31 Weeks to a Better Grocery Budget Video Series: The Benefits of Menu Planning

My apologies that this didn’t get posted until this morning, instead of last night as promised. We filmed it yesterday on our new Flip video camera (a Christmas gift from my dad) and then I spent three whole hours (I’m not kidding!) trying to get the thing to upload correctly.

There were some connection/login issues, but I’m pretty sure the majority of issues had to do with user error. Yes, you are welcome to laugh at my technical ineptitude; at least I now know 331 different ways not to upload a video. :)

Hopefully, I’m getting the hang of it and it will take me significantly less time to get this uploaded next week!

Related: Menu-Planning Saves Your Sanity

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Comments

  1. says

    I totally agree with your view on menu planning. I used to menu plan and hadn’t done so in awhile. This was my first week “back on the wagon” and it has already made the beginning of the week go SO much smoother. It also makes my husband much happier when he sees that I already have a plan for dinner and won’t be calling to have him pick something up on the way home :)

  2. says

    I didn’t realize that you don’t list out your meals in any order. I should probably try this. I only plan out our dinners, but I spend way too much time trying to plan which dinner to serve which day.

  3. says

    Great advice! I menu plan & I’m always sharing that tip. Not only does it make dinner less stressful it also allows me to use what I have instead of making special trips to the store. So I’m saving money & time! Most people think if they have bought something cheap that it doesn’t matter if it gets thrown away, but everytime you throw food away (even cheap food!) you are throwing money away.

  4. says

    LOVE the keep it simple advice! When I first started menu planning I did try to make up nicer meals and that doesn’t always work. Now I am for one nicer and one new (because I enjoy cooking and I’m trying to expand my cooking skills) meal a week.

    By the time I’d been meal planning for 2 years and my youngest sister was newly married and asking for advice on not serving the same thing every night- my advice for her was pick a theme. She’s vegan and he’s not so she shops a lot more frequently and has a harder time writing out a full week (because she needs to “adjust” for nutrition as she goes). I suggested meal themes for her (she’s got a stir fry night, a mexican food night, a crockpot night, a salad night) and it works perfectly for them. She’s got less stress trying to decide what to make and it’s flexible enough for what they need.

  5. says

    When I first started to menu plan, the list really was my slavemaster. I felt like I needed to have meals planned by the day, and like you said, I burnt out fast! I discovered that if I just have a list of dinner ideas, then it’s much easier. Sometimes I don’t feel in the mood to cook one thing or another, so I will just go down to the next idea on my list. So much easier, saves so much money and is so helpful!

    • Melinda says

      How long does it take you write out your menu plan? What are your steps to create your menu plan? (ie look for items in freezer?, look at sales flyers?, etc)

      • says

        For me it may have took around an hour to an hour and a half the first few times because I am notorious for planning things that I don’t have all the ingredients for. However, the more I meal plan the less time it takes. I have significantly cut down the time it takes to about 1/2 hour for meal planning for the week unless I decide to plan a couple of weeks at a time.

  6. Karla says

    Just wanted to let you know that you are not the only one who couldn’t figure out the FLIP video camera! That thing is handy, but SO un-unerfriendlly when it comes to uploading!

  7. says

    I find that planning a menu is the key to eating healthier, saving money and I don’t have to wonder what to cook each night when it gets to be 4 or 5. I plan 7 meals, but cook the meal that works best for the day. If it is a busy day, I cook an easier, less time consuming meal. Since I am more organized with my meal planning, there isn’t the temptation to go out to eat or pick something up. It really makes a difference to a successful week of cooking!

  8. K says

    Thanks for the grocery budget video series, looking forward to all of them!

    I’m one that balks at lists. I’m actually excited to try this menu plan. I thought one would fail because sometimes you just don’t feel like eating something, but you pointed out you have a list to choose from and can be flexible…I really like that. Only starting with a 7-day dinner list, but I think it will be nice to go a whole week without trying to defrost meat last minute or run to the store for missing ingredients. Thanks!

  9. theresa says

    i was sitting in front of a calendar while i watched this, so i just sketched out the rest of the week while i listened – i used to freezer cook 40 meals at a time and have a month’s meals planned, but my life has changed and i let go of the whole thing (and chaos ensued) – i had recently been thinking about your tip on small batch freezer cooking, so, on sunday, i made 6# of ground beef into 8 freezer meals and on monday, i made 6# of chicken breasts into 6 freezer meals – about 5 total hours of effort and dinners will be super simple to put together for at least a couple of weeks!

