Meal Planning, Save Money on Groceries

The homemaker can save money on groceries by remembering

convenience is costly.

Doing more of the work will save money.

Purchase dry beans instead of canned varieties.

Rinse beans, cover with water 2 inches over the beans. Soak overnight. Drain and rinse. Place in the sleeve of a slow cooker, cover by 1/2″ – 1″ with fresh water. Cook on low until tender (about 6-8 hours). Cool completely, then bag in 2-cup (15-16 ounces by weight) portions, and freeze.

Blocks of beans frozen this way can be added to soups and stews without thawing. To use as a substitute for canned beans in a recipe, thaw in the refrigerator (about 24 hours) or in cool water, first.

4 pounds dry pinto beans = $3.82
1 pound yields about 54 ounces (by weight) cooked beans
cost = 1.8¢ per ounce

canned pinto beans cost = 4.7¢ per ounce
canned refried beans cost = 6.3¢ per ounce

Save over 60% on canned pinto beans. Use those frozen beans to make homemade refried beans and save over 70% on store-bought!

Cook your own flavored rice side dishes.

5 pounds long grain white rice = $2.98
cost = 3.7¢ per ounce

The least expensive Spanish-style yellow rice mix I can find is 14.7¢ per ounce. Save over 70% by cooking Spanish-style rice at home!

Buy seasoning bases instead of stock or broth.

I like the brand Better Than Bouillon. Just one jar makes the equivalent of 9.5 quarts of broth!

(These prices are from my local grocery store, which is more expensive than, say, Wal-Mart.)
1 jar = $5.25
cost = 55.3¢ per quart of broth made
1 quart Swanson brand broth = $2.39

Save over 75% on broth/stock!

Purchase refill sizes of condiments, cooking oils, and spices.

Keep smaller containers for ease of use, but buy larger containers. Just don’t buy more than the family will use before it spoils! That huge container of ketchup is not cheaper if half of it ends up in the garbage!


Buy cheese by the block.

Purchase cheese in blocks instead of shredded or sliced.

(Name-brand prices, from Wal-Mart. Prices are comparable to store-brand at my local grocery chain, which is in the Food Giant family.)
KRAFT 1 pound sharp cheddar = $4.96
KRAFT 8 ounces (2 cups) shredded sharp cheddar = $2.67
KRAFT 7 ounces (24 slices) “cracker cuts” = $2.67

A one-pound block of cheese will yield about 4 cups when shredded — save about 8%. Using the conversion of 7 ounces for 24 slices, then cutting the block of cheese saves about 18% over the “cracker cuts.”

My store frequently puts half-pound blocks of cheese on sale for 2 for $4. When this happens, I save about 25% over shredded cheese and about 33% over sliced cheese. I have not had success freezing cheese in blocks, but have not given up hope, yet. It would be wonderful to be able to stock the freezer with some cheeses when the prices are so good.

Comment below with your favorite way to save money on groceries. 🙂


Meal Planning, A Case Study

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I have covered a lot of information in this Meal Planning series. This post that serves as an example of my thought process when planning a menu for the week. I hope it will be helpful case study, of sorts.

Gather Supplies

  • notepad to write the meal list
  • grocery list
  • “go-to meals” list
  • recipe box
  • Internet access to new recipes, weekly grocery ad circular, calendar, and list-making app

Plan the Menu

Most often, I grocery shop on Sunday or Monday, cook throughout the week, and then use up leftovers on the weekend. I list meals on a notepad, so that I can put the list on the refrigerator. I include side dishes and even drinks, if I want to make something particular like lemonade or tea. At the bottom of the plan, I write any snack, dessert, or breakfast recipes I want to bake that week.

I begin by choosing meals for busy days, such as when we have company coming, will be out all day, or want to celebrate a special occasion.

I decide on a new recipe to try, and assign it for a day we won’t be busy. I copy the recipe to a sheet of paper from the notepad so I don’t have to hunt down the new recipe later in the week or cook with my phone or a cookbook on the counter.

