Menu Planning for Dummies

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This was originally posted on Money Saving Mom.

Not too many months ago, I was spending $80 to $100 a week on groceries. For two people. I knew it wasn’t quite right, that I didn’t need to spend so much; yet, how would I get to cook the things I wanted if I tried to pennypinch? Wouldn’t we end up eating macaroni and cheese and cereal for every meal?

I read many blogs on saving money and using coupons, but I could not get it to click in my head very well. I thrived on trying new recipes, exciting and exotic meals from the pages of Cooking Light and Southern Living. I planned my meals, made out a list of ingredients I needed, and zipped off to the store each week.


Then, in October 2008, I had my first child. Suddenly the cost of daycare, pediatrician visits, diapers, wipes, and other baby paraphernalia was eating at our loosely planned budget. In January, once I was back at work and more in the swing of things, I decided it was time to tackle my grocery spending. I thought surely the two of us could eat for $40 a week if I were more careful.


It’s not been nearly as difficult as I imagined. Mostly I just flipped around my way of doing things: instead of choosing meals and then making my list, I make the list and then choose meals. First, I cut out the coupons from that week’s circular that I might use at some point. I flip back through my coupon box to remind myself what I have. Then, I scour the ads of my two local grocery stores to find the great deals for the week, and match up items for which I have coupons. [Now I often use Southern Savers to point me to great Publix deals and online coupon match-ups as well.]


After that, I use my list of items I can get for a steal to plan my menu. I’ve found that doing it this way, I can still make many meals from those magazines I love. Some of my recent favorites have been Gnocchi with Italian Sausage and Swiss Chard, Pork Tenderloin with Shallot-Cider Sauce, and Grilled Chicken Burritos with Jalapeno Sauce. I use healthy, whole ingredients to make our dinners—with an occasional side of frozen veggies or Rice-a-Roni.


I never thought I would be the kind of person to go through the grocery store with a calculator, but I do now, every week. I get everything on my list, then use any extra money I have for the week for unadvertised deals, manager’s specials, or treats for my husband.


Some weeks I still groan at the idea of laboring through the coupons and ads; but truly, it is just an hour of my time each Sunday while the baby naps, and it saves a great deal of money. Some day I would like to stay home with my daughter, and having these habits now is great practice for the future, when I might be on an ever tighter budget!


Right now my $40 budget is just for the week’s groceries, but I hope as I get more and more used to it I’ll be able to squeeze my household items in there as well.

Great Resources for Online Savings:

Southern Savers


P&G E-Saver


What’s your menu planning method? Do you have a grocery budget? A favorite budget-friendly meal? I’d love to know!

3 thoughts on “Menu Planning for Dummies

  1. I have a) what I'd like to always use as menu planning and b) the back up plan.
    Ideally, I plan ahead from the coupon mom, use coupons and get only groceries on sale and then plan my meals around those items. I plan for 1- 2 weeks according to what's going on.
    Recently, though, we have been buying food from Angel Food and have TONS of frozen yummy meats, so I am cooking around those.
    And, we just got done with 20 meals from Homemade Gourmet that I LOVED. I usually sprinkle in: easy, family favorites and new fun things during the week. And this time of year I usually do a big pot of chili/ soup on Saturday.

    Plan B) Pizza. I always have stock in the fridge. Jason just called to tell me he had a meeting tonight. So guess what's for dinner?

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