  10. says

    This vlog series is really helping me out. My home situation is different than somehere, but we are working at a simular goal. In the past, I made the list and went day by day, meal by meal, but your listing idea is going to be much better for me. I do need to see what I have in my stockpile, and go from there. Thanks Crystal for all your great ideas and encouragement.

  11. Tina says

    I’ve been menu planning since school started last fall and it has helped so much. However, I have to plan meals for specific days. That’s what works for me to help me stay organized. On Saturdays I look at the calendar for the week and plan easier meals for the busy days. You have a great selection of meal planning worksheets that work for anyone!

  12. Lee says

    I find Menu planning lets me offer my family a variety of meals. I try to serve a meal of chicken, beef, pork, and fish once a week. Then we have one meatless dinner. Then usually we have soup once a week in the winter and/or a salad meal. Then that 7th meal is usually a really easy one so that I have at least 1 stress free meal!

  13. says

    Thank you for the encouraging post. Unfortunately for me, I tend to be a perfectionist and when I don’t feel I can plan perfectly, I don’t plan at all. Your suggestion to make a list of meals, but not lock yourself in to doing them “in order” and exactly how you write them out will free me up tremendously. I plan on trying again this week. :)

  14. melissa says

    I have tried menu planning kinda…but I really enjoyed this example you gave us on your video…that I will try!!!!Thanks for all you do.

  15. Julie says

    My husband is a huge meat eater. I am not. So how can you cut your budget when you have a spouse that wants meat always incorporated into the meal? Even when I bake a chicken casserole and put extra chicken in it he wants me to cook him a separate chicken breast and eats the casserole on the side. I am trying so hard to budget but meat is so expensive even when I find it one sale. I even have issues with Deli meat, he refuses to eat anything except the expensive brands and at one time he was going through 2 1/2 pounds pounds of deli meat a week. Plus a pound of expensive deli cheese (he is very brand specific). Then I started having him take dinner left overs to try and cut back on the deli purchases which now I can get away with 1/2 pound of cheese and 1 1/2 pound of deli meat a week. Any suggestions?

    • Rebecca says

      I have this same problem. I could do without meat in meals a few nights a week whereas my husband insists on meat at every meal…and like you, he is not OK with just a little meat…he wants A LOT!

      How can I get this in my budget without breaking the bank?

    • says

      Is he aware how expensive his favorites are? I know, sounds like a dumb question, but sometimes we get into habits and aren’t even aware of the details! I might suggest talking with him, ask him if there is one area where he thinks he might be able to change (brand, amount, etc) and start by making changes one at a time. I might also give him a budget and have him plan and purchase the items if at all possible. Send him to the store with CASH, because when you have to actually hand over CASH, it hurts a lot more and many people will rethink about their purchases. It is so easy to be apathetic when you just swipe a card! I have no idea if any of these ideas will work, but thought I’d put in my two cents!! Good luck!!

    • says

      I have ameat eater too..3 meals a day, meat, meat, meat! He worked out of state up until about a year ago and our grocery bill for myself with 3 kids(1 teen, 1 preteen , and a toddler, all big eaters) was less than $70 a week. Since he’s been back, we spend $150, easy a week. And that’s trying hard to buy marked down meat!

    • says

      One suggestion: look into buying your meat in BULK. A half or a whole pig at under $2.00 a lb is in the long run less expensive than buying individual cuts. Same with a quarter or half of a steer. BUT you have to save up a chunk of change in order to purchase that much meat at one time!

      Also, as you talk to your husband about the issue, it might be helpful to put it to him in terms of a problem that you need his help in solving. He needs to know whether or not you both are hitting or missing the mark in terms of the food budget, but he doesn’t need to be blamed for causing it to fall short, simply because he is the meat eater. If he is so particular about brands, he may in fact be the kind of person to participate in the actual shopping. If not, maybe he’s a numbers person, and you can show him how much per meal it is costing to put that much/that kind of meat on the table every day. And you can ask him where he thinks you both might be able to cut back in order to keep within the budget.

  16. says

    Menu planning saves my sanity!!! I can’t imagine not planning a menu. I am really looking forward to the rest of this series.

  17. Lynn says

    We recently started planning our menus around themes for different days. Monday is breakfast, Tuesday Italian, etc. This has helped us use our food better and save time. Our small family doesn’t use a whole box of taco shells. Properly sealed, the shells will still be great in a week. If we want chicken fajitas for dinner Sunday, my husband can grill some chicken on Saturday while fixing whatever is that day’s grilled dinner. We have a list of different choices for each day, and don’t have that feeling of being burnt out or feeling like you’re repeating the exact same dinner too often.