I choose meals to fill in the gaps, incorporating a variety of cuisines and proteins. I use my list of favorite meals if I can’t think of what to make.

My list for this week:

  • Red beans & rice with baked zucchini
  • Breakfast: hash brown potatoes, eggs, sausage, biscuits
  • Chicken enchilada soup (slow cooker) with cheese quesadillas
  • Pizza with bread sticks
  • Nachos
  • Baking/other: homemade fruit gummies, granola bars, crumb cake

Make the List

Once I have my meal plan for the week, I can work on making my grocery list. I pull recipe cards from my recipe box.

I look through my pantry and freezer inventory and write down anything I have used up or that is running low. I pull up the grocery store ad circular online and see if these items are on sale that week. If so, I star them on my list. Then, I look to see if anything of these things are needed for the week’s menu. If so, I mark a dash beside it. Everything else gets crossed off the list (and written on the next page of my list pad to be considered next week!). This is difficult to describe. While shopping, I know that starred items are on sale, and I need to buy enough to restock the pantry. Dashed items are not on sale, so I only need to buy enough for the recipe(s) I am cooking that week. I hope this makes sense. 🙂

Then, looking through the recipe cards for the week, I add the rest of the ingredients I need to my list.

Organize and Shop

I clip all of the recipes together, in order of use, with a magnetic clip (shown in the image above) and hang them on the refrigerator. I tear off the menu plan and hang that up beside the recipes.

I enter my menu into a list-making app. I use one called Wunderlist available in the iTunes store for Apple devices. I have a folder for Meals. Each meal is a task, with the due date as the day I plan to make it. I add any sub-tasks necessary, like soaking beans or thawing meat.

Before I found this app or had a smart device, I added sub-tasks below each menu item on my paper list. Then, each evening and morning, I checked the list to see if I needed to do something to prepare for the next meal.

After shopping, I remove every item from the grocery bags. As I put things away, I add them to my pantry/freezer inventory. The app I use makes this easy because I can just scan the bar codes. I have even done this as I add items to the cart in the grocery store, so long as I don’t have kids with me and the store is not very busy (I don’t want to hog the aisle as I scan codes).

Stay Organized and Be Flexible

As I cook meals throughout the week, I mark on my menu that the meal has been made. If there are leftovers, I write “LO” at the end of the line. Once eaten, I cross it off. As I use items from the pantry, I remove them from my inventory. Used recipes are moved to the back of the stack on the refrigerator. I put away the whole stack the next week as I get ready to plan a new menu.

My menu is flexible. I do not hesitate to reschedule meals for different days. Some days during the week are challenging, and I end up using leftovers and shifting the entire menu ahead one day. Or something unexpected pops up, and I change up the whole plan.

Not everything in life is predictable. That’s part of the fun of it all. 🙂

Meal Planning, Menus

As a child, my family ate a small variety of meals. (I am not faulting my mother, here – she does not enjoy cooking and did not have much free time to invest in it, either.) My husband, on the other hand, grew up with a rich variety of tastes and textures. Guess which of us is the pickier eater, now? (I am learning, though!)

I could easily eat a ground beef based Tex-Mex meal every night of the week. Tacos, then burritos, then nachos, then maybe taco soup, then enchiladas… same flavor profile, same colors, same, same, same! While tasty (to me), this diet is not very nourishing or exciting.

The homemaker should strive to provide a healthful, varied diet to her family. I have discovered two ways to combat my natural tendency for sameness: vary the protein and vary the cuisine.

Each of these can serve as the basis for the family menu.

Cuisine as a Menu Base

There are a host of cuisines and food categories to choose from. Pick five the family enjoys, and plan to have a meal in each style through the week. When just beginning to make a menu plan, it helps to relegate a style to a particular day of the week.

