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Money-Saving Menu-Planning

Guest post from Lisa of Cooking Up A Sale

Most of us know by now that more menu-planning equals less grocery spending. But it’s how we menu-plan that can really make the total on that receipt come down.

There are many things we take into consideration as we plan meals for our families. Some of us have to plan around sports schedules and others have to plan around food allergies. In spite of our different situations, there are a few things that all of us can consider while menu-planning. These three simple concepts will aid you in the ever-present “battle of the grocery budget.”

1.  The cheapest places to shop are your fridge, freezer, and pantry.

You probably have the ingredients in your house for one dinner, or at least most of one dinner. Maybe you just need to pick up a fresh vegetable to supplement the main course.

This also means checking your fridge drawers for any produce that needs to be used up this week before it goes bad, and scanning your pantry shelves for that box of instant potatoes nearing its expiration date. Make sure to include those items on your menu for the week.

2.  What’s on sale is what’s for dinner.

If chicken is on sale this week and there’s no ground beef in your freezer, don’t plan to make lasagna — unless it’s chicken lasagna! If there’s a new recipe you’d like to try or an old favorite you’re dreaming about, wait to add them to the menu until next week or whenever the main ingredients go on sale.

3.  Plan two-fers.

If most of the ingredients for your favorite ham casserole are on sale this week, make two of them. Eat one this week and freeze the other one for next month.

Another interpretation of the two-fer is to use your leftovers for another meal. For example, if you plan beef roast for Tuesday night, that means you plan vegetable beef soup, french dip sandwiches, or beef BBQ for Thursday night.

What money-saving ideas do you take into consideration as you plan your menu?

Lisa is a Michigan wife and mother who loves to spend time in the kitchen.  She enjoys the challenges of menu-planning around grocery sales and creating delicious food using on-sale ingredients. Lisa blogs about two of her favorite topics ~ FOOD and saving money on groceries ~ at Cooking Up A Sale

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  1. Lana says

    I often plan around the meat from Sunday dinner. Last week I roasted a whole chicken for Sunday dinner. On Monday we had a chicken white bean chili that required one cup of chopped cooked chicken. That soup fed us for supper and then again for one lunch. I also used the remaining chicken for chicken salad which made four sandwiches. That one chicken was about 5 pounds and was on sale for a super price of 47 cents a pound, so all of those meals only cost about $2.50 for the meat. It is all too easy for me to allow leftovers to sit in the back of the fridge so I plan them into my menus from the start to keep it from happening.

  2. Patti says

    Great post! I just planned out 30 meals – simply wrote down ideas for them on a piece of paper. When I plugged them into my calendar, it takes us through two months because we eat other things, too (like pizza every Friday night). I planned these meals around items I already have so my grocery shopping will be minimal. And I already have extra meals to add because of the food I have already cooked.For example, I made a “rotisserie chicken” in the crock pot so now I have two freezer bags of extra chicken. Since I know what I want to cook in the next two months, I can buy when foods are on sale. Today there is a special on pork and since I want to have barbecue later in the month, I will buy it this week. After I make the bbq in the crock pot, I will freeze the leftovers for even more meals. Planning is the key and even though it took me about an hour to come up with 30 meals, it is going to save me tons of hours in the months ahead.

      • Kristi says

        I think Patti is referring to “roasting” a whole chicken in the crock pot. I do this by putting several balls of foil in the bottom of the crock pot, put the whole chicken on top and season well so that it looks like a rotisserie chicken. I cook it on high for 5-6 hours and it turns out great!

          • Kristi says

            I put in 3-4 small foil balls and make sure that they are small enough that the lid will still go on the crock pot after the chicken is in. It kind of depends on how big your chicken is. I drizzle a little olive oil on mine and use a home made creole seasoning mix. The mix has paprika in it so the chicken has a browned look when it’s done. I’ve seen recipes without the foil balls and with seasonings similar to Patti’s. You might have to experiment and see what you prefer.

          • samantha says

            I use a quartered onion on the bottom. I usually start with a frozen chicken, maybe put in the fridge the night before to get the plastic off easier. Put on high for the day, perfect for dinner.

          • Andrea Q says

            If you like a bit of “spice”, try Emeril’s Rustic Rub mix (Google for the recipe). It’s amazing. Brush the chicken with a bit of oil, sprinkle with the seasoning and cook. So easy.

      • Patti says

        Here’s my recipe which came from Prevention’s Best of Slow Cooker Recipes:
        1 broiler/fryer chicken (3.5 – 4 lb.) * Note: I only buy these when the price is below 1.00/lb. and usually it is a lot less.
        2 TBSP paprika
        1 1/2 tsp. onion powder
        2 TBSP garlic powder or 3 cloves garlic, pressed
        1 tsp. salt
        1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper

        Rinse chicken. Remove the giblets and neck. Coat a 4 quart or larger crock pot with cooking spray. Combine the spices in a bowl. Stir. Apply to wet chicken in side and out before placing chicken in cooker, breast side up. Cover and cook on low for 6 to 7 hours or high 3 1/2 to 4 1/2 hours or until internal temperature is 180 degrees F. Remove chicken from cooker and when cool enough to handle, remove skin and carve. My chicken usually falls apart.