  18. says

    Menu planning seriously saves my sanity. I spent so much more at the grocery store when I didn’t have a plan. Now, I could not imagine grocery shopping without a menu plan. I appreciate the fact that you made this super easy for newbies to try to implement.

  19. says

    I guess I’ve been one of those “Bauchers” (I have no idea how to spell that, lol!). The thought of planning out my meals for an entire week has always been overwhelming and strange to me. But I can totally see and understand your point. Now if only I can get that time management thing down so I can find the time to even do a menu, then I’ll be golden. Thanks a lot for the vids! Huge help!

  20. says

    UGH!!! My speakers will not work!! I am sooooo super sad right now!
    Could someone please let me know the important parts of her speach?
    I am trying so hard to get organized and make life run more smoothly but I cant hear Crystals vlog so this is making things super hard on me! lol
    Please someone let me know the things she said about freezer meal planning or whatever the topic was?
    Thank you!

    • Rebecca says

      She basically went through having an open-mind about menu planning. You can plan as many meals as need be for as long as you want to and move them around to fit your schedule (you might be busy on Tuesday night so a quick dinner is what you can do) but she was basically asking followers to keep an open mind to menu planning and try it for a week.

      Also, she said in the future weeks she would be discussing how to plan your menu around sale ciruclars.

      Hope that helps!

  21. Mary says

    I have a similar method, which I’ve been using for some time, in that I plan enough meals (I just do dinners) for at least one week–it’s often more like 9 days–but I don’t assign any days to the meals. I often pick the meals for a given day based on the day’s schedule or what comes up, or how long and stressful my work/home day has been. I also have in a plastic see-through folder what I call my “master menu list,” which is a 3-page list (and growing) of meals my family likes and I know I can prepare without too much trouble that includes an abbreviated notation of where to find them (e.g., “Menu Binder, Moosewood Cooks at Home). I adjust my list as needed during the week, such as when I find a good deal on eggplant at the farmer’s market or when I realize my stash of fresh carrots needs to be used more quickly than I realized.

    • says

      I love your idea of a master list, maybe if I try that it will make menu planning much easier too. The system Crystal has in place does seem very user-friendly, my problem is that I have such a HUGE collection of recipes between all my cookbooks, I have really just overwhelmed myself. I am inspired to start a list of all the more simple recipes that my husband loves (b/c it’s just 2 of us right now) and use that master list and then sales to plan better, simple menus. Thanks for all of the ideas girls!

  22. Laura says

    Those Flip cameras can be a nuisance! So easy to film with, but the uploading is such a pain!

    Thanks for another great video!

  23. Rebecca says

    Another thing to think about is only planning dinners. I’m a stay at home mom with 2 boys and we usually have eggs and toast, pancakes, french toast, or cereal for breakfast, leftovers from dinner the night before for lunch, and then a big dinner when my husband gets home. So I really only menu plan for dinners and weekends and that has worked out great for me!

    Just a thought for those who are new to menu planning :)

    Thanks Crystal for all you do! Your blog is amazing and I LOVE this series!

    • Wendy says

      I do the same Rebecca. I sit down with the sales papers once a week and look at what’s on sale and plan menus accordingly. I too only plan dinners and it works out great. My kids fix their own breakfast from what I have (cereal, pop tarts, etc..) and lunch is leftovers. Of course with 2 teens, left overs are getting harder to come by. But as Crystal said, having items on hand and begin thinking about dinner that morning, really helps when 5:00 comes.

  24. Charity says

    Menu planning rocks! :) But for me the type/style of my menu changes as our family life does. I am 7months pregnant and have three littles already, so planning and preparing huge meals would be silly for me right now. (My energy is better used elsewhere.) So I cook two “bigger” meals a week which gives us 4+meals (leftovers) and then we have a breakfast night (pancakes, bacon etc) which can be made quickly, and a sandwhich night, then our eat-out/pickup night (and we watch a movie with the children this night too). This works great for my family right now. Something else that helps me out is to do prep work and light freezer cooking when my little are down for naps. I make batches of pancakes/muffins/bread dough etc and pop them in the freezer for later use. All of those things can be assembled quickly and I still have time to sit back or take a little nap so me and baby within can rest. :)

    PS. Crystal, you are a gifted encourager! Love that! :)

  25. Jennifer says

    I just want to throw out my favorite “go to” cookbook when stuck on menu planning ideas. I am a homeschool mom to 5 kids, aged 8 and under. I don’t have time to cook as fancy as I used to. My husband and I are “foodie” type people and love sitting down to a nice meal at night. We love The Best 30 Minute Recipe cookbook. It is from the editors of Cook’s Illustrated and America’s Test Kitchen. Has lots of basics like chicken noodle soup, mac n cheese, etc. And the recipes are truly how you can get the best tasting main dishes in 30 minutes. And they really are 30 minute recipes. Lots of things to do with chicken breasts, meat and veggies over rice, pastas… check it out if you need ideas!

