How to Save Money » Simple Living

How to simplify your menu planning routine

How do you save money on food costs in your home? Do you use coupons? Only buy sale items? Purchase items in bulk?

For our family, one of the best ways we save money on grocery items is to plan our menus. Menu planning is a simple task that can be done weekly, bi-weekly or even monthly. It will not only save you money when you go shopping but will save you a considerable amount of time in the kitchen.

How menu planning works

Menu planning is very easy, I promise. If you want to plan a weekly menu, sit down once a week and write up all of the meals that you will be making for the week coming up. If you are planning for one month, set aside some time at the end of every month to prepare for the month ahead.

Include breakfast, lunch, dinner and even snacks and desserts. The more detail you include in your menu plan, the easier that meal preparation will be.

Try to create your menus based on what is on sale at your local grocery stores, to save even more money.

The best way to make menu planning work for you is to simplify your menu planning routine. There’s no reason to make a fairly simple task into something complicated and time-consuming.

The following are ways to make menu planning easier.

Create your plan once.

Sit down once per week/month to create your menu. It’s best if you do so at the very end of the week/month, to prepare for what’s ahead. It’s also a good idea to prepare your menu plans at the same time every week/month. I create our menu plan every Sunday night and it’s good until the following Sunday.

I also suggest setting a time limit for your menu planning. I’ve noticed that sometimes while I am planning our weekly menu, I will start looking for recipes and come across a new cooking blog that looks interesting, and the next thing you know an hour has gone by and I only have one thing written down on my menu plan.

I now set a limit of 1 hour total to plan our menu for the week. This is more than enough time (it often only takes me about 30 minutes) to get something down on paper.

Get input.

If you are planning a menu for more than just yourself, be sure to include the other person/people in your menu planning process. Ask them if there is something specific they would like to have (or would NOT like to have!) and keep those requests in mind when creating your menu plan.

Purchase ingredients ahead of time.

Once you have created your menu plan, be sure to make a note of which ingredients you will need to purchase to make that plan a success. It’s always best to use what you currently have on hand, but if you are low on food, or only need a handful of items to make your menu plan work, be sure to purchase those items before you need them.

Avoid going to the store every day or every other day to pick up one or two things. Purchase everything you need for the week/month in one shopping trip to save yourself time and money.

For more menu planning tips & tricks, check out my eBook, How to Achieve Menu Planning Success. I’m sure it will help!

Have a list of “recipes to try” and “favorites” handy.

Always keep a binder or folder on your computer full of new recipe ideas that you would like to try so that you always have inspiration when you are creating your menu plan.

Eating the same meals a day in and day out can get boring after a while, so I encourage you to try making at least one new recipe every week.

It’s also important to keep all of your favorite recipes in one spot as well, so if you are ever stumped for a meal idea, you can just add in one of your favorites.

Have theme nights.

A simple way to make menu planning easier is to have theme nights. For example:

Theme nights are extremely helpful in simplifying your menu planning routine.

Remember that the point of menu planning is to save yourself time and money. Don’t make the process so complicated that you will dread doing it.

The more simple your menu planning routine, the more likely that you will be able to stick with it and save your family some money.


  1. Wendi

    I do this but go one step further. I keep menu plans so I can refer back to them when stumped.

    If I was a great organizer I would even keep my menu plans for the year in a binder for meal reference and to see what seasonal fruits and veg were coming up.

  2. teachermum

    We eat what is on sale so the menu is planned around that. I have certain dishes for such occasions ie this week mushrooms are cheap so on the menu while they are still viable is chicken fried rice and chicken pot pie. Two dishes that just don’t taste right without the mushrooms. Peppers are on sale so stuffed peppers are also on the menu. Asparagus and cucs will be on the veg rotation. I still have cheap tomatoes and broccoli from last week’s sales so my broccoli/tomato/tuna/pasta salad is on the menu soon. Nachos as well as there will still be tomatoes to use up. Most definitely there will be lots of strawberries in the house at 2lb for $2.77, and I’ll make sure I get more on Thursday before the sale ends.

    Saving the plans is a great idea-saves brain power!

    Coupons really play no part in my menu planning as I so rarely have one for actual food and I don’t buy very many processed products at all.

