Menu Planning & Meal Prep Money Saving Tips

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This Menu Planning/Meal Prep page has lots of tips to encourage and inspire you with your desire to get healthy delicious meals on your table at home.

Post-It Notes Help Menu Planning/Meal Prep

Post It Notes Help Menu Planning/Meal Prep

I got your Grocery Book and love it! I was writing the meal plan on the calendar, but then when there was a change in plans, such as unexpected company, or everyone sick with the flu and only eating chicken soup, I had to cross out, erase and rearrange. Now I figured out that if I simply write each dinner on a post-it-note, I can simply move it to another day. So easy to stick to the plan even in an unpredictable world!  Cindy – Santa Clarita, CA 

Facebook for Celiacs Disease

I live in a small city and I have celiac disease.  To save money and add variety to my diet, I communicate on Facebook with several other gluten-free households.

When one of us finds a good deal or a good tasting novel product, we post about it in our status. This way, we all find out about unadvertised sales and new products.  I have twice been Facebooked about close-out deals on expensive pizza mixes and cookies marked down to a dollar! That’s a deal!

Gluten-free mixes and flours are just not cheap! The health that they bring to those who truly need them though, it’s priceless! It’s hard to be gluten-free and frugal, but every month it gets a little easier. Pamela Carswell – Minot, ND

RELATED ARTICLE: Meal Planning: 6 Easy Steps to Make Tasty Menus

Price Tracking Grocery Items on Your Phone

I recently went to the supermarket armed with my paper and pen to record the prices and units of all the items I use when my cell phone rang. That’s when I remembered I had a camera on my cell phone.

I went around taking a picture of all of the labels of the items I use and when I got home I was able to make a list at my leisure. It was a lot easier and less time consuming than handwriting them all in the supermarket. And it was fast and easy! Toni’s Mom – Whitehall, PA

Using Colored Index Cards to Organize My Menu Plan

Using Colored Index Cards to Help Menu Planning/Meal Prep

I write down my entrees, sides, desserts, etc. on a separate 3 x 5 card. When it comes time to plan a meal based on what I have in my pantry and/or what’s on sale, I can take an entree card, choose a side card, and choose a dessert card, too. That way I can mix and match my selections without having the same things over and over again.

Then I put those meals on my menu planner (on my computer) and print it out.  I put that on the refrigerator so that my husband can see what I’ve got planned. When I’m through menu planning, the index cards go back in my index card box to wait for the next meal-planning session. Linda Lambert – Wittmann, AZ

Help From Annette with Menu Planning/ Meal Prep

I was wondering if you have any kind of meal planning ideas. We’re spending way too much on groceries. But I don’t know what to plan for meals. I know that people buy things on sale, but I feel like I don’t know how to make all those meals and don’t want to eat the same things every day. I have 2 young children, which means they always want to eat. I’m desperate for help with planning a menu. I keep telling my husband we can do this, we just need some guidance. Can you help??

Our Answer to your Question: Our book, “Cut Your Grocery Bill in Half” is the answer to your questions. Basically, with two young children at home, you’ll definitely need to ask your husband to help. Forget about using coupons, focus on planning one week’s worth of dinners and buying the things you need. Keep it simple. Then build from there.

Try something like:
Monday            Tacos – lettuce, tomato, cheese, meat
Tuesday           Mac & Cheese, Cooked Carrots
Wednesday       Hot Dogs, Beans, Pickles
Thursday          BBQ Chicken, Corn on Cob, Applesauce
Friday               Spaghetti & Meatballs, Salad
Saturday           Hamburgers, Baked Potatoes, Green Beans
Sunday             Vegetable Soup with Noodles

Add some different meals to the menu after you learn to do this for a couple of weeks.

Next plan a rotation of breakfast foods. For example – here’s what we’ve done:

– Monday: Cold cereal
– Tuesday: Hot cereal with grapefruit
– Wednesday: Bagels with fruit
– Thursday: Eggs with toast
– Friday: Cold cereal with bananas
– Saturday: Pancakes and sausages
– Sunday: Scrambled eggs with ham and potatoes

With a little planning and some help from a supportive husband, you’ll start feeling more in control and you’ll definitely be spending less.

