My aunt used to go to the grocery store every day for the food she needed to make dinner that evening. I cannot imagine. I hate going to the grocery store once a week! In fact, I try to avoid going that often when I can. But there are people who do drop by the grocery store at least 2-3 times per week, even if 1-2 of those visits are to pick up only an item or two such as milk or bread.
Whether you visit the grocery store daily or just once per week, to save time and gas on needless visits, you should create a weekly menu plan. (And then you probably won’t need to go daily.)
The key is to build your plan around food already in your pantry and freezer and then buy only what you need at the grocery store once per week (or once every two weeks, which is typically my goal). I cannot promise that you won’t ever have to visit the grocery store mid-week again–on occasion, we drink all of the two gallons of milk I buy early in the week and have to restock–but if you are visiting the grocery store twice or more consistently each week, you can save money over time if you create a menu plan and stick with it.
Other benefits to menu planning
Menu planning can help you save money in other ways, too. If your family is like mine, if you have a definite plan for dinner with no ingredients for it missing from your cabinets, you will be less likely to decide that you just want to pick up some fast food for dinner, saving you tens or even hundreds of dollars every month.
In addition, if I have a specific food that is going to turn bad in the near future, I plan to use the food in my menu plan early that week so that food is not wasted, also saving my family money and avoiding food waste.
Finally, I can review circulars/ads for sales and my coupon binder for the coupons I have on hand and menu plan accordingly to take advantage of those deals, saving my household even more money. For example, right now, I know I have a coupon in my inbox from Zaycon subtracting $20 off a purchase of $100 or more of meat. I will have to buy tens of pounds of meat at a time and store that meat in my standalone freezer, but ultimately, I will save $1 to $2 per pound of chicken. I will then create a plan for using that meat in various ways over the next weeks and months. As another, simpler example, if green peppers are on sale for half their typical cost, I plan multiple meals with them that week.
Saving money is good, right? And if you shave off just one shopping trip a month, you’ve saved yourself some time and stress, too. Win, win!
How to create a menu plan
- The first step in creating a menu plan is is to obtain or create a menu plan template. Fortunately, I have an editable, savable PDF menu plan and shopping list form already on my site! You just need to be a subscriber to access it, so click here to subscribe if you haven’t already done so. Download the PDF to your computer, and open it in Adobe Reader. You should be able to type your plans for dinner, breakfasts, lunches, and snacks right in the form. If you would rather just write in your meals, you can just print a blank copy, too. In fact, if you intend to write out your menu plan plan each week, you could laminate one printed page and write on it with a dry erase marker and use the single page again and again.
- The next step is to determine what meals you will have over the next week and type those meals into the menu plan template. As I said previously, I base my weekly meals largely on what food I have on hand. For example, this week, I had carrots and potatoes that needed to be used, so I planned to make chicken noodle soup and baked potato casserole to use those. I also review the sales circulars/ads and incorporate any major sales I see. If I know Zaycon is delivering boneless, skinless chicken breasts for $1.69 per pound this week, I will work to incorporate varied chicken recipes into our diet more often than typical: chicken Parmigiana, chicken tacos, white chili, sauteed Worcestershire chicken, etc. Finally, I do add in meals based on food we don’t have on hand but would enjoy having–grilled steak, for example.
- Then determine what you need from the store and include those items on your shopping list, which is included on the same page as the menu plan in my printable. In my family, our goal is to create a shopping list of everything we need and to avoid buying anything not on the shopping list when we go to the store. On occasion, we fail and buy something extra, but we save money if we stick to this method.
- If you are indecisive about dinner and typically have nothing extra in your cabinets and buy your food week-by-week, consider using a weekly menu planning theme. I have provided some examples below, but you can create any kind of theme you desire, from dinners based on a specific meat (chicken night) to dinners based on who chooses what will be made for dinner (kids’ choice) to other unusual themes (breakfast for dinner night):
- Soup Sunday
- Mexican food Monday
- Meatless Monday
- Taco Tuesday
- Slow cooker Wednesday (I would suggest using your slow cooker when you know you won’t have a lot of time to create something from scratch. For example, I use my slow cooker on Wednesdays because I volunteer at AWANA on those nights.)
- Pizza Friday (We make our own homemade pizza using dough created in our breadmaker.)
- Grill night (We grill on Saturday nights when we have more time to fire up our grill and are more likely to go out if we don’t have an enticing meal on tap.)
- I always suggest keeping certain convenience foods on tap just in case you’re just too tired to cook a full meal or you get home late from work or soccer practice. For quite some time, we kept pizzas in the freezer for this purpose. Now we have a few quick, easy, go-to meals:
- We currently have multiple sets of homemade beef-and-bacon burger patties stored in the freezer for quick defrosting and grilling or broiling.
- We also keep plenty of spaghetti, frozen chopped veggies (I buy onions and peppers when they are on sale and wash and chop them before storing them in the freezer), frozen chopped cooked chicken, and soy and Ponzu sauces on hand for making a quick stir-fry.
- Finally, we keep browned beef in the freezer for quick pots of spaghetti or stroganoff.
- I’ve tried to make a habit of printing our menu plan weekly and keeping it for a month or so in my home management binder. I want to know what meals I’m making too often because those are meals my family will tire of.
If you menu plan consistently, you’ll save yourself some stress, time, and money.
How Did You Do?
What are your go-to meals? Do you have any exciting and fun menu planning themes I haven’t mentioned above? Leave me a note in the comments!
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