My New Way to Plan Food (Part 3)

10 Days of Meals,
"How I'm Revising my Food Budget by Planning Meals" (see previous two posts if you want some background information)

- Come up with ten generic main-dish ideas that you like, know how to make (or have go-to recipes for), and have the time to make with regularity.  Here are my ten:
1. Casserole
2. Mexican
3. Soup
4. Pasta
5. Pizza
6. Something on the grill
7. Vegetarian
8. Roast/Chicken
9. Picnic foods
10. Breakfast foods

- Think of generic side-dish ideas that follow the same rules, and pair them with the main-dish ideas.  Again, here's my list:

1. Casserole with vegetable
2. Mexican with rice/beans
3. Soup with bread
4. Pasta with salad
5. Pizza with french fries or salad
6. Something on the grill with vegetable
7. Vegetarian with egg
8. Roast/Chicken with potato
9. Picnic foods with chips
10. Breakfast foods with breakfasty side (I did say generic!)

-Now, within each generic main/side dish combo, think of just three things that would fit in that category.  It's OK if they're similar ... just try to think of things you'd normally cook up.  I'll give you a couple of examples based on my list, but obviously it's not comprehensive.
1. Casserole with vegetable - 
I could do a broccoli/chicken/rice casserole, a chicken pot pie, or a quiche ("casserole" is a loose term, obviously).  For a vegetable side, there's green beans, squash, or roasted vegetables.
2. Mexican with rice/beans - 
Quesadillas, burritos, or enchiladas.  Seasoned rice or plain rice, rice and beans together, or just refried beans with some cheese.
3. Soup with bread -
Chili, vegetable soup, or "look what leftovers I threw in the crockpot" soup (this last one is particularly good towards the end of the 10 days, when the leftovers don't necessarily go together well).  Bread can be grilled cheese, crackers, or cornbread.

You get the idea.  
Finish the list, and all of a sudden you've got an entire month's worth of meals.
And, it informs the 10-day shopping list.  If you make your list while looking at the meals AND looking at the grocery store sale circular, it's possible to coordinate the two so that you're planning to eat what's on sale ...
On top of that, it's easier to estimate what you'll be needing for those 10 days ... like two loaves of bread, three pounds of meat, one bag of chips, etc.  

But what about breakfast and lunch, you ask?  Because, we all know that I would be the last one to cut out a meal for any reason.

Breakfasts around here are typically oatmeal with fruit, yogurt with fruit, bread and jam, or cereal.  

Lunches tend to be leftovers from dinner the night before.  So really, the only real cooking is dinner.

This may not work for everyone, but so far it's worked for us.  It helps to just have an idea of what to expect for the next 10 days when going to the store.  And I've been able to keep food in the fridge, pantry, and even sock some away in the freezer for later with the plan so far.  

I'll try to post an update in the coming months about whether or not this seems to be working long term.  Until then, I'd LOVE to know what grocery-budget trimming tips you have!


  1. Katherine I love this idea! I didn't realize how easy it could be to essentially plan meals for an entire month! thanks for sharing your tips :) I typically plan my meals week by week but I will have to try this out!

  2. Thanks Katherine!! I've been needing some meal-planning inspiration. I've tried the category-style planning before, but not quite the way you describe it... so thanks, I'll be giving this a try!

  3. Love this idea, except that I despise meal planning! A couple of things to add that can add up to big savings, AND sometimes less time in the kitchen 1) Cook once, eat twice (or more!) meals. A whole chicken is always cheaper than parts. So for example, the first night, roast the whole chicken. After dinner pick the carcass and save the leftover meat and throw the bones in a crockpot or stockpot overnight to make chicken stock. The second day you can have chicken sandwiches, or enchiladas, or stir fry etc. And maybe even a third day of chicken noodle soup or chili. With chicken the possibilities are endless. I freeze my chicken stock in approx 2 cup portions to pull out as needed. #2) Don't just shop the sales for your current menu plan. If you have leftover money in your budget pick up one or two extra items that are at their rock bottom prices to have on hand for when you need it. This saves you from ever having to pay full price for an item, and over time this savings adds up specifically. #3) To know when an item is at its rock bottom price, you need to also know its regular price, and how often you can expect it to go on sale etc. Also there are sales and then there are good sales. I suggest figuring out the top 15 grocery items you purchase and figuring out your buy price and stock up price for each. The buy price is the price it has to be before you will buy it and the stock up price is the price it needs to hit when you'll buy more than one (for most things 75% regular retail, but not all). Couponmom.com has a good (albeit involved) system for figuring this all out. Which leads me to #4.) Use coupons! Typically I save over 50% every week just by matching coupons with sale items and stocking up. It could be higher, but the bulk of my grocery budget goes to produce, and its hard to get that at 75% off. You don't have to do these matchups yourself, there are tons of blogs that do it for your local stores. Couponmom.com is a good one to start with, she has a database each week for your stores and you can actually sort items by their percentage off regular retail. #5) I realize your posts are strictly concerning your grocery budget, but there are ways to save significantly on health/beauty/baby/toiletries/ paper goods too! I already wrote a book, oops, but I can give you more details on that if you are interested. I feel like that stuff is where I made the biggest changes and they are the ones that added up the most in terms of savings, and quickly too! Hopefully some of this is helpful to you. :)

  4. Katherine, that makes perfect sense! I'd like to link these 3 posts up to my blog (if it's OK with you) because I think Moms want a plan like this, and I definitely couldn't have come up with one this good on my own! I'll try it with my own family, but I think I prefer weekly trips to the store.

    BTW, congratulations on the new bun in the oven! I'll tell everyone at the B'burg TQP.(I've been lurking around your blog since baby E was born, but had somehow missed this news!

  5. Greta - thanks for the tips! I had forgotten that you were so good at this kind of thing ... I'll keep you in mind for future questions :)

    Karen - I'm happy for you to link! Thanks for asking :)

  6. Katherine, this is Jessica bowman peters....no idea how to leave my name on a blog comment. I just finished ready your meal planning posts and really enjoyed them. You sound so much like me-trying to cut the grocery budget. My attempts are still a work in progress, but I've had the most success planning meals by prices. Like, I think of the total price of the meal, then I think of how many times it will feed us. So a $7 meal sounds cheap for our big family (James is here, too!) but if it leaves no leftovers it's actually pretty expensive. And a $15 meal that gives us dinner Monday night and lunch the rest of the week is totally worth it. Congrats on your newest addition. I did not realize you were pregnant! Look forward to reading more of your posts!