Struggling with My Grocery Budget and Menu Planning/ Meal Prep

Question:  I want to start rehabilitating my finances where the fastest impact is. So following your advice, I’m revamping my grocery shopping. I homeschool our 4 young children and they tend to drink a gallon of milk a day (just to give you an idea).

We have stopped buying $10 milk and $4 eggs fresh from a local farm. I have to say I feel a little bit guilty but know the savings are significant. I was really hoping that you would provide a monthly menu (I saw the weekly menu in your grocery book) that I could follow so I could get my budget down to where yours is.

Answer: It’s great that you are evaluating your grocery expenses. Feeling guilty is normal as you make changes, especially ones that affect your children. While we understand the value of good nutrition, not all that is promoted as natural is worth the money, nor does it promote better health. We learned early in our marriage that calcium was found in numerous foods other than milk, including broccoli. As a result, we cut back on our kids’ consumption of milk, replacing it with calcium-rich foods and good filtered water. Our youngest child is now 18 years old and all of our kids are strong and healthy.

Regarding a monthly menu. We purposely don’t include this type of detail for a couple of reasons. First, our tastes wouldn’t be your tastes. And secondly, there is no magic in Annette’s menu. The magic happens when you buy grocery items on sale, and then incorporate them into your menu plan.

Yes, it would be easier to simply read what someone else does, but in the planning chapter of Cut Your Grocery Bill in Half, we included a template for building your own menu. Make a list of every kind of vegetable, starch, and protein that your family likes to consume. Then assemble meals / a menu by mixing and matching those items to create a balanced diet.

Annette also made a list (which we did provide in the book) of the 92 plus meals she knows how to cook. These are categorized by meat type and meatless meal. Getting these things down on paper will make creating a menu much easier and productive for you. Start with three small steps:

  • Write down the various components your family likes—vegetable, starch, and protein
  • Make a list of meals your family enjoys, that you know how to cook.
  • Take stock of the food you have in the house.
  • Create a weekly menu based on a balanced diet, what you know how to cook and what you have in stock.

These three steps will help you cut your grocery bill and stress greatly.

Meal Swapping for Families

Our thrifty friend Becky Klingbeil from Indiana recently told us about a wonderful time- and money-saving idea. She and some friends have a Meal Swap Club. Don’t turn the page yet; we don’t mean trading a baloney sandwich for a PB&J in the grade school cafeteria. Here’s what they do.

Five friends who have similar-sized families get together once every six to eight weeks to plan a series of meals to cook and share. Each person comes with three to five recipes to present to the group. They discuss the meals and settle on a menu.

Once the menu is approved, each member purchases ingredients and prepares three different meals in large enough portions to be divided equally among the families — serving four to six people per family. Six to eight weeks later they get together to distribute the frozen meals and plan the next set of recipes. The dinners are packaged in zippered bags or disposable containers. They bring in their receipts, the expenses are totaled and averaged, and then they exchange money to even out the costs — or each person can handle their own costs.

This arrangement encourages variety, new recipes, trying new foods, creativity and helping others. Becky says, “It hasn’t happened yet, but if the group decides on a meal I know my family won’t like, I’ll freeze it to give to a family who needs an extra meal.”

One drawback is a lack of control over the cost of meals. The members commit to being as thrifty as possible — although that means different things to different people. “If I know that another member is making something for the next session, and I spot a great deal, I’ll give her a call,” says Becky.

If you know you have meals in the freezer you’re less likely to buy fast food or expensive convenience foods on busy days. The best part is that each participant prepares only three extra-large portion meals and walks away with fifteen meals for her family.

This creative concept is not only for large families. Singles and retirees can benefit from it too!

Terri—Country style ribs, Meatballs, and Honey pork chops.
Becky—Tangy rump roast, Potato broccoli cheese soup, and Cheese stuffed shells.
Tris—Poppy Swiss sandwiches, Beef enchiladas, and Spaghetti pie.
Cheryl—Chicken salad casserole, Mystery chicken, and Wild rice chicken.
Mary Ann—Fajita kits, Citrus pork roast, and Calzones

Dinnertime Survey Statistics

If you don’t think eating dinner together as a family is important, check out these survey results.

