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Frugal Meal Planning Made Simple: First Step That Everyone Forgets!

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Why is meal planning so hard? If this is your feeling, I’m here to help! This is the first step in meal planning and part one of our Frugal Meal Planning Guide. You might already know why meal planning is important, but how do you get started? Here’s exactly how to simplify meal planning today!

Why meal planning is important…

  • Meal planning will save you wallets full of money.  
  • It will save you time every day.  
  • It will flatline your stress level.

Big promises, huh?  But I firmly believe it.  

But, why is meal planning so hard?

In my past work as a Registered Dietitian, I have taught more families than I can count how to meal plan.  

I always start with this essential first step in meal planning.  And I’m often surprised at how most advisors skip it.  It’s only the most important – in my opinion.

Until I got this true first step figured out I’d had many starts and stops with meal planning.  

It just took so much time!  And then making all these new-to-me recipes took even more  – reading through long ingredient lists and instructions took the amount of time I had set aside to do the actual cooking!  

And THEN the little tyrants loves-of-my-life at the table would refuse to eat it or complain loudly/glare at their plates.

And then I’d give up.

Then I figured out how to simplify meal planning this essential first step in meal planning and meals became more manageable and pleasant….

Frugal Meal Planning First Step

Tips for Frugal Meal Planning: the First Step That Everyone Forgets!

Step One to simplify meal planning is to make your own Master List of Meals.  

It’s pretty simple and if you do one thing for Meal Planning, this is it. We keep our list readily accessible and add to it when we hit on a successful recipe.

This step has been key for our family to take the anxiety out of the supper hour.  We eat better and we enjoy our time at the table more.

What defines a “successful recipe”?  Around our place it’s one that has:

  • Quick prep: it should take about 15 minutes (or maximum 30 minutes) 
  • Healthy ingredients
  • Lower cost, and 
  • Minimal complaints from the children.

Minimal complaints from the children.  That one’s worth repeating, because THAT’s the one that has tanked our meal planning in the past.  

Part of the reason is that kids thrive on familiarity.  And if you start with a week of brand-new recipes – my bet is that that will be the last week you meal plan.  They won’t like it and they’ll let you know. 

Just having your Master List of Meals will give you peace of mind.  It will trigger ideas of what to make – even if you never sit down and plan out a week ahead of time.

Before you read further – grab a pencil and a scrap of paper and do this:  

1) No really, I wasn’t kidding, get that pencil and paper. 😉  

I can wait – I’ve got nowhere to be.

 2) Now write down the meals that your family likes enough, and that you don’t mind making.  

No judgements here – include the boxes of frozen meals that you make – they count too.  It’s a list that works for you – not one for a photoshoot or “mom of the year” application.    

3) Is there 5 there?  Less?  More?  

It doesn’t matter, this is just a place to start.  

4) Plan to make those meals this week – when appropriate to your schedule. 

You don’t need to even plan which day you make what – some people find that too limiting.  

5) Make sure you have the ingredients in the house to make those meals.  

6) Add one more meal idea, when you feel ready.  

If the family seemed to like it enough, and you didn’t hate to make it – then add it to your list.  (Notice I said: “the family seemed to like it enough” – with low-pressure repeated exposures, they will come around.  They really will.  Kids very rarely LOVE a new recipe at their first exposure to it.)  

Below is our current Master List of Meals – maybe you’ll find some ideas here?  All of our meals are easy and quick to make and kid friendly.

The Next Step: Organize Your Week with one of these Free Printable Meal Planner pdfs!

Know this: our Master List did not start out this long!  

Nowhere near it.  I think there were maybe 6 meals on our very first Master List.  But we kept repeating those meals and adding one or two more as we went along.  Now our list is long – and much more varied – but we built to this over years.

How to Simplify Meal Planning: First step (Frugal Meal Planning Guide 1)

Here’s our family’s Master List of Meals:  ~ there are links to all the recipes, too! ~

We usually serve a simple salad with each meal: prewashed baby spinach or spring mix.