  26. says

    I really like menu planning and am so happy that I’m not throwing away much, if any! I usually just plan dinner because we tend to have the same things every week for breakfast and lunch! My family is picky and really only likes to eat the less healthy things. So menu planning allows me to incorporate their favorites,while still having them try new and healthier meals. I also usually only plan for the main course! We always have a handful of frozen veggies on hand, so I usually have one of the kids pick what veggie they want that evening! I do like just making a list of meals that we have ingredients for and then just choosing in the morning what we would like for that evening. Because sometimes I just don’t feel like eating something specific or I might not feel like cooking it! I would say that FLEXIBILITY is the key, because I used to be very rigid and it didn’t last long. I am now much more successful now that I just plan 7 meals for the week and decide on the specific days as I go!

  27. says

    With kids (of all ages), it seems that evenings can be particularly busy. I love how your plan helps to decrease stress & keep it simple while allowing plenty of flexibility. The plan to know what you’re having for dinner the morning of is great, too! I used to menu plan similarly with lunches & dinner’s only…your video has inspired me to start up again! :-)

  28. says

    You know what has impressed on me? The fact that menu planning is a concept that I keep needing to be reminded to do. I do it for a while, then fall off the band wagon, and either convince my husband that we need to treat ourselves to dinner, or WORSE, fix something off the top of my head, spontaneous and last-minute style, and serve up something none of us really wants to eat. One thing we have implemented is having basically the same meal every Saturday night (homemade pizza). We actually look forward to it, and it eliminates one day that I have to think of what to fix for dinner. (My in-laws do hamburgers every Saturday night, even now that all their adult children are off and married.) Sunday nights I do something similar: usually fried rice or some simple pasta. So that only leaves 5 dinners to actually “think about,” and I really have no excuse not to do it. (By the way, THANK YOU for the downloadable daily planning pages! I’m using them to help me work on those weekly and daily habits that add up to help make a home run more smoothly. And as an added bonus: I’m drinking more water.)

  29. Lea Stormhammer says

    We started menu planning when our kids were about a year old (they’re now 5 1/2). At first we planned 5 dinners a week, picking which one sounded the best each night, and had a short list of 4-5 things that we always had on hand for the other two and if we didn’t have time to make something on the list. Worked great for about 1 1/2 years and then we went to planning specific dinners for all 7 nights of the week. Then our life got a lot more hectic! Now we plan all 3 meals and 2 snacks each day of the week. That works for us now, but someday we’ll probably go back to just planning dinners. We still keep food for 3-5 ‘all purpose’ meals on hand just in case something goes haywire or we really don’t feel like cooking “for real.”

    Crystal, I love the way you emphasized doing what works for you! As you can see, for us we’ve done this 3 different ways so far and each has worked when we needed it too.

    Thanks for all you do Crystal!
    Lea

  30. Keelie says

    For some reason, I can’t see the video at all. Like it isn’t even linked on the page. Am I the only one who has had a problem viewing this.

    • says

      I had trouble with the site today as well. I’m wondering if the internet is wiggedy-wacked today. I was able to watch through YouTube though.

  31. Jennifer S. says

    I have meal planned for some years now and like the video expresses, there is NO one tried and proven way. It’s a journey.

    What has worked for us now (5 kids ages 7-14) is that the first weekend of each month I (or hubby or some kids) brown 10 lbs. of hamburger and grill 10-15 lbs. of chicken. I then cut/dice the chicken. They are put into proportion size bags to be used for our monthly meals.

    What has worked and been fun is to assign a ‘meat’ to a day.
    This is posted on our refrigerator.
    Monday=chicken
    Tuesday=hamburger
    Wednesday=soup day
    Thursday=pasta/anti-meat nite
    Friday=(Family Fun Nite)=homemade Pizza
    Sat/Sun=pork/beef roast or whole chicken
    PS: Sundays are my days off of cooking! I’m blessed with a lovely hubby who LOVES to cook.

    I then meal plan from here. The sky’s the limit. You can be as flexible or as rigid as you want on planning how you’re going to use the meat for the day. This has eliminated sooooo much stress on me. We have many favorite recipes I use each month. Each of our children pick a day per month that they will be responsible for that day’s supper. It’s fun to see them look thru cookbooks/magazines to come up with something that matches that day’s meat.