Wyler’s Bouillon Fast 4-Ward Dinner Data Survey

  •  62 percent of American households with children described their typical dinner time as hectic.
  • 77 percent spend less than half an hour eating dinner.
  • 26 percent eat dinner in 15 minutes or less.
  • 19 percent said they very often eat alone.
  • 7 percent said that they very often eat standing up in the kitchen.

2002 Kraft Foods & The National Pork Board survey of 1045 moms.

Does the TV or cell phones interrupt dinnertime? The TV and phone distract most families during dinnertime. In fact, only 39 percent of moms said their families turn off the TV during mealtime and even fewer families 30 percent — refuse to answer the phone.

WestSoy survey of 592 adults: Only 10 percent of families eat together four or more times each week.

2000 Survey from National Center of Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University (CASA): Children who don’t eat dinner with their families are 61 percent more likely to use alcohol, tobacco or illegal drugs. By contrast, children who eat dinner with their families every night of the week are 20 percent less likely to drink, smoke or use illegal drugs.

How Do You Make Dinnertime Fun?

Does eating meals together promote healthy families? You bet. Numerous surveys support this ideal. It seems that most families want it. But it appears that many are finding it too challenging to obtain.

Many good activities are stealing precious time from families: work schedules, school activities, sports, church activities, music lessons and TV. A book we mentioned a few months ago, Traits of a Healthy Family by Dolores Curan, discusses this specific issue. Even Oprah Winfrey has done several shows on the value of family mealtime.

So, how can you make mealtime a priority? You’ve got to determine what works best for your family. Perhaps it’s breakfast or dinner or tea at 10 P.M. It really doesn’t matter when you sit down together, just that it becomes a priority, everyone shows up and it’s done consistently.

When our kids were younger and Steve was working long hours, Annette had to come up with ideas to keep the family dinner hour exciting. Since we were homeschooling and were with each other most of the time, our mealtimes weren’t used to find out what happened in each other’s lives daily.

So Annette started reading chapter books to the kids; many of these have become family favorites and are shared in the book review section of the website. We also started playing a geography game from Educational Insights.

Adding Laughter and Fun to Dinnertime

3 Mad Libs books on a countertop.

In the last few years, we’ve thrown in a few Mad Libs, a fill-in-the-blank story game. Mad Libs are a fun way to learn different parts of speech and have fun at the same time. There are various stories based on historical figures or sports or TV shows.

If we have dinner guests, they are invited to participate—often they have a harder time with the adjectives, verbs, nouns, pronouns and, adverbs than our kids do. Other times, Steve reads a Bible passage or story and we discuss its relevance in today’s society. We work very hard to schedule our activities—kids and adults—around our sacred dinner hour.

Our bottom-line encouragement is this: Don’t give up! Make the time a priority. Find activities that your family loves and looks forward to. It takes time and commitment, but with perseverance, you can discover that rather than disappearing, your dinner hour becomes a favorite time of the day.

Related Resource: 11 Ways to Make Dinnertime Fun

Meal Prepping with Canning Jars

As a single person, I’ve found it difficult to cook healthy meals and not have disagreeable leftovers or rotting veggies in the fridge. I tried all the plastic thing-a-ma-jigs, free or otherwise, but they have always failed me.

Then I began freezing things in canning jars. It’s a fantastic way to store food in single servings. I experimented and found I could freeze many things I never would have considered. I freeze soups, which I cook up 16 quarts at a time (and never have to buy canned soup), sauces made from garden produce, cooked meat in its juice, peanut butter (purchased by the gallon) and leftover cooked veggies thrown in a jar for some future stew.

Wasting No food

I have very little waste now and eat much better and healthier. In all these years I’ve had only one jar break — I cooked a jar of soup in the microwave, then added cold water to it. Stupid, I know. I reuse the lids over and over. Because I’m freezing the contents, I don’t have to worry about an air-tight seal.

I’ve found canning jars at garage sales and thrift store for pennies, and I use them for more than food storage—to carry drinks in my car: water, coffee, iced tea. They always wash up fine, and I store them in my out-of-commission dishwasher. I prefer the wide-mouthed jars because they make cleanup easier, but regular ones work just as well. Patti — Newport, WA

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