How to Put Menu Planning on Autopilot

Menu planning on autopilot. How to create a rotating menu plan.

You know planning a menu is a good thing, but sometimes it only feels like another chore to cross off the to-do list. Well, end that once and for all by creating a rotating menu plan! Put your menu plan on autopilot!

How to put menu planning on autopilot:

I have not been feeling the love for menu planning for quite some time now. That makes me sad because without a menu plan, our meal time is definitely not what it should be. I’ve been resorting to quick prep meals (think frozen pizza, pasta with a jar of sauce poured over top and grilled cheese & tomato soup…) Not good! Between picky palates and no desire to cook, menu planning took a real nosedive in the last year or so. On the other hand, the grocery stores were probably quite happy, because I was spending more since I had no plan. 🙂

That brings me to today. I’m pleased to say, I’ve found a system that works for me! Actually, I’ve put menu planning on autopilot! It initially took a little bit of work upfront (still only 4 steps!), but now we’re smooth sailing and enjoying meals we love.

Step 1: Brainstorm

This part took me the longest. I sat down one afternoon and wrote down all the meals we like to eat. Our family favourites. My goal was 60 meals, but I quickly realized that was a lofty goal. In the end, I came up with 40 meals. Enough for 8 weeks of eating when I allot 5 meals a week. I like to leave 2 days free for last minute events, trying out a new recipe and Sunday dinner at my parent’s house.

 

Here are the meals that made the rotation. Keep in mind that they must be simple, enjoyed by all family members and not require any weird ingredients:

menu planning on autopilot
  1. Slow Cooker BBQ Sauce Pork Chops
  2. Sausage and Potato Bake
  3. Waffles/Pancakes
  4. French Toast
  5. Chicken in basil sauce
  6. Balsamic Beef Roast
  7. Pesto pepperoni pizza
  8. Hashay
  9. Creamy chicken soup
  10. Spaghetti
  11. Meatballs
  12. Quiche
  13. Sweet & Sour chicken and rice
  14. Sloppy Joe calzones
  15. Peanut chicken pasta
  16. Pesto pasta
  17. Fettucine Alfredo
  18. Balsamic almond chicken
  19. Chicken Cacciatore
  20. Baked Beans
  21. Sesame chicken
  22. Pizza
  23. Perogies & Sausage
  24. Lasagna
  25. Melt in Your Mouth Chicken
  26. Hamburgers & pasta salad
  27. Sticky garlic chicken & broccoli
  28. Chicken pesto stuffed shells
  29. Maple pineapple ham
  30. Chicken satay with peanut noodles/rice
  31. Ramen Vegetable stirfry
  32. Soy sauce pork tenderloin
  33. Greek Chicken
  34. Shredded beef sandwiches
  35. Tacos
  36. The Best Fried Rice
  37. Hamburger soup
  38. One pot pasta
  39. Chicken Fajitas
  40. Black Bean and Salsa Burritos

Most of these meals can be made with pantry staples, which are easy to stock up on when they’re on sale.

Step 2: Write all recipes on index cards

Now, once I picked all 40 meals, I wrote each meal down on an index card. Sometimes I wrote the entire recipe (if it was not found online or in a cookbook). Other times I wrote the name of the meal and where the recipe could be found (Pinterest, page 3 in a cookbook…etc.) I also wrote down side suggestions and any adjustments I like to make to the recipe.

Step 3: Place them all in a recipe box/binder

Next, I placed all of the index cards in an empty recipe box that I had, in no particular order. You could place the index cards in a binder with protective sheets instead, but I liked the idea of a recipe box.

Step 4: Pull out a week’s worth of meals and place in front

Here’s where the autopilot comes into play. Since I’m only choosing 5 meals a week, I pulled out 5 random index cards and placed them in the front of the box. I put a divider card behind the five recipes so I know when I’m done for the week. Once all 5 meals are made, I rotate those index cards to the very back of the recipe box.

