Monday, October 26, 2009

Menu Planning "Frustration"

I'm always open for new meals. My kids like to try new things. Some are hot, others, not so much. We add things to "Make again" and the "well, the recipe sounded good" lists.

Here is my rant: I search online for budget-friendly meals, and recipes. I am exasperated by people who feed a family of four on "barely $200 per week." Am I crazy? I spend WAY less than that for our family of FIVE and we eat "like kings," as my husband puts it. I generally spend about $100/week, and that includes stocking up on things, not just what we are eating that week. If you count what I pull out of my pantry each week, we are eating for about $50/week.

So, here's what I plan to do about it. I will start posting what we eat. Starting with my generic meal plan, you'll see how people who really have a budget eat and eat well.

First, we have a strict breakfast menu. My kids follow it. It's posted on the fridge. We don't vary from it.

Rotating through 2 weeks (the weeks are governed by our chore chart system, but that will have to be saved for another day...), the menu is as follows.

Breakfast - Week 1
Breakfast - Week 2

Monday Mom's Choice Monday Pancakes
Tuesday Cereal
Tuesday Oatmeal
Wednesday Eggs and Toast Wednesday Cereal
Thursday Oatmeal
Thursday Peanut Butter Toast
Friday Cereal
Friday Cereal

Notice that the cereal is not as frequent as the kids would want. What kinds of cereal do I buy? 100% cheap-y cheap, whatever is in the bag and costs the least. Often, it's generic frosted mini-wheats. Kids don't want it? Too bad. They learn to eat what's there. And, this menu has a lot less sugar than grab-and-go snack-y breakfasts like poptarts, cereal bars, and toaster strudels.

Pancakes are made from pancake mix, and the toast is made from homemade bread (from wheat that I grind myself, that I buy for roughly $.26/pound). I allow oatmeal packets on oatmeal days, but they're only the store-brand (unless by some random chance I have a coupon and the name-brand is also on sale, causing the per-packet price to be less than the generic brand). They always have the option to use regular quick oats and add bananas, walnuts, and cinnamon to make "banana-bread oatmeal."

Lunches. EASY. They pack their own. EVERY DAY. The price of school "hot lunch" is way too much ($1.75 each!), especially when you look at the quality of the food (too much sugar, not enough whole grains, they always have the "option" of the hot-dog choice...). We have a chart on the fridge again. It says:


Sandwiches are usually peanut butter and jelly, again, homemade bread which they slice themselves, by choice. Not because we don't have lunch meat. Often they will ask if I can make chicken salad for their sandwiches. How great is that?! The vegetable is usually cut up carrots (I buy one 5-lb bag per week, and peel and cut them up into a container in the fridge, which is WAY cheaper than buying baby carrots). Sometimes they even take celery. For fruit, they can take canned fruit (to rotate through our food storage), or apples, pears, bananas, or whatever fruit I can buy that is on super-sale that week. The "snack" is something like animal crackers, goldfish crackers, pretzels, etc. For drinks, they often take water. Yes, water. In their own refillable water bottle. I refuse to buy kool-aid-y sugar drinks for these boys. They DON'T need the sugar.

My Dinner Menu Plan varies from week to week, but follows the same basic plan.

Sunday - Crockpot
Monday - Soup/Salad/Sandwiches
Tuesday - Vegetarian (NO Meat)
Wednesday - Casserole/One-Dish Meal
Thursday - Fancy Dinner
Friday - Leftovers/MYO (Make-your-0wn)
Saturday - Cook's Choice

Sunday-Wednesday are pretty self-explanatory. I like all of these to be easy, cheap, and fast, but still from scratch. Thursday can be anything, but it's served at the table with full place settings, and candles, and cloth napkins. This developed out of a need for my children to "practice fancy manners." It works. Now they are pointing out flaws in each-other's manners, as well as in other people's manners (not always such a good idea...). Friday is my "day off," meaning I don't want to plan a huge dinner which causes a lot of stress. It's also a great way to get rid of what's in the fridge, that my husband did not take to work for his own lunch.

We live by the standard of "eat meat sparingly," which means that it's not the main focus of the meal. That reduces our grocery bill by an awful lot. If I make a casserole, I put in half of the meat. One 12 oz can of chicken can feed the whole family.

I hope this helps out some others that must feel the same way I do about feeding a family on a budget. I will start posting what we eat each week as well. Then my work can benefit others!


  1. Thanks for the breakdown! It's helpful to see what other budget-wise moms are cooking.

    If you need any vegetarian recipes I have a ton, considering the fact that we're, well, vegetarian.

  2. Find more meal planning ideas here:

  3. thank you for sharing such an inspiring post. I struggle with budgeting and would love to learn any more of your tips in future posts.

  4. Enjoyed reading your blog. Appreciate your no nonsense attitude with your family menu planning. We probably need more of that at our house.