Monday, June 6, 2016

Making A Bi-Weekly Menu Plan To Save Money and Sanity

Today's lunch on the bi-weekly menu plan

If you've read my blog for a while or know me in person for any length of time, you'd know that organization is big challenge of mine, and my struggles with that plays out in many ways in my life, often causing issues, and many times costing me extra money, either by forgetting to take care of things so I get charged late fees or things get ruined, or being so scatterbrained that I forgot to be prepared with something more frugal and end up spending more on getting or making things last minute that are more expensive...

I don't think I can transform myself overnight from messy, disorganized, and absentminded to an organized, orderly person, as I think this is part of my intrinsic personality, for good or for bad, and goes hand in hand with my ability to multitask and be creative and spontaneous. However, I think it is possible for me to do certain organized things, if I work hard at it, and maybe that organization will help me in the long run, and eventually make me a slightly more organized person... or at least I can hope.

I love cooking, and I like creativity, and I like coming up with new ideas in the kitchen, but I've been busy lately and haven't really been in the mood of cooking three meals a day for my family, and then another three meals a day for myself, since my kids won't agree to eat the foods I eat and I can't eat the foods they eat. So usually what happens is the kids come up to me and say "Mommy, I'm hungry! What's for lunch?" And then I have to start thinking about what to feed them, and then it usually involves something super fast and easy to make because there isn't time to cook something lengthy since they already are hungry by the time I start cooking. So suppers end up being more expensive because that's what is faster to make. Discussing my grocery bills with my friend, she was saying that she isn't particularly frugal at all, and spends pretty much the same as I do on groceries. (Mind you, I am making gluten free for everyone and paleo for myself, so that ups the cost, but still.) Which kind of makes me realize that I need to do something about my grocery bill, stat.
I also want to try to eliminate some of the stress that ends up around meal time because of this lack of organization and forethought on my part.
On top of everything else, there's not much more frustrating than taking the time and energy to cook up a meal for my family and then have them say that they don't like it, and don't want to eat it.

So, I decided to do some interventions.

Time for disorganized me to get organized, and make a standard weekly menu plan, with a focus on foods that are not difficult to make, inexpensive, and the kids agree to eat.

I had a mini family meeting. Actually a "meeting" with the boys, since they're the ones who are most picky about what they'll eat and the ones that complain the most of what I cook isn't too their liking.
I sat down with the boys and told them that we will be coming up with a menu plan, and explained the terms.
In short, I said that I want most of the meals to be with legumes, and since that is what they are most picky about, I asked them which legume meals they would rather I serve.
They came up with this list:
Terriyaki chickpeas.
Mujadara with carrots and raisins.

For each of those, I asked them how many times in the week they'd like me to serve that. When my boys disagreed about that, they found a compromise they were willing to go with. I also asked them what meal they would prefer to have these foods, lunch or supper, if they cared at all.
I then made a paper with a chart for each meal, and wrote down on little papers each meal they agree to eat, and how many times they are willing to eat it in a week, and then we played around, positioning it on the chart until we found a configuration they agreed to. We decided to do vegan suppers only twice a week, the other nights of the week are with animal protein meals, again cheap or somewhat cheap ones that they like and agree to eat.

I asked them what they want for breakfasts, and they said cereal and milk, but I nixed that and asked them what else they want, gave them the option of pancakes, waffles, muffins, and porridge, and they said they don't want muffins for breakfast, but want pancakes, waffles, and porridge, so we put that down on the chart.