    Our leftovers are used for our lunches since we home-educate.

  32. Heather Johnson says

    Thank you so much for posting this video. I know I can do this now. Before, I thought meal planning was just one more thing that was going to take up a lot of time but you made it seem doable and fun. You’re right on about this being helpful so we’re not scrambling for something to eat at dinnertime. That’s been happening in our house lately and it becomes tiresome and stressful. What helped me a lot today is that my husband did the kids’ bedtime routine last night so that I could prepare today’s dinner. I had more time to spend with the kids today and we’re having a nice meal together tonight for dinner. Did I mention that since it’s already prepared, we’ll get to all sit together at the table at the same time too? What a blessing! Thanks so much for all of your help. :)

  33. Lauren says

    I’m newly pregnant with baby #2 and oh, I am so glad that I already did my meal planning for all of January at the beginning of the month! I felt so much ahead of the game. I use a month calendar where I pencil in meals on the days I know we will need them, and leave room for a night or two out. I use pencil so that I can re-arrange whenever life requires it (ex: enchiladas just didn’t happen last night, so I pulled some stroganoff out of the freezer). Anyway, I have pretty much all the groceries I need for the month (still waiting for a sale on ground beef), and because I’m so ahead of the game, I am actually trying to plan for February’s meals and have lots of leftovers in the freezer and even get a lot of February’s shopping done early, that way when I’m in the worst of my ALL DAY morning sickness, all that pressure will be off. :-)

    Meal planning can be helpful on so many levels!!!

  34. angel pitts says

    i love the tips on this website.i have been using your site for about 6 months and have saved a ton and gotten great ideas from you and your readers.i meal plan by my calendar.i do it one week at a time and base it off of my work schedule(i work nights) and activities we have each day.busy days get a quick meal and not as busy get something that takes longer to prepare.i also base it on what is on sale that week(learned that here) and like you-we are very flexible with it…….thanks for being a great resource!!!!!!

  35. Shirley says

    I used to menu plan and after my second son was born, when I probably needed it the most, I got out of the habit. I am now finally getting back to it, but I like what you said about menu planning not having to be fancy meals. I like doing a theme as someone else mentioned. Friday is always some version of homemade pizza, Wednesday are leftovers, Monday Crockpot. Still working on Tues & Thurs. But I definitely needed the reminder that sometimes simple is better for everyone. A less stressed mom = less stress family!
    Thank you Crystal for the work you put into your blog. It is truly a life line for me!

  36. says

    I have only ever meal planned. Can’t imagine not doing it! I do write mine in order though. Often times I double up on some cooking. Like cook extra chicken on Monday for Wednesday pizza. Or cook extra rice Tuesday for Thursday casserole. I also do that so I don’t use my “easy” meals on the wrong night:-)

  37. says

    This is definately my weak point!! I either have NO plan or a very detailed ridged plan that I can’t complete. I can’t believe I never thought of it as a “meal choices” list.

    Thanks Chrystal!

    :)
    Lisa

  38. ann B says

    Okay, I think my problem has been trying to schedule meals on certain days. Looser planning sounds like my new plan.

    Thanks

  39. Bailey says

    Another perk of menu planning, for those of us with hubbies who like to cook is that (since it’s posted on the fridge) he can get dinner started for me if I’m running late at work. We also have an agreement between us that we can swap days at any point, but can’t opt to “just eat out”. This way if we’re not “in the mood” for tonight’s meal, we can swap it with another night, but we’re not defaulting to old habits of running to the drive-thru.

  40. Wendy says

    I have been making a menu for years now it’s the only way to go. Not only is it budget friendly for your grocery bill but also for your gas bill. I make one out for every 2 weeks. This really works for us. But don’t forget leftover days. These days are the best you only have to heat to eat. YAY!

  41. Renee says

    Thanks for the great tips. I look forward to more great advice from you. You are so inspiring and easy to listen to.

  42. says

    I agree that menu planning doesn’t have to be the same for everyone. I menu plan each week but I only plan out our dinners. Sure, like you said, we don’t stick right to what I have down each night. Things come up and we scrap the menu for the night altogether or maybe switch it around with another night. This has saved us a lot of headache and money over the past few months.

  43. says

    It was very refreshing to hear your thoughts on menu planning. Thank you for stressing that it is important to find what works best for each person’s own family. :) Now I don’t feel guilty for serving a couple of very simple meals every week. As long as my family likes it and is getting nourished, that’s what is important.