Meals on a Budget- Part 1: Planning Your Menu

As a mom to a large family, I am often asked how I feed our family without breaking the bank.  Our grocery budget is $500 per month, which includes not only food, but diapers, paper goods, and personal health and beauty items.  This is the first of a 4-part series in which I will share tips, a sample menu, and recipes. In the final post. I will share about using coupons as a great way to save money each week!

First and foremost, planning is key to reducing not only costs in your food budget, but it also contributes to reduced stress. If you know in advance what you are serving for supper each night, it eliminates the “What’s for dinner?” followed by “Do I have that?” panic that often ensues.

For us, our greatest money saver is through the use of coupons, and I will share a separate post dedicated to couponing. Outside of couponing, planning your menu reduces costs because you are not buying items you already have, throwing out food that is past its expiration, or settling for fast food out of necessity.

I plan our meals a week (or more) in advance, making note of what items I’ll need from the store. You may have a different preference based on your family’s needs, but I write our meals on my calendar so that, during times of being in a “meal rut”, I can look back to the weeks or months before for meal ideas. Another suggestion is to print and laminate a blank menu and use a dry erase marker to fill it in. You can find weekly or monthly menus online, or you can use this one from Organized Home.

It sounds simple enough, but planning a menu that includes a variety of foods can be challenging, especially in a family with many tastes and preferences. One way I handle this is to allow the kids to help plan our menu. I ask each of them what they would like to eat for supper, and I get a general menu plan from their responses.

I have also recently begun teaching my boys, ages 11 and almost 9, how to plan, prepare, and serve meals. This means that they look through a cookbook to choose an entree and use the ingredients in the recipe to go through the pantry and refrigerator to create a grocery list. I also assign them a night to prepare their meal based on our schedule and my availability to assist them.  I typically do not schedule them to cook on nights we are pressed for time.  However, exceptions are made if it is a recipe they have made before or if I am confident they can prepare the meal independently.  Implementing this skill is invaluable to me as a busy mom: I get a couple of nights “off” in the kitchen and they are gaining a needed skill!

Below is a sample menu for my family. I follow three steps in finalizing it.  Step 1: I ask my kids and husband for their input. Step 2: I take stock of the items currently in my refrigerator and freezer. I often purchase my meats in bulk while on sale, so this step is a MUST in order to keep food waste to a minimum. Step 3: I inventory my dry and canned goods. My final menu plan includes the main dish and side items. Doing all of the above helps me to stay within my budget.






Cereal, Oatmeal, Pancakes PB & J, Party Tray, Yogurt Tacos, refried beans, rice




Lemon pepper chicken, roasted potatoes, green beans




Homamade Tomato Soup, grilled cheese




White Chicken lasagna, rolls




Hamburgers, potato wedges, corn




Chinese chicken, egg rolls





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