Here is a menu base I have used in the past, with some example meals below each:

  • Monday – meatless/vegetarian
    • broccoli cheese soup, tomato soup with grilled cheese sandwiches, egg salad sandwiches
  • Tuesday – Italian
    • spaghetti, lasagna, spicy chicken pasta, eggplant Parmesan
  • Wednesday – Tex-Mex
    • tacos, burritos, Mexican lasagna, enchiladas
  • Thursday – American/southern
    • chicken-fried steak, pork chops, red beans and rice, steak, pot roast
  • Friday – Fun
    • nachos, “movie” foods (sausage, cheese, popcorn), hearty dips and chips
  • Weekend – leftovers and pantry meals

There is thought and rhyme to this menu. I usually do my grocery shopping on Mondays, and most meatless meals I make are quick. We usually have salad with Italian dishes; the salad ingredients are freshest early in the week. We are most likely to watch a movie on Fridays and have supper on the couch. By the weekend, we usually have enough leftovers to carry us to Monday, but if not, we can make use of the pantry for a meal or two.

When starting with categories as a menu base, vary the protein within each cuisine.

For example, if I plan spaghetti for Tuesday, then I would avoid using ground beef on Wednesday or Thursday. I might choose chicken enchiladas for Wednesday, then pulled pork sandwiches on Thursday.

Protein as a Menu Base

Alternatively, the protein can be decided for each day of the week as a starting point. Here is an example:

  • Monday – meatless/vegetarian
  • Tuesday – chicken
    • chicken enchiladas, chicken and rice, grilled chicken and pasta
  • Wednesday – pork
    • pulled pork sandwiches, pork chops, pork roast
  • Thursday – beef
    • beef stew, tacos/burritos, grilled steak, beef ribs
  • Friday – cold/canned meats
    • turkey sandwiches, summer sausage and cheese on crackers, chicken or tuna salad sandwiches

When starting with proteins as a menu base, vary the cuisine/flavor profile throughout the week. If I plan chicken enchiladas for Tuesday, I would avoid choosing tacos for Thursday.

I am not a nutritionist, and neither is the average homemaker. Colors are an easy way to assess the variety of nutrition in a meal. Aim for four colors on the plate.

Good: steak (brown), potatoes au gratin (white/yellow), peas (green)

Not so good: spaghetti (white/red), corn (yellow), garlic bread (white)

When planning the menu, the homemaker should also consider other activities scheduled for the week. If the family goes to church on Wednesday evenings, maybe Wednesday should be slow-cooker day. Or if Tuesday is library day, then perhaps Tuesday should be cold/canned meats day.

Don’t plan homemade chicken-fried steak, mashed potatoes, gravy, and long-simmered green beans for the day all the family is seeing the dentist! It would set the stage for a last-minute pizza order.

A fun way to introduce the family to new foods is to plan (this is really the key word, in all of this!) to try a new recipe once or twice a month. Pinterest is my favorite new recipe resource — just search something like “chicken pasta” and scroll, scroll, scroll to find some great new preparation to try! Or make a point to drag out those forgotten cookbooks once a month and pick something appetizing.

If the family loves it, add it to the family meal list and copy the recipe into the family recipe box/book/binder.


Ease meal-time preparation by planning ahead.

  • Cook 2-3 times as much meat as needed for that meal. Cool leftovers completely, then bag, label, and stash in the freezer (a 1/2-quart portion is about the yield of 1 pound of ground meat). Taco meat is an excellent candidate, here. Place the frozen meat in a pot, add 1/4 cup water, cover, and heat on medium-low heat until completely defrosted. Then uncover and heat on medium to cook off some of the excess liquid.
  • Shredded chicken is used in a variety of ways. Cook a whole bird or pot-full of parts in the slow cooker the day before it is needed for a recipe. Once cooked through and tender, pull the meat off the bones and refrigerate. (Cold meat will shred more easily and with less mess.) Use the portion needed in the recipe; bag, label, and freeze the extra in 1/2-quart portions.
  • When firing up the grill, throw an extra steak or some chicken breasts alongside the family’s meal. Thinly slice cold steak or chicken for a lunch quesadilla or hearty salad.
  • Use leftover mashed potatoes for fried potato patties.
  • Chop enough of a given vegetable to use throughout the week (do not do this with potatoes, as they will brown while stored). This can even be done the same day as grocery shopping.