Step 5: Repeat Step 4 over and over!

On Sunday, when I pull out the 5 meals for the week, I also create my grocery list. I write down everything I don’t already have in the pantry/fridge/freezer.

Now, you could take this a step further and look at your store flyers first to determine which index cards you should pull out for the week according to what’s on sale. For example, I may not want to make the Balsamic Beef Roast this week because I don’t have one in the freezer and I don’t see a sale at any of my local stores. However, pork chops are on sale so I’ll make the slow cooker BBQ Sauce pork chops instead.

Does that all make sense?  This system has been life changing for me! I hope it might work for you as well if you’ve been struggling with menu planning.

Have you found a menu planning system that works for you?

How to Menu Plan for the Week

how to menu plan for a week

How to Menu Plan for the Week

Menu planning is something I highly recommend. Not only does it save money, lessens the unnecessary stops to the grocery store, but it also makes our life much easier!

Today, I’d love to share with you how to menu plan for the week.

I’m going to give you a system that will ensure you are saving money AND eating well.

While there are various ways to menu plan, what I’m showing you today, has been my tried and true system for the last 15 years.

Regardless of how you may tweak my system to work for your family, the bottom line is, you have to have a plan. Whether rigid or loose, a plan will save you hours of time and hundreds of dollars each year!

Here are the steps on how to menu plan for the week:

Step 1: Take Inventory

Scour the cupboards, the fridge, and the freezer for food items you already have. Use the items that you find as a starting point for your menu. Make a list of meal possibilities from what you find.

Maybe you have some pork chops that you picked up on sale, and you have some vegetables from last weeks shopping trip, and perhaps you always have rice on hand. Right there you could have a meal of BBQ pork chops, rice and vegetables!

By using what you already have, you will instantly start seeing savings on your weekly grocery bill!

As you are going through your pantry, fridge and freezer, mark down any staple items you need to buy more of. If you find you are low on milk, eggs or flour, for example, add these to your grocery list.

I like to jot down all my ideas on a small piece of paper titled ‘menu’ and on the other side I title it ‘grocery list’ to put down everything I need to buy. (I like to have my menu with me when I shop because sometimes I’ll forget why I’m buying something or it helps me remember to buy an item that I may have forgotten to write on my grocery list.)

How to menu plan for the week

Step 2: Look through the sale flyers

Quickly look through your flyers to see what deals your local stores have. Jot down on your shopping list, the things that are a great deal and you know your family will eat or use.

If you coupon, now is the time to pull out your coupons to see which coupons will make the sales a great deal. For example, maybe this week No Frills has toilet paper on sale and you also have a coupon. This makes it a no brainer purchase!

I do most of my shopping at Real Canadian Superstore as I find they usually have the best overall prices. Occasionally, I’ll pop over to a different grocery store if I see they have great deals on some things we will use. I don’t like to shop at a lot of stores each week because I find that I will end up spending more than I intended. 😉

When I find a great deal on something we use regularly, I’ll stock up as much as I can. This saves tons of money.

I try to build up a small stockpile of ingredients to work with when planning our meals so that some weeks I only have to buy the basics like milk and fresh vegetables!

Step 3: Finish planning your menu

Once you have taken inventory at home and determined which sales you want to take advantage of, write out your menu with your findings.

At this time in my life I do not plan our breakfasts and lunches.

I only plan for five dinners including side dishes, leaving one night open for leftovers and another for dinner out or a quick bowl of soup.

I also don’t give each meal a specific night to be made since I like to cook for what I’m in the mood for that particular day. I try to have at least one chicken dish, a beef dish, and a pasta dish.

For breakfast, I like to have fruit, cereals, eggs, bread and the ingredients for basic pancakes or French toast on hand. I’ll occasionally buy bacon but that’s usually only if it’s in a dinner recipe I’m using.

Lunches are almost always dinner leftovers from the night before. We rarely let food go to waste!

