e-Course: Making a Meal Plan

by Beth Montgomery on April 21, 2010

in Frugal Cooking, Tips & Basics

This is Part 21 of the 30-day Savings Soiree e-course by In Good Cents. View the most recent course in this series or head to the Saving Soiree e-course main menu.

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For some of us who can’t stick a a plan to save our lives, meal planning can seem tedious and unnecessary, but it really does save you money.   Here’s two simple reasons why:

  • When you plan your meals before you shop, you won’t have to run to the store for extra last-minute ingredients that will add to the grocery money you already spent.
  • With meals already planned, you’ll be less likely to opt in for take out or spend money at restaurant.

Meal planning, like organizing your coupons, is about finding what works for you.   It may look different for everyone, depending on you and your style.   You may go with monthly meal plans or you may do weekly meal plans.   You may choose to plan dinners, but have flexible breakfasts and use leftovers for lunch.   My suggestion would be to start with the Themed Approach, then change it up until it fits into your family’s life.

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Meal Planner

– – The Themed Approach – –

For beginners, this is the easiest way to start out.   Make yourself a weekly or monthly theme.   Below is the one I started with for my own family, along with a few simple examples of what I might make that day:


  • Breakfast/Lunch: Big Brunch Combo
  • Dinner: Restaurant


  • Breakfast: Baked (Waffles, Pancakes, Muffins/Freeze Remaining)
  • Lunch: Cold Lunch (Cottage Cheese, Sandwiches, Raw Fruits & Veggies)
  • Dinner: Mexican or Chinese


  • Breakfast: Dairy/Fruit (Yogurt, Cottage Cheese, Strawberries, etc…)
  • Lunch: Hot Lunch (Chicken Nuggets, Mac & Cheese, Hot Pockets, etc…)
  • Dinner: Italian/Pasta


  • Breakfast: Cereal & Milk/Cold Quick Meal
  • Lunch: Finger Foods (Crackers, Cheese Cubes, Chicken Nuggets, etc…)
  • Dinner: Left-Over Night


  • Breakfast: Cereal & Milk/Cold Quick Meal
  • Lunch: Hot Lunch (Chicken Nuggets, Mac & Cheese, Hot Pockets, etc…)
  • Dinner: Salad Night


  • Breakfast:   Hot Breakfast (Omelets, Potatoes, etc…)
  • Lunch: Cold Lunch (Cottage Cheese, Sandwiches, Raw Fruits & Veggies)
  • Dinner: Family Night (Pizza, Finger Foods, etc…)


  • Breakfast: Frozen Left-Overs from Monday
  • Lunch: Left-Overs
  • Dinner: Slow-Cook Meal (Freeze Leftovers)

This approach eliminates a lot of the extra work, because you have an idea of what to make each day and before you go shopping simply have to fill the details.

– – The Scheduled Approach – –

If you like more variety, a scheduled approach might work better for you.   It’s similar to the above approach, yet instead of picking a “theme” for each day to help you plan, you can pick anything you’d like.   Still you pick a meal for breakfast, lunch, and dinner for each day throughout the month or the week.   This is a bit of flexibility, but still scheduled enough to save you time and money!

– – The Flexible Approach – –

I tried the Themed Approach, then went to the Scheduled Approach, but when it comes to cooking, I tend to go with my urges.   Too often I found myself throwing out my plan for the day, because I was in the mood for something different.   If I had the ingredients on hand and it didn’t require an extra store trip, I’d make it.   Now, I take a more flexible approach that works for me.

I make sure I have 7 breakfasts, 7 lunches, and 7 dinners, so I can make it through the week without extra grocery trips.   But, depending on how my week looks, I may make one meal on Monday that can turn into another meal for Tuesday and Wednesday.   Or, I may feel like having a freezer cooking or baking day, and make a few meals for the week in a single day.   When it’s warm, I cook outside, when it’s too cold, I love homstyle comfort foods.   You get the point.

I have a plan.   I rarely stick to it.   But, I can’t stick to a recipe, instruction manual, or step-by-step plan, so why should meal planning be any different for me?   Unlike many other frugal shoppers, this works for me though, but if you’re new, I wouldn’t try this first!   It could end up costing you, instead of saving you.

– – Additional Resources from Previous Posts – –

Confused or want more help? Don’t forget that I teach classes and speak in the Central Indiana area! Use the code ClippingMyBudget to get $10 off a public class.

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