  3. Heather

    I have a year’s worth of meal plans on a calendar in Microsoft Outlook calendars, I created a yearly recurrance for that day so it always comes up. Each week I open the calendar, look at what is on the menu and go from there. If we don’t feel like something, we make a change, but most of the thinking is already done. Most of the time we have what we need onhand because I buy most meat when it is on sale and freeze it until we need it. In the winter we tend to eat lots of stews and casseroles, and in the summer, it is more light and BBQ food.

    Thanks for the weekly menus Cassie; I really enjoy getting new recipes and ideas.

  4. Amanda

    I have to agree with teachermum, my menu doesn’t reflect coupons at all anymore. I’ve slowly been changing my eating habits over the last 2 years or so and am at a point where I don’t buy just “anything” anymore. I do try and shop with what’s on sale but my health comes first without it I am no good to anyone. I do love to menu plan and have been doing it for most of this year so far 🙂 One of my goals for the year was to try to new “clean” recipes a month, I’d exceeded the goal for the year by the end of February! lol We are trying lots of new recipes and adjusting our old favorites to make them healthier and cleaner for our family.

  5. Lori

    Heather:I have been procrastinating about meal planing for some time because I want to make sure it has variety, healthy choices, makes use of seasonal food etc. Is there some way you can email me or send an attachment with your meal plan that I could use for reference? I would really appreciate it. [email protected]

  6. Amanda

    To make my meal planning easier, I have a list of just about every meal I make. I refer to this list to make thinking of what to Plan a breeze. If I want chicken, I pick a chicken meal and then pick a meal I can make from the leftovers. Having this list is such a timesaver!!

  7. Sylvia

    I made my meal plan to rotate every 4 weeks and didn’t base on sales. I did this just for convenience for when I go back to work (with working full time and having 4 kids, and my personal lack of interest in cooking I thought just having down what I’m supposed to make would be a good idea). Anyways, after reading this for the remainder of my mat leave I will tweak my list to what’s in the cupboards and what’s on sale. I will also cook a bit extra for freezable meals and then I will have those ready to use on busy nights when I am working.

  8. Christine Weadick

    I kind of/ sort of menu plan. Depending on the time of year some things are a regular, like roast beef in colder weather. I plan some meals around left-overs. With the roast, I make extra potatoes and veggies then after a couple of days of the roast the left-overs get dumped in a dish for a quick Shepard’s Pie usually with some grated cheese on top. I baby-sit my grandson a couple of times a month so those days the meals are easy and with-in my younger son’s abilitys. I will also bring a cookbook home from the library on occasion and leave it out for everyone to look over. If some one sees something they think might be good they tell me and we try it. This way the boys learn to read a recipe and figure out roughly how a certain combination will taste. Some times it works….. some times not so much but it’s a learning experience for all of us.

  9. Sam

    I live by this!!!! I hate making dinner so much!!! I will make a weekly meal plan and make or get all the food ready on Sunday….so that way they are all in dishes ready to be put in the over or put together….. this way when I get home from work all the work is already done……my most favorite thing to do is make and freeze a month’s worth of meals in alumni containers so I don’t have to make dinner for a full month…take about 6-8 hours on one Sunday and I am done for the month

  10. Sharon LW

    I often buy meat in bulk that is on clearance and spend an hour or two making ready to cook freezer meals! A few weeks ago I bought several pounds of ground beef for next to nothing, used some ingredients I had on-hand, bought a few things I needed and started prepping. I made about 30 burritos, a few batches of meat sauce, a few batches of chili and a dozen burger patties…all ready to be BBQ’d, nuked or slow-cooked! I plan my meals around what’s on hand, what’s going on that week, what’s on sale…works great!

  11. Carolyn

    I find Pinterest is great at saving recipes. I have 3 recipe boards: 1) Recipes to try 2) Good Recipes/Ones we like and 3) Don’t make again. I try to include 1 new recipe each week. I also use a list of favourites to plan the other dinners during the week.

    This week I wanted to try not assigning days to my meals. There are so many times that I get home and don’t want what I’ve planned for that night. By not assigning days I have 7 meals to choose from on Monday, 6 on Tuesday, etc. So far, it’s working and cooking doesn’t seem like such a chore when you can have what you really want.

    • Cassie Howard

      That’s what I do as well, and it works so much better, I think! I hate feeling chained to a certain meal.

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