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This week’s menu plan (and how I learned the hard way that no menu plan = disaster!)

In a very uncharacteristic move, I jumped off the menu-planning bandwagon for the past two weeks. We had plenty of food on hand and I figured it wouldn't be too much trouble to wing it.

Was I ever wrong!

Trying to "fly by the seat of my pants" when it came to menu-planning was disastrous! We not only resorted to take-out a few times (outside of our once-a-week Dinner Out night), but we had little variety in our meals. And, worst of all, I found it took me a great deal of mental energy to try and figure out from day-to-day and meal-to-meal what we'd be eating. Five o'clock would sneak up on me from out of the blue every single night and I had no plan… again.

So, no more skipping the meal-planning around here. Two weeks of that madness was plenty enough for me. I'm committed to make this a priority now that I've seen how much time, effort, and money it saves!

Here's this week's menu plan:

Fresh carrot/apple juice, Kashi waffles (free at Target last week)
Fresh tomato juice, Blueberry Banana Bran muffins from the freezer
Strawberry/blueberry/banana smoothies, toast
Cereal x 2
Fruit, muffins
Homemade cinnamon rolls, turkey sausage, fruit

Healthy choice meals (free with coupons last week)
Quesadillas, fruit salad
Green pepper strips, fruit salad, PB &J sandwiches, stuffed eggs
Fried egg sandwiches with tomatoes
Bean soup, muffins from the freezer, carrots
PB&J, fruit, granola bars (free with coupons last week)

Farmhouse Chicken, biscuits, grapes, peas
Chicken Pot Pie, fruit salad, broccoli
Southwest Roll-ups, corn and tomatoes, fruit salad
Homemade Pizza, fruit, ice cream
French Toast, turkey sausage, fruit
Out to Dinner
Homemade Mac and Cheese, grapes, homemade bread

Granola bars
Muffins from the freezer
Cheese and crackers
Ice cream

It's only Tuesday and I'm already seeing a huge difference in having a plan. But you think I should know that by now for how often I preach the virtues of having a menu plan. Sometimes, even us frugal zealots need to be reminded of this again, though! 🙂

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  • Jenny says:

    Crystal, I have a question that may seem silly! Do your girls eat off the same menu? If they do, I’m amazed at all the different things they eat! How do you encourage this? Is it an “eat it or be hungry” thing, or do they truly enjoy trying new things?
    I’d love to hear how you get them to eat these things! My 3 year old is not picky, but we have a limited menu of things we know he’d like. My husband and I would loooove a little variation!

    Money Saving Mom here: Yes, the girls eat what we eat–only in smaller portions. I’ve tried to encourage them to try a variety of things since they first started becoming accustomed to table food. We usually adhere to a three-bite rule, if it’s something they don’t particularly care for.

    For instance, we had freshly-juiced tomato juice this morning and my 4-year-old was not excited about it at all. I had her take three sips and then she was free to choose from either cereal or muffins to eat after she was finished.

    I try to have lots of things they enjoy interspersed with their not-so-favorite things so that mealtime is an enjoyable experience!

  • Davonne says:

    Please post your cinnamon roll recipe!!

    I need to start menu planning 🙂

  • Jenni M. says:

    I totally relate to the plan. I found it has to be pre written or I just don’t cook, which turns into cereal, left overs or corn dogs… not so good. So I too plan a “menu” my family likes to call it. it also gets my husbands wants taken care of from the beginning too! I post Meal Monday’s (which is the upcoming weeks menu) on my blog. My goal is to have one new item each week. I found that keeps me excited too. Enjoy, *Jenni

  • I love your menu plans. I have to create a menu every week or I will go on a spending spree at the grocery store. Thanks for the plan!

  • Jennifer says:

    What are Southwest roll ups? Is that something you make from scratch. It sounds good… do you have a recipe?

    Money Saving Mom here: I should probably post a more detailed recipe sometime, but here’s the basic gist:

    1 can refried beans
    2 cups chopped chicken
    2-4 Tbsp. salsa

    Mix together and spread on tortillas (sprinkle with cheese if you like). Roll up and bake until heated through then sprinkle with grated cheese and serve with salsa.

