December 5, 2010

How We Meal Plan on a Budget

During the holidays, things get very hectic around Tiny Wallet HQ so naturally we slide on some normal household duties. The first thing, in past years, was cooking dinner. Instead, we'd opt for take out and going out to restaurants. Well, since the budget has gone into place, we realize that takeout and going out for dinner is a thing of the past. We had to change. Enter...the internet!

With a little Google saavy, we found tons of great meal planning resources. December is our test run for this monthly meal planning, so we'll update in a month or two and let you know how it went. Here  is what we found: (oh and let us know in the comments how YOU meal plan!)

1) We "grocery shop" in our cabinets, fridge and freezer first and foremost. This month, we decided to take an inventory of what we had for dry goods/canned goods and use those up. If you're anything like us, you have doubles and triples of ingredients that you use and buy every month. We will be making lots of "kitchen sink soups" and throwing in odds and ends to use up that last 1/4 cup of pasta, etc.

2) We print out a calendar and pencil in obligations that we have- i.e. dinner out, working late, so we know when to plan an easy meal or just have something quick like a sandwich. Because we like to make extra work for ourselves, we later transfer this calendar to Google Calendars so we have access to it on the go.

3) We then go through the list of cabinet contents/freezer contents and plan meals accordingly. We usually buy meat when it's on sale at our local food-coop (we like to try and buy as much organic meat as we can, but it gets pricey so we stock up when it's a good price). We do the same with frozen fruit and veggies, which go on sale all the time. We use this stuff first in our menus.

4) Check out the store circulars to figure out what is on sale. We like to stock up on non-perishables when they're on sale- rice, canned beans, frozen organic veggies, broths etc. are all good to have on hand for building meals.

(Guys- this is our pantry cabinet. Are you dying from the horror of our cabinet chaos? I think that there will be an organizing post in the VERY near future.)

5) With the rest of the days, we like to go through cookbooks/online recipes and pick recipes that are new to us. We eat a lot of vegetarian meals (a budget-conscious family's best friend!!), so we love veggie curries, chili, soups and lots of rice and beans. Here are some resources that we use all the time:

101 Cookbooks- Tons of super healthy, quick meal ideas.

Money Saving Mom- Great tips for freezer cooking.

Simple Bites- Yummy, easy recipes

Smitten Kitchen- Love, love, love, love Smitten Kitchen. Seriously.

Amateur Gourmet- Great meals, with songs!

Write down the ingredients that you need for meals in a big list. Then, divide it by weeks so you know what you need for fresh produce and groceries each week. We usually do a big grocery shopping at the beginning of the month for the non-perishables and then quick shopping each Sunday morning (usually at the farmer's market) for the perishables.

That's it, y'all. Here is our meal plan for the month of December, so you can see how we do the planning. Again, we ultimately use a Google Calendar so that both Mike and I can access and edit the meal plan. If Mike is home and wants to start dinner, he can. It also works as a reminder if we're cooking a meal in the slow cooker- it will email us the night before so we remember to assemble the ingredients for the morning!!!

Oh, and here's our best kitchen helper at his naughtiest (he's not allowed on the table!)


  1. So we also meal plan - I've been doing it for several years now. We tend to plan out two weeks in advance and try to do as much shopping as we can for the full two weeks. (Perishables can be tricky and sometimes require a second trip, but since we have 2 Market Baskets within 8 minutes, not a big deal.)

    Our process is very similar to yours overall and we can, when we actually try, feed the two of us for under $150 a month. We don't eat out very often for dinner (once a month, if that) and most lunches are leftovers. However, I hate clutter anywhere, so I only shop for ingredients that I need - no stocking up for us! I found that though I might pay a bit more in the long run (and only a bit) it made more sense for us than stocking up because then we were getting stuck with random stuff. I do double check the pantry before buying anything else though. :)

  2. Yay meal planning! So far, so good for us. $150 is the number we have been trying to stick to for the month, too. It's amazing how much cash you save by not eating out and making last-minute dashes to the store for dinner ingredients.

  3. [...] talked a little bit about meal planning before, but I think it would be helpful to share exactly what we’re making each week to give you [...]


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