  3. says

    I did this last week! The bag of spinach was on sale so I made two meals out of it: Spinach Frittata and a Baked Pasta dish. The spinach didn’t go to waste and I didn’t pay full price for it! And I didn’t have to purchase any other ingredients to make these dishes because everything else was already in my pantry and fridge. :)

  4. Ashley P says

    Leftovers, leftovers, leftovers!

    We’ve gotten a handle on most of our common dishes and how many days they last. (Pork fried rice will last us 3 days, rigatoni at least 2, same with taco salad.)

    On weeks we know we’re going to be busy (Like me pulling a 16 hour shift today) we make stuff we know will have lots of leftovers. It saves us from running to the store for something last minute because we’re too tired to cook. (Hubby and I both work 11 hours a day, every day.) The temptation to grab that fried chicken on the way home after my long shift tonight it strong. But then, I remember. I have leftovers at home. Suddenly, I don’t need that chicken anymore. Most of our cooking is done on Fridays and weekends. and we don’t cook much because we know 2 meals could last all week.

    Also, potatoes are usually pretty cheap. If there’s nothing on sale this week, we start getting creative with potatoes. Baked potatoes, mashed potatoes, homestyle potatoes, pot roast. Yeah, it’s a lot of starch. But when you work long hours, you gotta keep going somehow!

    • Wendy says

      Potatoes are what’s on our menu this week. Our local store had 10 lb bags on sale this past weekend for $2.98. We had potato soup this weekend. Tonight it’s baked potatoes & salad.

  5. Erin says

    I actually did some research on this one day, and found http://www.supercook.com, a site that allows you to plug in what you have on hand already, and it produces recipes from sites like allrecipes.com, eatingwell.com, etc, that uses what you have on hand. I really like it, and use it quite often when I want to use up that limp celery or bruising peaches.
    I’ve been looking for a site that tells you how to use leftovers better, if anyone has found something like that, please let me know!! :)

    • Patti says

      My favorite book of all time is called “The Use It Up Cookbook” by Lois Carlson Willard. It is out of print, I think, but you can usually find one on ebay or other used book sites. It has lots of ideas, all arranged by the food item. For example, ham will be followed by about 10 ways to use it up and then about 10 specific recipes.

      • Erin says

        Holy coe, Patti, that’s awesome–thank you for sharing that with me!! I really don’t like wasting food, and I’m somewhat of a newer cook, so I have a hard time being creative on a whim. I need some guidance. I think I’ll check out that book! Much appreciated!! :)

  6. says

    One of the things I do is to plan my meals around what’s ready in the garden. I have 4 seasons of menus which help me pick from what’s ready in the garden. For example, on Tuesday we had salad for lunch with a homemade citrus dressing, since I could pick arugula and chard from the garden. I know I’ll have lots of lettuce ready in the next few months, so we’ll have lentil tacos, lettuce to stick in burritos, lettuce for black-bean burgers, and plenty of salads with homemade dressings. I’ll make up some Balsamic-Orange vinagrette to have ready to go for when the lettuces and spinach are ready.

    I know we’ll be having lots of Swiss chard with our meals (we have had it several times a week) since that’s ready in the garden.

    • Andrea Q says

      Do you make lettuce wraps? I bet they would be good with a variety of seasonings.

      You can also lightly steam chard and use it instead of bread for a sandwich-like meal.

    • Emily H says

      I also have 3 teenagers. When I planned for leftover there were not leftovers after the meal. Now I plan on just the meal and it is saving me money and we are not over eating. Again doing things in bulk does not always save.

      • Wendy says

        I have a teen boy and 12 yr old boy. It seems like when I think I’ll have leftovers I don’t. When I think they’ll eat it all, I seem to have leftovers. Go figure :-)

    • Ashley P says

      Yeah, hubby and I are by ourselves, no kids at all. So the leftovers thing works for us for now. When we do have kids, we’re definitely going to have to change our game plan. :)

    • says

      I feel ya there, and I don’t have any teens. The only time we have leftovers is when I cook what I really like- because generally my husband chooses to eat a bologna sandwich instead. So I eat em for lunch the next day.

    • Lana says

      When my kids were home and I planned for leftovers I put away that part of the food and served the rest. My teens would keep eating as long as there was food on the table.

    • Momof5 says

      My middle daughter (also a teen) has figured out that her older brothers and their various friends will be unlikely to leave anything for leftovers. So she packs her lunch for the next day as she serves herself dinner. Works great for her!

