How Menu Planning Saves Time and Money

Why plan your menus?

Menu planning is an easy and effective way to trim your grocery bill and save time in the kitchen. Having a menu plan helps you to skip the 5 o’clock stand-off in front of the fridge deciding what to make for dinner. You’ll avoid the pounds packed on by last minute dashes to a drive through, and the empty wallet that comes with pricey meals on the go. Grocery shopping will be faster and cheaper when you go once for a week or more, eliminating pricey impulse purchases and wasted time waiting in line. And of course, buying less food saves money and helps to escape food waste. Food wasted is money in the garbage.

Overall, the reasons to plan a menu far outweigh the lazy factor that kept me from doing it for too long! Once I started, the change to my budget was obvious, I spent less time shopping and cooking, and we consistently ate more nutritiously. Win-win-win!

My two week rotation

I could easily spend hours poring over cookbooks and recipe sites, but as a busy mom and full time student, I just didn’t have the time to do that. After quite a few years of menu planning, picking a new menu from scratch each week, I needed to simplify my method even further.

That’s where the two week rotation came in, saving me even more time and money. Once every two weeks, I do a big grocery run with my routine grocery list, buying most of what I need for the next two weeks. The next week, I need to only pick up fresh produce and dairy. This method of grocery shopping has brought my grocery bill down significantly in the past year!

Instead of deciding what to serve every night of the week, I can simply look through my recipes for the specific items we’re having that week – one lentil recipe, one chicken recipe, one fish recipe, for example. Since the lentils, chicken and fish are already planned, they’re already on that week’s list and I only need to add those ingredients that aren’t staples to my shopping list. It doesn’t sound like much, but the time savings here has been substantial! There are enough variations on basics like lentils, soup, eggs, or fish, so we don’t get bored eating the same category over and over.

Additionally, by making a plan, I can serve inexpensive foods that take longer to prepare. My plans make heavy use of inexpensive ingredients like lentils, beans and soups, and often inexpensive ingredients need more time to prepare. It’s easy to think that being busy, I don’t have time to shave my grocery bill by cooking dry beans, but that excuse goes out the window when I know what’s planned for tomorrow and can make the quick steps that put dinner on the table without a last minute (and often more expensive) scramble to substitute an ingredient that isn’t ready.

Here is our two week menu rotation.

Week One:

Sunday – New Recipe or out for dinner
Monday – Lentils
Tuesday – Chicken
Wednesday – Soup, stew, or chili
Thursday – Eggs
Friday – Leftovers
Saturday – Fish

Week Two:

Sunday – New Recipe or out for dinner
Monday – Beans
Tuesday – Meat (beef, pork, lamb, or chicken)

Wednesday – Soup, stew, or chili
Thursday – Casserole
Friday – Leftovers
Saturday – Fish

If you’re looking for tips to get started menu planning, check out Menu Plan Monday at I’m an Organizing Junkie. Every Monday, over 200 bloggers (including me!) share their menus for you to peruse for ideas.

Do you do menu planning?  If so, what are some of your tips and tricks?

Penny Saver is a frugal mom and menu planner. She is saving her quarters to save a quarter of her income and blogging all about it at The Saved Quarter.

13 thoughts on “How Menu Planning Saves Time and Money

  1. We are huge into meal planning. We plan two weeks at a time and coordinate it with our grocery shopping. It saves us a ton of time and it guarantees we are eating healthy meals. Glad to hear you have discovered the same cool trick.

  2. We don’t do menu planning but instead will buy groceries and produce each week based on whatever’s a good deal and build meal around that. We sort of have a “formula” for meals carb+protein+veggies so we just plug in ingredients we have a lot of or that might go bad soon, fill in the rest and spice accordingly to make it a real dish.

    We don’t cook much meat, but if we did I imagine that a meal plan would be much more useful for us since I’d be concerned about it going bad especially with its higher cost. Similarly, if we had kids a meal plan might be more useful since we’d have more food on hand to use and potentially some picky eaters too. Right now all we have to keep track of is the produce and the two of us which hasn’t been a problem.

  3. My wife did it for the first time a couple of weeks ago, but she has been a bit disappointed with the results. I mean, the grocery buying aspect went well and all, but we seem to have last minute dinner invitations or plans come up and suddenly the plan is thrown a day off and redoing it to account for potential spoilage caused by ingredients being out, etc. was problematic as well.

    She is almost disheartened enough to give it up completely, but I suggested that we instead meal plan the meals but not tie them to specific days ahead of time in case we have to call and audible.

    1. This is an easy workaround. Plan 4-5 meals for the week instead of 7, and eat the most perishable groceries first. That way, if you get two invites or plans come up, you’re not dealing with spoiled groceries. There have been many weeks where we swap out Thursday for Tuesday because the pace of the day doesn’t allow me to make what’s on the schedule.

      We don’t go out often, but on those days, I just push it back to the one day a week without a menu plan. Otherwise, it’s something usually simple from the pantry on that night – tuna sandwiches and carrots, or pasta with jarred sauce and frozen meatballs. There are many meals that are easy to make with what’s on hand.

      Alternatively, if you get an invitation, prepare the meal so the food doesn’t spoil and freeze it, already prepared, for a quick reheated meal on a busy night when cooking isn’t a possibility.

  4. We haven’t started meal planning yet because we want to develop a larger repertoire of recipes we like rather than have the same 10 dishes over and over again, which is what is stalling up right now. So, now when I make a new recipe I take a picture of it, re-write the recipe on the computer according to time saving instructions and small details on what makes it better and then paste the picture in the recipe so that I can make my own recipe book with all the pictures (which makes choosing a recipe so much easier). My goal is to have at least 60 recipes so that when we do the meal planning rotation I can have more variety. So far I have 22 tried, true, delicious, easy, quick recipes. Any suggestions on other great ones are welcome!

    1. This sounds great DFWM

      Reality, as I remember tho – is the same old same old. Perhaps night after night, and even we got new stuff week/bi-week in and week/bi-week out ….

      BUT the fact was – the freezer provided. and helped us plan. A roast came out – and guest what – Mom made a TON of meals, (fresh and frozen) from the big hunbk of meat. Or at least when she thawed out that 4lb hunk of beef, that she knew what the plan was, and this is what monthly cookin is all about. Recipes are NICE, but not a MUST.

  5. I really like the two-week rotation idea. I menu plan dinners (in a less efficient way) but I always forget to do the same for lunches! Since I am a homemaker, I get stuck with random weird lunches and that is when I make unhealthy choices. I need to do a better job of making lunch menus as well as dinner menus…the two week idea seems good for lunches too, although more repetition is fine for lunches (perhaps a weekly rotation: sandwich, wrap, leftovers, sandwich, salad…or something like that). Thanks for the idea!

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