When you’re first starting out with menu planning, you may want to plan all three daily meals, as you don’t want to forget anything at the store. The less trips to the grocery store, the more money and time you’ll save!

Step 4: Make a final grocery list.

Now is the time when I go over my list to see if I’ve forgotten any pantry staples, milk or items needed for a recipe. I’ll also put all the items into categories according to the store layout. Produce, meats, dairy, canned goods, personal supplies…etc.

Make a list and check it twice!

Step 5: Go shopping!

I recommend going at a time of day when the store is not very crowded and you can take a time to compare prices or mark-downs. I try my best to get to the grocery store before 10:00am on Monday mornings. This is what works for me and I also find the shelves are well stocked on a Monday.

I’ve found that when the store is busy I’m more likely to hurry, therefore, I spend more money or forget something I’ve written down on my list.

You may also want to have a grocery budget and bring cash only. Using cash only forces you to stay within your chosen budget. We tend to get a lot of the same stuff each week so I know that I usually spend $125 each week, give or take.

 

Other useful menu planning tips:

  • I like to create simple meals that do not call for a lot of ingredients as this saves on time as well as cash since I’ll most likely always have those ingredients on hand. (soy sauce, spices, etc…)
  • As you are preparing a meal, you may want to double it to put one in the freezer. It’s always nice to have meals in the freezer you can pull out when you don’t feel like cooking! I do this all the time with Spaghetti sauce and taco meat.

There you have it! That is how to menu plan for the week.

Do you menu plan? If so, what kind of menu planning system works for you (monthly meal plans, weekly plans, loose plans, etc.)?

20 Family Dinner Recipes that Cut our Grocery Bill

family dinner recipes

Planning a menu each week can be such an annoyance. Some weeks, it would take me hours to come up with enough meals for the week because I’d always try to add variety with new meals. I would scour cookbooks and Pinterest for new recipes and get distracted trying to decide if something sounded good or not. Or whether or not the rest of the family would eat it…

So, one thing that has helped us to cut our grocery budget was to create a short, go-to recipe list! I mean, we eat the same basic things for breakfast each day, why not apply the principle to dinner too?

Narrowing our meal ideas to only 20 options has made meal planning a breeze and has saved us so much money. It also reduces food waste, because I know I am making food that we all enjoy. These meals are a mix of quick & easy meals, recipes that are great for leftovers, and some a wee bit more complicated because they’re just so tasty.

So, if you want to finally stop wasting money on groceries, I’d encourage you to grab some inspiration from our go-to recipe list. Here’s what we’re eating, aside from leftover nights and super simple meals (like tomato soup & grilled cheese):

family dinner recipes
  1. Tacos – I find that one package of ground beef is enough for two meals for our family. I’ll often make it stretch further with a can of baked beans.
  2. French Toast – We often like breakfast meals for dinner. I especially love to make a big batch of French toast because I can freeze the leftovers for quick breakfasts.
  3. Instant Pot Beef Stew – This is so good! Since the recipe doesn’t call for potatoes, I like to serve it over mashed potatoes.
  4. Spaghetti – Lately I’ve been browning ground beef, adding it to the slow cooker with a jar of pasta sauce, a bit of water and a sprinkle of beef bouillon powder.
  5. Hamburger Soup – This freezes well and is enjoyed every time I make it.
  6. Slow Cooker BBQ Sauce Pork Chops – Place pork chops over sliced onions in a slow cooker, then pour your favourite BBQ sauce over top. Cook on low for about 4 – 6 hours. Serve with rice or potatoes and steamed veggies.
  7. Sausage and Potato Bake – Cut up potato, carrots, sweet potato, peppers, and farmer’s sausage and place in a big 9×13 baking dish. Drizzle olive oil and a dose of oregano, salt & pepper. Bake at 400 degrees for about 35 minutes.
  8. Roasted chicken – It no secret that a roasted whole chicken can stretch for many meals. I’ll often buy rotisserie chicken for a super fast dinner with veggies and potatoes.
  9. Balsamic beef roast – This is another meal that stretches far or is great for feeding a crowd.
  10. Quiche– a satisfying meal
  11. Instant Pot Honey Sesame chicken – Delicious served with rice and veggies!
  12. Creamy chicken soup – This is another delicious soup that freezes well!
  13. Chicken pesto stuffed shells – My husband’s favourite meal that actually isn’t that hard to make! Great freezer meal too.
  14. Ramen Vegetable stirfry – I buy the healthy ramen noodles from Costco. A great way to use up vegetables that are needing to be used up.
  15. Meatballs– These are so versatile and the recipe make a ton so you’ll have plenty for the freezer.
  16. Chicken in basil sauce – One of our “fancy” dinners that we enjoy.
  17. Fettuccine Alfredo – An indulgence we don’t mind occasionally since we need to fatten up the kids. 😉
  18. White Chicken Chili – A good twist on classic chili that again, freezes well.
  19. Maid-Rite Loose Meat Sandwiches – Sounds weird but everyone loves this in our family!
  20. Oven Baked Chicken Kabobs – Simple and delicious. No grilling skills required.