      And though we joke at home about there never being leftovers, I’ve found that with growing bodies, sometimes the kids really do need to eat every single scrap, and sometimes they don’t. But if I don’t cook in bulk, there’s a primitive part of their brain that worries about scarcity, so they really will finish everything, whether they’re hungry or not. When they see that I’ve mashed 2 dozen or more big potatoes – more than even will fit in a serving bowl – they’re more likely to eat until they’re full and then think about what they want to do with the leftovers (“Can we have potato pancakes for breakfast, Mom?”). All kids are different, of course, but it might be worth it to over-prepare for awhile to see if they back off on finishing every scrap once they get used to abundance. That works for us, at least.

  7. Shannon says

    One thing I am guilty of is buying produce and using part of it, but not having a plan to use the rest of it. (Namely carrots and celery) I am trying to incorporate that into my menu planning. For instance, I used carrots for the soup I made, but also I can shred it and make a carrot raisin salad to use up the rest) Also, I buy meat when it is on sale; I almost never buy meat at regular price. There is always something in the freezer to thaw out and when my ground beef stash is getting low, I know to hunt around for deals to stock up again.

    • Ashley P says

      I used to have the same problem. Then I started getting creative. Carrots and celery and corn are great in pork fried rice or stir-fry. Left-over steamed broccoli goes great on a baked potato, or as a snack with a bit of cheese on top. Pepper slices make for good kebabs.

      You’d be surprised what leftover veggies are capable of!

    • Stephanie says

      I have found that if I have extra celery or carrots I can chop them up and put them in the freezer and use them later for soup. I used to buy celery for soup and end up throwing away 1/2 or more of it, but the frozen works great in soup and saves time when I am putting the soup together.

    • says

      One idea for the carrots is to cook them as a side dish (a favorite in our house is sauteing carrots in coconut oil with a bit of honey, lots of fresh ginger and a couple pinches of thyme) and then freeze them for a dinner later. The carrots won’t go uneaten or spoil, plus it’s ready to thaw and re-heat when you pull out your meat.

  8. Emily says

    I keep lists in my recipe index binder of different recipes that use ingredients that I usually don’t keep around the house, for example, buttermilk. That way, if I need to purchase an ingredient for one meal we are making that week, I see what other recipes we can also make that week using that same ingredient so we waste less food. It’s a work in progress (as in, we still tend to waste some things, but we are getting better).

    • kate says

      this is a great idea – i’m going to try to start doing this. particularly as a single person, i wind up with lots of leftover ingredients.

      one time i made lemon bars that required 7 egg yolks, and since i don’t eat eggs as eggs, an egg white omlet was out, i spent some time before i made them looking for a recipe that used the same number of egg whites (macaroons – they used 6, not too bad!), but it never occurred to me to do this on a larger scale.

    • Stephanie says

      You can buy powdered buttermilk in the baking aisle. That has saved us so much money and the buttermilk doesn’t go to waste.

  9. says

    These are excellent tips, regardless of how often you shop. I am a once-a-month shopper, but my own fridge/freezer/pantry is my first stop before any store. I always plan dinner on what’s on sale and while I don’t have enough freezer room to make two of each dinner, I definitely plan my month around meals that provide two – like a roasted chicken one night and then chicken tacos the next. Great post!!

  10. says

    We definitely look through our refrigerator, freezer, and pantry for things that we can use in our meals.

    As you mentioned, we typically have something for each meal and very rarely do we have to buy all of the ingredients.

    After that we do check the ads at our local grocery store. But after that, then we just go with what we WANT! We love food and sometimes if the sales don’t look good then I just want to cook something that sounds delicious!

  11. says

    I wholeheartedly agree that if you can make a two-fer it is TOTALLY worth it. For some reason, I always get about 30% more mess when I do “two-fers” but it is totally worth it – especially that night I pull that premade lasagna out of the freezer and slip it into the oven! I LOVE TWO-FERS! Thanks for sharing!

  12. says

    Thanks for the tips! Too funny that this post was featured today. I just sat down to brave the waters of menu planning. I have been so frustrated because I couldn’t find a planner that was my style, so I finally created one myself in Open Office. Now to start the actual planning…

  13. says

    I just recently started shopping this way and it has made a world of difference to me. I used to think that the key to saving money was to have all my menus completely planned out. I found that some nights the plan just didn’t get done and food was wasted. By switching to this way of cooking I don’t waste as much and it is fun to come up with new things to make from what I have on hand. Thanks for the post!

  14. Sarah says

    The shop from home is a massive tip!

    I tell folks near us all the time to make barter deals with someone who loves to garden. We have many that have massive gardens but can’t use all of produce , but they could be massively short on cash , and need some clothing for a child so work a trade if you have a child out growing some clothes or toys.

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