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What’s for Dinner

By on December 31, 2006

Many frugalitarians focus on lowering their grocery bill. One way of lowering the cost is to create a meal plan. Organizing your meals will decrease your likelihood of purchasing pre-packaged convenience foods, that are crowding the grocery store shelves, or buying takeout from the numerous fastfood restaurants, on every corner. How far in advance do you know “what’s for dinner”? Are you scrambling through the freezer at 5:00 pm?

Meal planning is simple if you plan ahead, keep an inventory list, use your freezer, and get organized. It also saves money, time, and energy.

Getting Started

You can start with baby steps. One method you can try is using index cards to start organizing your meals. Select fourteen index cards. Start with a plan for seven days. Write down the days of the week on each index card. Underneath list meat/fish, produce, grains, frozen, dairy, canned, bakery, and misc.

On the back of the cards, write one complete meal per index card and the recipe, if you need it. Do this twice and utilize the other seven index cards, to create one master list to copy in the future. You can look at store ads to check for any weekly specials.

Next, look through your pantry, fridge, and freezer and mark off items you already have, and don’t need to purchase. Keep in mind planned leftovers, such as a whole baked chicken being used for chicken salad sandwiches or soup. Any items you still need for your meal plan, can be written on the front of your index card under its category.

Take a spare index card and write down a running list of what you do need until your next meal plan. Keep this index card where family members can locate it, like on the refrigerator, so they can add to the list if they deplete any pantry items.

Back at the Ranch

Once you’re back from food shopping, consider what you can prep ahead of time and freeze ahead. Some examples are, cooking meats such as meatloaf or roasts, before placing it into the freezer, boiling hamburger crumbles, chopping vegetables, grating cheese, and boiling eggs. Be sure to label frozen food with name and date, and keep a freezer inventory list too.

Future Meals

This system works nicely and once you’re comfortable, you can plan for the upcoming month. Once thirty days of cards are created, and you have a good habit established, when there is a meat sale at the grocery store, you can purchase it and simply pull an index card with that particular meat recipe, and be ready to cook.

Here are a few sites for meal planning inspiration:

Use what works

Index cards are often used because they are small, and can be filed in a recipe box, or don’t take up much room if left out. You can also incorporate fun school lunch plans on index cards for children. You can write different food groups on index cards, and your children can pick and choose from each food group, to assemble their own lunch menu.

Index cards might be too cumbersome for you. If so, you can use paper, a day planner, computer spreadsheet or file, or a calendar. Many people prefer dry erase boards for their inventory lists too.

Meal planning offers the benefit of saving time and money. It can eliminate frequent trips to the grocery store and decrease your unhealthy food intake. It’s efficient to have a system, so you can enjoy meal time with your family and not dread the dinner hour because you’re unsure what to make.


  1. Marie78

    2/18/2007 at 3:22 am

    I have been doing something similar to this. I have been writing down frugal recipes on index cards. I had some multi-colored ones left over from my college days. I keep the recipes in one place and I have a enough to create a few weeks worth of meals,(I am always looking for great new frugal recipes). I use the index cards at the beginning of the month to make sure we have all the ingredients on hand. This saves me money and time at the grocery store.

  2. mom23boys

    2/18/2007 at 6:19 pm

    I have to meal plan for our family or I would be lost. I also use a similar system, but not with index cards. I keep my own the computer. It is what works for me. I save money and time by meal planning. A little planning pays off!!

  3. Darling Diva

    2/19/2007 at 6:52 pm

    I never really meal planned. Dont really now either.
    But when my son was young, and I was a single parent at the time., I did a really good job of budgeting by doing this.

    On my route to work was 3 grocery stores …
    so I would routinely check the flyers each week.
    whatever specials apealed to me ..(from the grocery stores on my way) I would purchase and sometime stock(if the price was really good)
    that way we ate a nice variety of good stuff and I didnt make any extra trips to do my grocery shopping.

    sometimes in the winter I would actually grocery shop before work cus the car was nice and chilly perfect to keep those things till home-time…and if it was a really good special I would get it before it was SOLD out as well.

    hope this helps
    it has served me well

    I still love those flyers but now that my son has moved out I dont shop quite so much.

    darling diva

  4. emily_hope

    2/21/2007 at 2:11 pm

    I do meal plan. I meal plan for a month at the time. It is not my favorite thing to do, so if I get the whole month done at once, I feel good about it. I then go to the commissary and load up. During the weeks, I pick up produce and a few dairy products. I like it like this.

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