There you have it! The 20 family dinner recipes that have managed to cut our grocery bill!

Does your family have a go-to recipe list? What are your favourite meals?

 

Menu Planning: 5 Things I Love About It

menu planning

5 Reasons Why I Love Menu Planning:

Menu planning and I have had some ups and downs over the years, due to various life seasons, but I always come back to menu planning because it has SO MANY benefits.

I started menu planning when my husband and I got married way back in the fall of 2007. I was hoping it would make life simpler.

Nearly 15 years later, with mostly consistent planning, I’m finding that it does and I absolutely love it!

If menu planning seems like another chore that you don’t want, today, I’d love to tell you the 5 things that I love about menu planning!

I only shop once a week.

When I was living on my own, if I wanted to make something specific, I would go to the store that day to purchase any ingredients I needed.

If you’re anything like me, a trip to the grocery store for only a couple of things, turns into purchasing many unexpected things. Doing this a few times each week, I was obviously spending more than I needed to by going more than once a week.

With a menu plan in place, I can limit my grocery shopping to once a week because I’ve accounted for all the ingredients and staples I need based on what I already have and what’s on sale.

Less temptation to eat out.

In other words, we save money AND eat healthier by having a menu plan. But because we enjoy eating out once a week or so, I actually factor our meal out into my menu planning so I don’t buy any wasted ingredients.

menu planning

I have more motivation.

Cooking isn’t my favourite thing to do these days. However, when I have a plan in place, I’ve eliminated a big part of the battle.

I don’t struggle for meal ideas or have any missing ingredients. I can just jump right into meal creation almost thoughtlessly. I almost get excited about making dinner, because I already know what I will be making!

You might also like: Easy Ingredient Substitutions.

We save money.

Before I menu plan, I take a quick look through the pantry, fridge and freezer to see which ingredients I have on hand. I can usually think of one or two simple meals using what I already have.

My next step is take a look in my local grocery flyers to see what is on sale. I plan some more meals based on what’s on sale.

With both of those strategies in play, I am less tempted to impulse buy because I know I won’t need that item.

I also like to make plenty of dinner so that there is enough leftover for lunches the next day. This helps eliminate the need to eat out for lunch!

It’s a good use of my time.

It takes me less time to plan a weekly menu plan then it does to think up a meal each and every day at meal time. I’m a big fan of using my time efficiently. 😉

There you have it, 5 reasons why I love menu planning! Do you menu plan?  If so, why do YOU menu plan?

How to Make an Inexpensive Healthy Meal Plan

How to make an inexpensive healthy meal plan

How to Make an Inexpensive Healthy Meal Plan

Are you trying to ensure your family is eating healthy? A meal plan is the best way to plan your meals and keep everything as healthy as possible. Many people can attest to the fact that healthy, fresh meals can seem way more expensive to make than their not as healthy counterparts. Today, I’d love to show you how to make an inexpensive healthy meal plan.