    These freeze well, too.

  • Ellen says:

    Meal planning is probably the most difficult thing for me… I need all the help I can get (and I love to cook too, at times…)

  • Oh, I am so with you, my friend. I fell off the meal planning band wagon this summer for much longer than two weeks and am just climbing back on. It’s the mental energy, yes that brain freeze) that attacks when there’s no plan.

  • matty says:

    Yes, yes, yes, a menu has been a wonderful idea! I got away from it when the children (4) all left home. Now that I am on a mission to pay off my house, I am working so hard to use every single drop of goodies. The menu plan has saved me time AND money! I am even making soap for my new Etsy store and having time to read more than just students’ papers!

    I am so grateful I have found your site! I have learned a lot (yes, old dogs, and women, can learn new tricks) and saved more than $400 in one month just on food and household supplies! Thank you thank you thank you!

  • Jenni says:

    I love the simplicity of your meals. It’s helped me as I have a toddler now to not always feel like breakfast or lunch have to be anything spectacular, but at the same time, it can be interesting, nourishing, and tasty. But you also have variety. One thing I’ve noticed is that our breakfasts have gotten a lot better (pancakes, muffins) as we’ve moved beyond cereal as our only option, especially as I’ve learned to make things from scratch and then freeze them!

  • I am LOST without my weekly meal plan. I remember the days before I started meal planning, staring blankly into the refrigerator, having conversations with my hubby like “what do you want for dinner?”, “I dunno, what do you want for dinner?”, “um.. I dunno, what do YOU want for dinner?” After 15 minutes or so we’d end up at the drive-thru 🙂 Welcome back aboard the wagon! 🙂

  • Chrissy says:

    I can so relate! I haven’t been diligent about planning our weekly menus this summer and it causes me so much extra money and aggravation! I just hate that feeling when I look at the clock and realize that it’s time to start dinner… wait, what’s for dinner??? Guagh! Planning our menu is definately worth it for those two reasons, plus, my kids (and husband) like looking at the menu I post for the week and knowing what is coming up. 🙂

  • Emma K says:

    I was doing well with my menu planning until I went back to work. I need to get back with it because we resort to fast food or breakfast food in a crunch.
    I try to plan at least a months worth of dinner meals at a time. Then I make sure I stock up on the nonperishables for those meals. That’s what works best for me, its just sitting down to make up menus and not getting stuck in a rut.

  • Marie says:

    I wanted you to know that I really appreciate your honesty. It can’t be easy to have your menus picked apart and questioned to death by all of us. Thank you for being so willing to share who you are, what you do, what works, and what doesn’t. That farmhouse chicken dish sounds soooo good! I am definitely going to give that one a try! I also totally hear you on the meal planning thing. I truly hate doing it, but life just doesn’t work without it.

  • Kacy says:

    Doesn’t meal planning totally make a difference. I know when I don’t eating out is the total default as well. Its funny how not having a plan on some things can really drain you. Glad that you are back on track!

  • Leah says:

    I am right there with you on the meal planning thing. I make mine for the month and it works like a charm. If I don’t do the plan, we spend SO much more money than we ought to.

  • Alex Burda says:

    Good to see that people plan like you suggest. Even though we only have two kids without the proper planning they would miss out on vital nutrition. The other side of things is that using coupons etc leads to huge savings. I will check some of these out on your site.

  • Katie says:

    Hi Crystal,

    I have also found this to be true to my detriment. If I don’t have the gist of a menu then everything falls apart and I end up getting too tired to cook. My poor husband then has to race out to get food when he comes home from work and I feel a failurer!. I have also found that the food I have bought then goes off – making it a double hit.

    I’ve just started making one ingredient go across many meals i.e. a roast chicken will do sunday lunch, a chicken pie and chicken risotto. Someone gave me a good tip and that is only to eat the wings and legs for a roast dinner and save the rest of the meat for the next meals.

    I tend to spend a few hours in the kitchen every sunday afternoon and freeze all the meals for the week. I found this works for us.

