell you why.

In a past post, I mentioned that we keep our grocery bill at $200 dollars, which is enough to feed my family of four for two months.

I’ll admit that two hundred dollars on groceries seems impossible, and sometimes it is because things just come up, and other times, we'll simply stray from our menu. I will also admit that at the end of two months we start wishing for something besides noodles and burritos, as food becomes a little scarce. But we're making it work most of the time. Here's how:

meal woman
Image via iStock

I’m going to share my menu with you—it’s got a lot of recipes that you can find on EverydayFamily Eats. Feel free to use the same one. It’ll be as if we are eating together. There are fifteen meals.

When planning meals, I always like to try and come up with ways to stretch the foods I have—turn them into something else. If I make a roast, it always turns into something else such as a stew or some form of a Philly cheese steak something.

Meals

Perfect Roast with a Green Salad

Beef Stew with Bread Sticks: I honestly do not have a recipe for stew—I simply throw a handful of shredded roast into a slow cooker with some chopped carrots, onions, potatoes, a can of green beans, corn, tomatoes, a few cans of beef stock, and maybe some mushroom soup. It gets seasoned to taste, and that’s it.  

Spinach and Egg Sandwich 

Philly Cheese Steak in a Green Pepper and Homemade French Fries: I saw this on Pinterest—a halved bell pepper, seeded and shelled, and then stuffed with layers of beef and provolone. My family upped the ante a bit by adding caramelized onions. Use leftover shredded roast and whatever cheese you prefer. Stuff them into halved bell peppers and bake them in a greased baking dish at 350 degrees for 30 – 45 minutes or until the innards become melted together.

Artichoke Pizza: This recipe calls for fresh artichokes, but sometimes I can’t find them, so I use canned.

Hawaiian Chicken and Rice

In-n-Out Burger

Lasagna

Black Bean Burgers: These are delicious and easy. Like the stew, I don’t have a recipe for this, so I just mash together a can or two of black beans, a can of corn, a chopped onion, minced garlic, an obscene amount of cumin, some salt and pepper, and then an egg to hold it all together. I shape them into little patties and fry them in the frying pan with a little oil. Top them off with BBQ sauce, cheese, lettuce, and tomato.

Chicken Divine

Homemade Chicken Strips

Beans & Rice Bowls

Potato Soup

Tacos

Cauliflower Tostada

shopping woman
Image via iStock

Shopping List

This is my list. It has everything you need to make all of these recipes, plus a few family staples. After figuring out what our menu is going to be for the next one or two months, I write down every single ingredient that I need, then I go through my cupboards and cross off everything that I already have. After that, I try to get a little creative by figuring out what I can substitute for something else. If I can substitute beans for ground beef, I will, and if I can get away with it, I'll just omit an ingredient altogether like dijon mustard, fresh seasonings and herbs, or buttermilk.

Also, if I can, I'll make a concerted effort to eliminate enough stuff so that I can add a few more canned goods to my list, just for the sake of replenishing my food supply. I promise, when you start buying a little extra flour, sugar, canned vegetables, jarred marinara, rice, noodles, etc., you will start seeing some savings in your grocery bill. Eventually.

Onions – get a bag
Potatoes – get a bag
Carrots
Apples
Grapes
Leeks
Iceberg Lettuce – 1 head
Tomatoes – 4
Spinach
Lemon – 1 or 2
Cauliflower
Avocados – 2
Green Peppers – 4
Red, Yellow, or Orange Bell Pepper
Green Salad
Garlic – 2 bulbs
Thyme
Rosemary
Parsley
Frozen Burritos – 2 packages
Black Beans
Artichokes
Corn
Green Beans
Tomatoes
Taco Shells
Refried Beans
Beef Broth – 2 cans
Chicken Broth – 2 cans
Pineapple Juice
Pineapple
Marinara Sauce
Cream of Broccoli Soup
Rice
Paprika
Cumin
Flour
Sugar
Yeast
Salt
Pepper
Vegetable Oil
White Vinegar
Apple Cider Vinegar
Ketchup
Mustard
Dijon Mustard
Pickles
Mayonnaise
Soy Sauce
Worcestershire Sauce
Butter
Eggs
Provolone
Deli Meat
Cheddar Cheese
Mozzerella Cheese
Queso Fresco
Butter Milk
Milk
Sour Cream
Plain Yogurt – 1 carton
Cottage Cheese – 1 pint
Salsa
Lasagna Noodles – 1 box
English muffins
Bread
Honey
Peanut Butter
Burger Buns
Red Wine
Chorizo Sausage
Roast; large
Chicken; frozen bag
Ground Beef – grab a few pounds

{ MORE: 5 Savvy Tips for the Grocery Store }

I'd love to know how this list – and the recipes – work for you. I'd also love to see your meal plans! Share in the comments! 

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A Meal Plan Made For You: Save Money by Planning Ahead

Melanie Denney lives in the smallest of towns, with her two little darlings. She has a Bachelor's degree and happily works as a full-time mother and a freelance writer, specializing in sociology and recreation leadership. ... More

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6 comments

  1. Profile photo of mommy nhoj mommy nhoj says:

    Wow! A hands on mom at work! 🙂

  2. Profile photo of dragonlayre dragonlayre says:

    I wish we had cheaper food stores out here, but there is no way I can buy all that food for only $200. A roast alone would cost me $20. Even a small roast on sale will still run at $7-9. But the recipes sound yummy! Thank you for those.

    • Profile photo of Lana Lana says:

      Ya, food where we are is crazy expensive! I rarely buy “extras” from the essentials that we need and it still ends up being about 80$/week (but that includes toilet paper and diapers.) AND snacks are usually seasonal fruits and veggies, and we have a salad every night… so… maybe thats also part of the difference for us compared with the above list. I definitely like using leftovers in creative ways though! My favourite is roasting chicken with potatoes and carrots and then making chicken pot pie with the left-overs. Or putting it into a pasta dish.

      • Profile photo of dragonlayre dragonlayre says:

        Homemade pot pie is awesome! I only buy diapers about once a month because I use cloth diapers at home, disposable going out and at bedtime. I can usually get seasonal fruit and veggies cheap going to a specialty shop 40 minutes away, I live in a small town, but yeah, it is the meats, cheese, dairy, toilet paper, essentials that cost! Even cheap ground beef out here is $2.50 per pound on sale maybe once a month. At least noodles and spaghetti sauce are cheap!

  3. Profile photo of Christina Christina says:

    We gotta have a meal plan also. Otherwise ur lost in the grocery store and end up buying a ton of processed box dinners and boring same old meals that everyone is tired of eating. I spent $40, maybe $50 on meat this month and it is going to last into next month. We had ground beef left over from last month. I bought a big bag of already frozen chicken breasts, a pork roast and a chuck roast. And splurged on the grocery brand of premium bacon in the big pack. I can cut the roasts up myself. And anytime I want to use bacon in something other than breakfast I can. The best part for this months meal plans is that I found a lot of new, exciting SLOW COOKER recipes. That aren’t just soups and stews! Who doesnt need that right? I stumbled upon them on cooking light magazine website. Seriously go check them out right now they have over 100. The closet thing they got to a soup/stew was a couple chili recipes. Out of 100! Hope this helps some other mommys out there it sure was a nice change on our grocery bill. My husband comes with and he thinks Im super woman over here. We eat healthy, yet tasty meals on the cheap lol.

  4. can’t wait to try some of these out

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