Buy or make a cheap calendar

First of all, the best plan of action is to write your meal plan down. It’s nearly impossible to stick with a plan unless it’s written down. I like to use a traditional calendar to write out what we will have for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Once you have a place to write down what you will make, you can move on to the next step.

Make a list of healthy foods your family likes

I have learned (by trial and error :)) that you will save money by buying what you know your family will eat. If your family loves bananas, apples and carrots, then spend your money buying those delicious fruits and vegetables. You can always try adding one new fruit or vegetable a week in small quantities.inexpensive healthy meal plan

Create a list of healthy meals that are inexpensive

The only way to create an inexpensive healthy meal plan is to make a list. Make a list of all the healthy meals you can think of that keep you on a budget. You may want to put google or Pinterest to use helping you find ideas. I also really like Budget Bytes for recipes! In my household, we try to stick to a main dish, veggie side, and rice/potato side. This helps keep things on budget and simple. For example, barbecued chicken with a side of mixed veggies and baked potato.

Plan Meals around Sales

This is a very effective way at saving money on your grocery bill each week! When you look at your list of family favorite meals and your inexpensive meal ideas, also be sure to look at what’s on sale that week. Pick the meals from your lists that correspond with the sales. For example, maybe oatmeal is on sale. You could buy that and eat oatmeal for breakfasts that week. Or maybe chicken thighs are on sale. Pick meals that can use those items that are on sale.

Make a shopping list

When you are meal planning healthy meals, you need a shopping list. You don’t want to forget what you need to buy and it helps keep you accountable to eat the healthy meals that you’re planning. A shopping list will help you save your sanity. Write a note in your phone or jot it down on a piece of paper. Depending on the store you shop at, you can even make a shopping list in the store app.

Stay on budget

When you’re planning an inexpensive healthy meal, try to stay on budget. You can do the math of what a meal will cost before you even head to the store. This will help you know how much you need to spend before you even spend it. For example, chicken is $3.99 a pound and you need 3 pounds to make this week’s meals. That’s rounded to $12, which can make about 2 meals for a family of 4.

There you have it, the steps to making an inexpensive healthy meal plan for your family. Take your time, create a budget, and plan each meal out. The most important part is sticking to the meal plan that you took the time to create.

If you really struggle with the idea of creating a meal plan, try out $5 Meal Plan. It happens to be my favorite meal planning service. It’s just $5 a month (the first two weeks are free!), and you get menu plans sent straight to your email along with the exact shopping list you need in order to create the meals. Each meal costs around $2 per person or less. This service allows you to save time because you won’t have to meal plan anymore, and it will save you money as well! If you are interested in joining for free, click here.

Related Meal Planning Posts:

Do you have any tips to add? Let me know all your inexpensive healthy meal plan secrets in the comments below!.

The one thing standing between you and healthy meals

If you’ve spent any time at all here at Simply Frugal, then you know I sing the praises of meal planning. Taking the time to meal plan is just so sanity saving and money saving!

However, if you’re anything like me, there are seasons in life when you need all the inspiration you can get.

That’s why I’m excited to let you know that the Healthy Meal Planning Bundle is available once again for a couple of days!

I’m a big fan of printables so I’m especially excited about the Grocery Budget Binder and the Meal Planning Success Kit.

Since my daughter was diagnosed with many food sensitivities last year, I’m going to dig in first with the For Real: For the Love of Real Food ebook for some ideas.

If you want to simplify mealtimes, put unfussy (but still healthy) meals on the table, and ditch the frantic late afternoon craziness, then you’ll definitely want to check out the Healthy Meal Planning Bundle.

If you’re ready to stick to your food budget, whip up healthy meals, and quit wasting food, check out the Healthy Meal Planning Bundle before the sale ends January 27, 2021.

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