photo by mel b

Grocery prices are going up, and it makes sense to focus on your food budget. One way is to make an organized menu plan. For some people, it's easy to do. You simply list your family favorites and organize them week to week. Keep the list handy in a notebook, on a white board, spreadsheet, calendar, index cards or stuck on the refrigerator. Some people plan their meals around grocery-store sales, what they already have in their pantry and what is in season. Often, they base part of their meals on grocery coupons, too.

One reader, Angie in Oregon, shares: "I make a seasonal menu plan. I draw up three weeks of dinners (six per week to allow for some flexibility) and do that rotation about four times. After I've used that rotation for three months, I can tweak it if there was a dinner that my kids weren't very fond of."

To prevent boredom, consider an open menu plan in case your schedule changes or you don't feel like making a certain meal. You can also mix things up by introducing one to three new recipes a month, a meatless meal, planned leftovers and a few quick meals. An easy outline to follow is to plan around protein such as meat, fish, poultry, eggs, beans, etc. Then add a starch/grain such as bread, potatoes, pasta or rice. Then add fruits and vegetables and dairy. But what if you don't have time to plan, have dietary restrictions, or just aren't that organized? Fortunately, there are plenty of resources that can help.
Here are a few.

GROCERY STORES: Check your local grocery store's Web site. They often include menu-planning guides. Three examples are Meijer (, Heb ( and Aldi ( Many offer recipe brochures in stores, too.

MAGAZINES: Popular magazines such as Woman's Day and Martha Stewart's Everyday Food feature wonderful meal plans. It's a great way to gather ideas. Some magazines include shopping lists, too.

EXTENSION OFFICES AND USDA: For a directory of state extension services, visit Many include food plans and money-saving tips. Also check out the U.S. Department of Agriculture's A Food Plan (

MEAL-PLANNING WEB SITES: The following is a compilation of resources that will do all the planning for you.
-- Menus 4 Moms ( offers menus, organizers, planners and shopping lists. It includes menus that complement food from Angel Food Ministries. While some information is subscription-based, it's not expensive. And you'll find plenty of free information, too. The archive is filled with ideas and offers a two-week trial for a penny.
-- Family fun ( features a month of recipes that you can mix and match. It is complete with printable shopping lists, and it includes kid-friendly meals. It's free, too.
-- The Six O'Clock Scramble ( offers five tested recipes that are delivered via newsletter to your inbox. It includes sides and a grocery list. Meals can be prepared in under 30 minutes and have 10 ingredients or fewer. A six-month subscription costs $29.50. Meal plans includes vegetarian and make-ahead/freezable recipes, too.
-- Budget friendly cooking ( features menu plans with great recipes including cost breakdown and video tutorials. Love it. It's free.
-- E-mealz ( offers a seven-day menu plan. Choose the store at which you shop, and get a menu and shopping list based on weekly store sales. You can choose a diet-specific menu plan, too. Meals are family friendly and will cost you approximately $75 per week for four to six people. The service is subscription-based and costs $15 for three months. You access the information on the Web site via member login.

How do you create your menu plan?