How to Create a Menu Plan

How to Create a Menu Plan @amandaformaro Amanda's Cookin'

I have two words for you: menu planning. This 20-30 minute task can save you tons of money each week in several ways. It doesn’t have to be fancy as you can see from my chicken scratch above, just anything that works for you. Pinterest is a great way to keep track of your meals and there are tons of smartphone apps these days that will help you do the job as well.

Here are just a few examples of how a menu plan can save you boatloads of money:

  1. Avoid take out because you didn’t plan for dinner
  2. Stop multiple trips to the grocery store for this and that
  3. Helps you build your grocery list
  4. Can keep your pantry current by using what you have
  5. Keeps the dust off your cookbooks!

Over the years I’ve gone back and forth between menu planning, not menu planning, sometimes doing it, sometimes not. Nowadays it’s pretty much part of my routine. Let me expand on the items above:

Avoid Take-out
When I don’t put together a menu plan it is inevitable that we will have take out 1-2 times in a week. Even though I work from home, I still WORK. Which means I spend hours in front of the computer and before I know it it’s time to get dinner started. If I haven’t planned what we are going to have, everything is still frozen, I won’t be in the mood to dash around and get something ready, so I end up spending $30-40 for dinner that night. Yikes!

ANOTHER DELICIOUS IDEA >>  Stromboli Sandwiches

Stop Multiple Trips to the Grocery Store 
Each week when planning my menu, I keep my grocery list right next to me and build that as well. If I didn’t do this, I would end up running to the local high priced grocery store because WalMart is twenty minutes away and that’s too far (40 minutes round trip plus parking, shopping, standing in line, you just spent an hour or more out of your day!). My grocery list and my menu plan go hand in hand and work together well.

Helps Build Your Grocery List
As I mentioned above, I build my grocery list at the same time as my menu plan. I go through cookbooks, bookmarked recipes and my pantry to figure out what we have that week. By building my grocery list at the same, I won’t accidentally forget something that I might need for one of my dinners, which could result in running to that high priced grocery store down the road!

Can Keep Your Pantry Current 
When I build my grocery list I also take a quick visual inventory of my pantry. With 2 adults, 2 teens and 2 grade school aged kids eating all week long, it doesn’t take long for items to deplete. However, all those hands in the pantry can shove things to the back and out of sight. I fish through the pantry and see if there’s anything that will compliment my dinners or anything that needs to be used before it expires. Obviously I won’t build a whole dinner around a can of corn, but if I have a bag of dried beans and some leftover ham, that paired with some chopped onion and herbs can make a meal. Add some rolls and we’ve got a dinner.

ANOTHER DELICIOUS IDEA >>  Menu Plan for October 18th

Keeps the Dust Off Your Cookbooks!
I try to include 1-2 recipes on my menu plan that are from my cookbooks. It’s fun to try something new each week. I have several cookbooks and old recipe magazines that I love to browse through. It’s hard to find time, but I’ve pretty much set aside Saturday morning for all of this. I use bookmarks (pieces of paper work) to mark recipes I want to try.

Overall, menu planning is a great way to save money and avoid spending extra money on unexpected grocery store trips, impulse buying, and keeps you from wasting food!


  1. Bunny says

    Amanda i agree 100% with all your tips, i have done the menu planning as I go for groceries every 2 weeks when I get paid. But as you said sometimes you get away from it, you have reminded me to get my hind end in gear and do it again. I know what you mean about planning for dinner instead of getting take outs, it makes me sick to spend that much money for ONE meal!! Great tips Amanda, I’ll be putting them to good use!

  2. Ingrid says

    While in the back of my mind I’ve always known that I’ve kinda not really realized HOW MUCH it could save me. Thanks!! I’m gonna make an effort to make my list on Sunday evenings. I’m also going to include a tentative list of desserts that I might make.

  3. Tami says

    Oh, this is so weird! I just talked to my husband and kids today about this very subject. I’ve planned out my menu for next week, too! Like you, I’ve included some new recipes.

    I’m ashamed to say it…we waste so much money on fast food or going to restaurants.

    Now…let’s see if I can actually stick to this for more than one week! I’ve got to get rid of this sinus infection so that I can go shopping!

  4. Amanda says

    Bunny – Yes it’s so easy to get away from it, but I can’t believe how much better I feel all week knowing what’s for dinner!