Meal Planning, Pantry Maintenance

The pantry is a great help to the homemaker. A well-stocked pantry can be the difference between grabbing a bite at the fast food drive-thru (read: spending money not accounted for in the budget) and driving home with the confidence that there will be something to eat. It is the difference between serving cereal for supper and a one-pot meat, vegetable, and grain dish.

The pantry also allows the homemaker to take advantage of grocery sale prices without limiting the family’s meals to what is on sale that particular week. The key is to purchase enough of a given item when it is on sale to last the family until the next sale.

This is most simply learned by trial and error. Buy what may be needed; if it is used before the next sale, then buy even more next time. The learning curve can be shortened by keeping a paper tally to track usage of pantry and freezer items, and also when items go on sale (most stores operate on sale cycles that may be 6-10 weeks long).


Pantry and Freezer Inventories

It’s important to keep inventories of the pantry and freezer. Without inventories, duplicates are bought inadvertently (“How did I end up with five containers of bread crumbs?), items are forgotten (“I need black beans for this soup, but forgot that I was out of them!”), and food spoils (“How long has this meat been in the freezer?”). It is a waste to buy food that goes uneaten.

Recently, I found a good app through the Apple store called “Pantry Check.” It is free, so not perfect, but still useful. The benefits over a paper inventory are that the items are searchable, easily organized, and the app features a bar code scanner for quick input and search of items.

This Google Document is an example of a pantry inventory I have used in the past. And here is a freezer inventory. These do not have the benefits of a digital list, but are sufficient and don’t require a fancy device. With these, the boxes to the right group counts of two (for ease of counting). When an item is purchased, mark a slash for each. When used, cross through the slash to make an “X.” Simple. These lists are best kept on the refrigerator or even a clipboard hung inside the pantry for easy access.

As the menu is planned and the grocery shopping list written, consult the inventory sheets to make note of missing ingredients for planned meals and items that require restocking.

Surely I am not the only homemaker who starts to plan a menu… and suddenly can think of nothing to cook. It’s as if I’ve forgotten everything I know how to make. Flipping through my recipe box helps, but I found an even better method: keep a list of go-to meals, things the family likes to eat.

Group the meals/recipes by category. Each kid can get their own category, too. When a great new recipe is tried and loved, add it to the list!

Here is my list from a few years ago. Here is a blank version that can be printed. Choose categories the family enjoys.

A simple peruse of a list like this usually sparks the memory enough to get through any hiccups in planning the family menu.

Meal Planning

Meal preparation is the second realm of the homemaker’s job. There are basically two ways to accomplish meals in a household.

The first involves buying food without careful consideration, then standing in front of a conglomeration of food stuffs not knowing at all what supper will look like that evening. Usually, this method leads to forgotten ingredients that expire or rot; a pantry filled with many ingredients, but few complete meals; expensive and usually nutritionally-inferior meals bought out of the house very often; a frazzled homemaker who finds meal time stressful and depressing and difficult.

The second way requires planning and thought. Effort. Meal planning allows the homemaker to

  • ensure purchased ingredients are used in a timely manner;
  • save money on fewer meals eaten out of the house due to frustration or desperation;
  • reduce the angst surrounding meal time;
  • be prepared for busy days out of the house;
  • stay within a grocery budget.

Of course, there are many methods of making meals happen at home. My way is surely not the best for everyone, but it works for me, and is worth a try if you have failed at this in the past.


This series will feature the following posts (I will – try – to add links, here, as these articles are posted):

  • What is available? (pantry maintenance)
    • why and how to maintain the pantry and freezer
  • What will the family eat? (menus)
    • how to plan a healthy, varied diet
  • What is the budget?
    • save money on groceries
    • inexpensive recipes and meal ideas
  • What does this look like? (a case study)

I can’t guarantee a timeline for this series… there are two little ones in this house that need my attention these days. I have a few of them prepared already, though, which will give me some time to wrap up the few that I lack. 🙂