1. Sweet and Sour Meatballs (with rice)

2. Jelly Chicken with carrots and warm “5 Minute Bread” or mashed potatoes

3. Fried Rice  with Planned-Over (aka leftovers you plan to make) Jelly Chicken (#2 above) and Planned-Over rice (from #1 above)

4. Easy Homemade Chicken Fingers, peppers and “Dad Fries” (aka potato wedges – renamed by our kids)

5. Peachiest Pork Chops, veggie and rice or potato

6. Diego Sandwiches (aka bean burritos, as marketed to my kids) with Easy Guacamole

7. Our Fish Sticks (another recipe hack) with Broccoli, Couscous and Cashew Side Dish

10. Hamburgers or Hot dogs (or both) and salad

9. Easy Pasta with Veggies and Meat Sauce

10. Oven Fried Fish, peas and 5-Minute Bread3 Minute Coleslaw

11. French Toast with Peach Sauce and vanilla yoghurt

12. Pork Tenderloin peas and rice or mashed potatoes

13. Cashew Stir Fry with rice noodles

14. Dump and Dash Slow Cooker Chili with Healthier Skillet Cornbread

15. Boba Fett-ucini (as marketed to my kiddos) with peas and ham

16. Roasted Chicken Dinner (with carrots, onions and potatoes)

17. “Sauce Chicken”, a butter chicken- like stew (that my daughter thinks she invented) with cous cous (and Planned-Over chicken from the Roast Chicken Dinner), served with 5 Minute Naan

18. Kids Pizza Chefs – we all make our own pizza’s – using “5 Minute Bread” dough.  In the summer we do pizza on the BBQ.

19. Ikea Hack meatballs with peas and rice

20. Better-Than-Takeout Baked Chinese Chicken with Lemon Sauce with Broccoli, Cous Cous and Cashew Side Dish

21.  Shepherd’s Pie with Planned-Over mashed potatoes and LGB Helper and warm homemade Baguette

22.  Soup and Make-Your-Own Sub Night.  Some nights it will be Anna’s Taco Soup, other nights it might be a low-salt canned version.

23. Healthier Lasagne or Mexican Lasagne (though on some busy nights it will be one from the frozen food section)

24. One Pan Chicken Fajitas in Oven

25. Taco Night

26. Souvlaki with Rice and steamed veggie (often it’s prepared Souvlaki from the frozen food section other times we make it from scratch)

27.  Steak, roasted potatoes and corn

28. Panzerottis with Caesar Salad

29. Simple Marinated Pork Chops with corn and peas

30. Beef & Broccoli with Dumplings

31. Pasta Bar – with choice of tomato or alfredo sauce – and Meatballs

32. Slow Cooker Beef Stew with Red Wine, potatoes and carrots and Dumplings

33.Salmon Cakes (from this cookbook – with some tweaks) with rice and veggies

34. Slow Cooker Peanut Butter Chicken

35. Ribs in the Instant Pot with roasted potatoes and peppers

36. Mahogany Chicken and Broccoli Sheet Pan dinner (a new one for us!)

A great year-round side dish idea:
25+ Tasty & Healthy Ways to Make Fries WITHOUT Potatoes

We will keep building on the recipe links for you.

Writing this post made me realize there are lots that we haven’t shared yet!  We will also keep adding to this list when we hit on successful recipes – which is helpful for you – and essential for ourselves!  (If there’s a recipe that you’re especially interested in, leave a comment and we’ll start there!)

I find sharing recipes with friends the hands-down best way to get great family meal ideas. So I’m curious:
What recipes are on your “Master List”?

The Next Step: Organize Your Week with one of these Free Printable Meal Planner pdfs! (Frugal Meal Planning Guide 2)

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Monday 8th of May 2017

Slow cooker peanut butter chicken please! I could eat some right now! Thanks for this awesome idea!

Mona Andrei (aka Moxie-Dude)

Tuesday 29th of November 2016

Great tips! I wish I had read these when my kids were still at home :)


Tuesday 29th of November 2016

I wish I had shared them for you then, Mona! :)