articles / Frugal living

Planning meals, making groceries last

I am not the woman that sits down and plans what we’re having for breakfast, lunch, and dinner each day of the week. For some reason I cannot bind myself to say, “OK, on Thursday, we’ll have XXX,” when it’s only Sunday. Honestly, I have no clue what I’m going to want to eat tomorrow (or what is going to make my stomach lurch), let alone what I want four days from now.

Not my actual grocery basket...

Not my actual grocery basket…

You may not be that girl (or guy) either, but that doesn’t mean you can’t plan ahead. Planning ahead is essential to getting the most out of your grocery trip. When I go to the grocery store without a list (and with my husband) and we just walk down the aisles and see what looks good — I’ll spend over $200 and get home and realize I don’t have more than a weeks worth of dinners, let alone breakfasts, lunches, or snacks (which are necessary for me right now).

The first thing is, I don’t EVER (unless we’re having a really broke couple of weeks) let my pantry/fridge get completely desolate. At all times I can scratch up at least a few meals — they’re more effort and I have to prep for them, but we won’t go hungry.  I’ve learned that when you let yourself run out of the big essentials like milk, butter, flour — you the basic ingredients to just about everything — then you’re really messed up when it comes time to get creative for dinner.

Then, even though I don’t make a day by day play by play of what meals we’ll have I try to make a list of at least 6-8 dinner meals I’ll want during the week.

Here’s my meal list for this week:

  • Taco Pie
  • Fried Chicken strips with sides
  • Chicken Tetrazzini
  • Pinto Beans, cornbread and ham
  • Spaghetti
  • Hamburgers
  • Pizza

The great thing about this list is that if I decide to have tacos instead of taco pie, then I have what I need. Or if I decide I want baked chicken instead of fried chicken and so on. I leave it flexible, but I have a plan. Also keep in mind that I always keep a few meals in stock so before I even go grocery shopping I have things like baked beans, mac n cheese, lentils (for a whole slew of meal ideas), black beans, and more. So I’m not necessarily limited to these seven, but I have an idea. What normally happens is I buy stuff for a meal, but don’t eat it that week so it kind of rolls over. Like last week my grocery list included pizza stuff, but we didn’t have pizza last week so I put it on the list for this week, BUT I don’t have to buy anything for it.

Then I think about what ingredients I already have and what I need and then I make my list.

Here’s my list for the week:

  • 2 pounds of hamburger meat
  • Hamburger patties
  • Chips (for tacos and sandwiches)
  • Lettuce and tomato
  • Velveeta (my Achilles heel)
  • TONS of pinto beans
  • 3 pounds of chicken tenders
  • Butter, milk, eggs
  • Noodles and spaghetti sauce
  • corn bread
  • mac n cheese
  • sandwich stuff
  • cereal
  • Hamburger buns

As you can see from my list, I’m getting all the stuff I need for my dinner meals, but I got extra stuff like the pintos, mac n cheese and breakfast and lunch stuff.

There’s a few things that I always keep in my pantry — stuff for tacos, mac n cheese, pinto beans and lentils. Tacos are a default meal for me. They’re quick, easy and they’re good leftovers. Mac n cheese is one of those things that if all else fails, why not? Pintos and lentils are good because they’re so versatile. I can use those beans for meals or sides and they’re good for you and filling.

I’m not a grocery list nazi though. Once I get to the store I look at what’s on sale and buy a lot of it if it’s a good price. For example, the organic Macaroni and Cheese (yes organic mac n cheese) was on sale for $1 when I went grocery shopping. So yes, I bought four or five boxes.  Four fresh ears of corn were on sale for a $1 so guess what? We’re having corn this week too. It saves money if it’s something that you eat a lot and it’s something that can sit on the shelf for a few weeks.

I got everything on my list and a ton of other stuff that ended up being on sale. We shop at Kroger because I discovered they have more organic and gluten-free stuff even though it tends to be a little more expensive, but I definitely go to and load coupons I’ll use on my card. I bought 70 items and spent $173 — that’s about $2.47 per item which isn’t bad when you’re thinking about organic and gluten-free.  I have more than seven dinners planned, three or four formal breakfasts, and a few different things for lunch and tons of fresh fruits and veggies to snack on — I’d call that a successful grocery trip.

The key is to find what works best for you and do it. You’ll be more likely to stick with a plan if you like it and you’ll be happier when you save money. Some people need something more simple than my plan and some people have more complex ideas — it all depends on what you want to do.


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