    Ingrid – Good idea planning the desserts! I’ve done that with other recipes I want to try too!

    Tami – I hope you are starting to feel better!

  5. Carrie says

    I do my menu planning on Wednesdays… the same day I clean the kitchen (straighten the panty and fridge). That way I know what we need or don’t need for the upcoming weeks.

    Two to three weeks worth of menus is what I stick with. We try to go to the grocery store every two weeks…. try!!

  6. Cheri Sicard says

    Great tips Amanda,I have been menu planning lately and am not only saving money, I’m losing eight and we’re eating healthier too.

    This week for Thrifty Thursdays I posted the Top 10 Frugal Uses for Ice Cube Trays (Other Than Making Ice). ice cube tray can really help you use all your groceries and use every bit of the groceries you buy. I hope you all enjoy the article.

  7. Arfi Binsted says

    I usually don’t jot down the menu. Just go to the garden and see what’s growing there, they’ll be the dinner hehehehe… good on you with the list!

  8. Cheri Sicard says

    Your tip about not running to the grocery store reminds me of a challenge I put to myself. I try to see how many days I can go without going to the market while still having the ingredients to prepare healthy meals on my loose menu plan — and everyday I don’t go is saved money. Of course I do have a well stocked pantry and freezer, but I do usually have to go at least twice a week for produce and/or bread and milk, but I try to keep at least one of these trips small.

    If I make it to Trader Joe’s (about an hour away from me) I can usually go a week or more without going to the market again.

    Without at least a rough menu plan, this wouldn’t work as well.

  9. Debbie says

    Menu planning is a great way to get organized and save money. I try to do this but don’t always follow thru. My goal now is to finally start cooking and posting all the recipes I have in my “to try” file that I have printed off the net or collected from magazines or newspaper…We’ll see how that goes!

  10. Frugal Scholar says

    Hey all! Just posted about asparagus bruschetta and a few thrifty moments of fun going over the food ads with a colleague.

  11. RecipeGirl says

    I wish I were better about this. I ‘plan’ for the week, but then the plan usually goes awry when we find ourselves out instead of home, etc. I try!

  12. Amanda says

    Carrie – What do you do about produce and milk and such if you only shop every two weeks? Our local grocery store charges way too much for everything and I hate running down there for things like this.

    marybeth – Thank you!

    Cheri – wow that’s great about the weight loss!

    Arfi – that’s a great idea!

    Debbie – good luck with that. I try to make at least 1 or 2 bookmarked or snipped recipes each week :)

    Frugal Scholar – thanks for the post this week!

    RecipeGirl – At least you try!! :)

  13. Culinary Cory says

    I think an interesting topic for this site would be…how food blogging saved me money.

    I was working on my household budget and I figured my food blogging money has actually saved me money. I eat out less. I waste less food by turning the scraps into other items to post. And I get ad revenue to help off set the cost of cooking.

    I used to eat out everyday for lunch. You figure $10 per day on lunch equals $50 per week! Now that I eat my leftovers for lunch…just think of the money I’m saving.

    Just a thought…talk amongst yourselves. :)

  14. Melanie says

    I’m a bit late on this one, but thought I’d throw my 2 cents in anyway. We (just my husband and I in this family) have a weekly shopping trip to the store. Luckily, though, our grocery store is a 2-minute drive and only a half mile away. My favorite part of the week is sitting down at my laptop and searching the store’s weekly ad to figure out what our menu will be. I try to think of double duty foods like chicken (roasted one night and the leftovers are used for buffalo chicken pizza the next night like this week). Or we’ll have one-pot meals that last either for lunches or the next night’s dinner. All in all, with lunches, dinners, and any non-food stuff for the week, I spend $60-70/week at the grocery store. We eat the veggies and meats that are on sale and usually have a starch with 2 or 3 dinners because potatoes and pasta are cheap. Ahh… almost forgot, we eat Monday dinners with my parents, so that’s always a free meal. We’d spend a bit more if we stopped “family night” with my folks and brother’s family.

  15. Dan says

    Great Blog. Strangely enough, I do the exact same thing. Plan a Menu weekly, using my recipe books and also trying to fit in anything I have leftover. Also depends on if I’ve just got paid or not – first 2 weeks of month, it’s more expensive meals – last 2 weeks, it’s much cheaper stuff.


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