    It is nice to know that I’m not alone with my mistakes.


  • Melissa says:

    Hey Crystal – I remember a few months or so ago you posted asking readers to email you mac and cheese recipes. I was wondering if you tried a lot out and the one you posted in this menu was the best one? I have been wanting a great mac and cheese recipe and was hoping you had found one. Thanks! And yes, I totally agree with you on the menu planning. We are moving this week and meals have been a disaster around here!

  • Shelby says:

    It seems like everyone here is on the same page – for the most part. Meal planning saves time and money and we’d all be lost without it! I know I would be. If I don’t do it then I have nothing prepared, no meat thawed (if it’s frozen) and I find my mind in a fog. We’d end up eating Fast Food or a bowl of cereal. This week I think all of my meals are about $5.00 and under! I’m trying to break it down each day as I also post a few recipes. Check it out!

  • Crystal,

    I noticed you said you eat out once each week. What category of your budget does this fall under or do you find deals or freebies at the restaurant(s) you go to? I agree with you 100% about menu planning. I spend way more time and $ when I don’t plan ahead. Thanks for your honesty too : )


    Money Saving Mom here: We allot $20 per week for our dates and eating out envelope which is separate from our grocery budget. We went without this for a few years when we were really scrimping, but have added it in in the last two years since we found it helps to have a little breathing room in our budget for things we enjoy–like eating out! We often take advantage of restaurant deals or freebies and then we also have found many ways to eat out inexpensively so we can stretch this $20 pretty far.

  • Tiffany says:

    We just started menu planning here a few weeks ago and it has saved us so much time and energy on a day to day basis, even though there’s only two of us to feed. We weren’t sure what difference it would make, but now that we’ve been doing it consistently, I can’t imagine doing without it!

  • Jenny says:

    Thanks for posting this! And admitting your 2 weeks off!

  • Elizabeth says:

    A meal plan is a real money saver.

    I was wondering if you use the same lunches for your husband as you plan for yourselves? My DH eats out for lunch but recently had surgery and cannot drive. So he mentioned bringing his lunch to work. I really think it is God’s answer to my prayers! Really!

    Anyhow now I am wondering if I should basically do the same for all of us- or give him a different lunch- not sure how to do this! I was thinking soups,salads,pasta salads, can all be done cheaply and prepped ahead and we all could eat from it. Not sure though and looking for some ideas from people who pack for hubbies!

  • Catherine says:

    An 8×8 casserole feeds four of you? I assume there’s side dishes? Maybe I am just unlucky 😛
    My DH can eat a 13×9 casserole by himself. But then again, most men aren’t 6’6” and 240lbs! 🙂

    Money Saving Mom here: Oh, there’s absolutely side dishes! Otherwise, we could totally go through a whole 9×13 pan–and we’ve definitely done that before!

  • Olathe mom says:

    Crystal, When you have time ;), I would love a post on how you manage to “dine out” cheaply. I realize your little ones are still quite little, and that you might utilize kids-eat-free options, but do you have any other tips for inexpensive “dine out” nights? I am afraid that when our family eats anywhere beyond fast-food establishments, we are hard pressed to spend less than $30 when tip is included. (A more accurate average would be around $35 per dine out meal– tip inclusive–, for our family of 6– and the youngest is only 5 months, so his meals at “mom’s diner” are always completely free!!)
    We do enjoy tipping around 15%, as we think it is a simple act of Christian witness.

    Also, when you dine out with family and friends, do you always go dutch treat? Or do you sometimes treat for all?

  • Honey says:

    It seems to be the day for questions! Here’s mine. I gathered (from your comment about Sobe Life Waters) that your husband carries his lunch. Does he take leftovers or does he have a sandwich type lunch?

  • Becky says:

    I struggled with the eating from the pantry challenge and after your post I know why. Not having a menu was stressful and I was usually too tired at 5 pm to throw something together. We also ate out way more than we usually did. I will make sure I have a better plan next time. Again, thank you for posting your struggles as well as your successes.

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