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Sunday, September 20, 2009

{Ask Me Anything} Meal Planning 101, Price Sheets and Master Menu List

This has been a popular topic from readers wanting to either get started on planning their weekly menus or even becoming more organized about getting meals together.

I began meal-planning (i.e. planning our weekly meals) for several reasons:
  1. To save money
  2. To stay more organized
  3. To make sure we were eating a well-balanced diet
The main question I get is: "How do you plan your menus?" I'll do my best to explain.


Figure out what your family likes. Take a poll asking your spouse and kids to make a list of their favorite foods. You can even split them into categories such as: Breakfast, Snacks, Sandwiches, Salads, Soups, Beef, Chicken, Fish, Pork, Vegetarian, Desserts, etc. If you know the recipes by heart, then I'm jealous. ;) If you're like me and need to make something 500 times before you catch on, then keep a copy of the recipe in a binder (use dividers to separate the categories).

I have been gathering some of our favorite recipes through the years and keep a Master List of Recipes. Since we only do meat about 1x every week or so, the bulk of our meals are vegetarian and our days include lots of other sources of proteins and dark greens. I refuse to "dummy" our meals for my toddler, so everything I make is what they're eating - no substitutions. (You can read my articles on "Battling the "Anti-Veggie" Wars" and see how I make eating a happy time for everyone!)


I start off by going through my fridge, freezer, pantry and stockpile to see what I have that needs to be eaten. Then, I'll make a list with those things. For example, I might find some Salmon in the freezer that is getting close to it's "time up" and I might have half a bag of spinach and a red pepper left in the fridge from last week. So, I could add some more veggies and have one meal taken care of. I list everything though -- cereal, cheese, cans of beans, etc. Anything that needs to get eaten up, I write down.


One of the reasons I post grocery deals on my blog is because I do this every week for myself any way. I take the grocery ads and go through circling what is a great deal. (I use my Price Point Sheet to know when something is a "stock-up" price.) I, then, match any coupons that are out there to help me see if there are any more great deals. Lucky for you, I post the weekly match-ups for Bashas, Frys, Safeway, and Albertsons! :)

Anyway, for items that don't have coupons (such as produce), we eat whatever is on sale that week! If we're lucky, the AZ sun will have salvaged a few goodies in our garden that we can munch on!


This is probably the hardest part for most -- making meals outta nuttin'. I am not very good at this, however, I have come to "memorize" our Master Recipe List so it's easier to identify recipes for the things I can buy. (NOTE: I have my Master List in an Excel .xls file that is better organized than how Scrib formatted it. If you want it, just email me and I'll send it to you.)

Use the wonderful online resources out there to find some new recipes. I like using Allrecipes' Ingredients Search to plug-in what I have, and then I get results for what I can make. Other favorite recipe sites include (just to name a few):
Feel free to grab my Master Recipe List (again, Scribd added some extra black pages in it - I can email you the .xls file), but just know that we aren't big meat eaters so you'll see a large selection of vegetarian options.


Make your shopping list. I use my printable blank list to write in the things I need. I find it more helpful to separate the items by aisle -- it just makes my trip so much faster. Then, I gather the coupons I'll need, clip them in the front part of my coupon binder and shop for what I need!

Some times I will be real organized anal and jot down everything for the whole week in my Weekly Calendar Planner.

So, that's it! Whew! I promise it becomes second-nature and ends up saving a whole lot of time.

To Download my Documents:
I think that's it.... if you have any questions that I didn't cover here, just drop me a line!


Do you have a question about couponing, shopping, saving, meal planning, homeschooling, or even about me? No matter how big, small, or trivial it seems, someone else probably has the same question, so ask away! As long as it's respectful, I'm an open book so "Ask Me {almost} Anything!"

Just drop me a line and I'll do my best to get back to you as soon as possible.


  1. This is sooooo helpful. Thanks for helping me be a more organized wife. :-) Your hard work is appreciated. Thank you for sharing.

  2. Ahh! I used to be so good at this, planning meals (healthy meals!) until a couple months ago, and all of a sudden I can barely organize one healthy meal per week. It's like my brain has lost it's ability to function! I am hoping that it's somehow because I'm pregnant and have 2 toddlers...have you ever been stuck in a rut like this? Any tips on how to get out?

  3. Wow! You cook so healthfully! I hope to be there someday! One recipe at a time! I may have to try flax this week...