I left the weekend blank, from Friday supper until Saturday supper, since I have more time over the weekend and then that gives me room to change things up and allow my creativity to come out.
Most of the meal only proteins are set in stone; the rest is up to me, depends on what I have, and what I am able to get cheaply.
Part of my big issue with making menu plans is I don't like their rigidity; my life is more about going with the flow, seeing how much energy I have, seeing what's on sale, seeing what needs to be used up, so I always felt like following a menu plan simply wasn't realistic, in addition to being sure that it would end up costing more and involve food waste.
Therefore, on this menu plan, I predominantly wrote just the protein, unless it was a dish that was a meal in one. This allows me to change up the carbs and veggies as needed. If I have leftover carbs, or am running low on the standard carb, I'll just replace it with another one instead of needing to go out shopping even if I hadn't planned on it. Legumes are the thing that I pretty much can always get at the same price, and I can easily stock up on them for a while, so I don't have to worry about fluctuating prices making my grocery bills increase by following a menu rigidly.
Since produce is where there is the biggest need for flexibility, both in terms of what needs to be used up, and what is seasonal and hence on sale, and what I actually have energy to make, I like that I left that blank on the menu plan. I can make a cooked veggie dish or salad and serve it for two or three meals in a row if I want and not have to worry about wasting leftovers. If I have more energy I can do more intricate, and if I'm lacking energy, I can just slice up a tomato or cucumber or pepper or carrot (or even give them whole ones if I'm feeling super lazy). And of course, only with what is in season or I foraged or what is currently in the fridge.

After we finalized the menu plan, I asked the kids if they'd be fine with having exactly that every week, and they said they'd prefer to have a two week rotation, so then they added two more legume dishes they'd eat:
Lentil bolognese.
Lentils with hot dogs and tomato sauce.

We worked those into the menu, and the second week only has 1 vegan supper. 

Here is the final menu we agreed upon. I can't say its the healthiest menu plan in the world and its processed food free, but at least the vast majority is, and the processed food is not too unhealthy (hot dogs, for example, are msg free)...

Week 1:

BreakfastGluten free pancakes,
complete protein,
made with chickpea flour and gluten free
grain flours, optional
extra nutritious additions
Crockpot porridge,
buckwheat or rice based, with peanut butter, tahini optional,
other nutritional
additions optional
Waffles- same
as pancakes
LunchHummus- with gluten free bread or rice cakes +veggies
or veggie spears, served with a grain
Terriyaki chickpeas with sweet and sour rice +veggiesHumus mealMujadara- rice
with lentils, carrots, and raisins
Humus mealHumus meal
SupperMashed potatoes
and tuna +veggies
Mujadara mealChicken wings + veggies and carb or neck meat deboned, made into sandwiches sloppy Joe styleTerriyaki
chickpeas meal
Eggs + carb + veggies OR egg fried rice

Notes: For pancakes and waffles, the flours used will be home ground when possible, and store bought when my sanity doesn't allow home grinding. They will be a mix of chickpea flour and either buckwheat or whole grain rice or millet flours, and may also contain tahini or coconut or flax seeds for added nutrition. For porridge, it always contains peanut butter so that it is a complete protein, but may also contain coconut, chia seeds, cinnamon, chopped fruit, cocoa powder, and/or tahini, depending on what is available or what they're in the mood for.

Week 2:

BreakfastPancakesCrockpot PorridgeWafflesPancakesCrockpot
LunchLentil "bolognese"
Over gluten free pasta
Hummus mealTerriyaki
Hummus mealMujadara mealHummus meal
SupperMashed potato/
tuna meal
Lentils with hot
dogs and tomato sauce + carb + veggies
Chicken wings/neck
Lentil bolognese

Snacks are muffins, cookies, popcorn, and fruits and veggies. I want to bake a bunch of goodies and fill my freezer with them to pull out as needed.

So far we're on day two of week one and so far so good. 

To make it easier and cheaper so I don't have to do so much work every day, most of what I did can be made in advance and frozen. I cooked up a lot of chickpeas and froze them in smaller portions to use for individual meals. I made a bunch of hummus and froze them in meal size portions. I plan on doing that with lentils. The biggest issue here is making sure to defrost things in time, but since it'll be the same things consistently, I can just look at what the next day's menu plans are and defrost those things before going to bed.
And because these things are freezer friendly, if there are some stuff left over after a meal, I can freeze them to use next time they're on the menu.

The biggest issue here, honestly, is what to do on days that we're out of the house. Hummus meals work fine taken out of the house, but I need to figure out what we should do if I decide on a spontaneous outing. Any frugal suggestions of travel friendly food that I should have to be able to take with me?

The other biggest "issue" is needing to keep certain basic things in stock, but since I can get these things consistently at the same price, I plan on doing large shops to stock up on necessary things, and when I run low, go buy again, so not really a problem at all.

Anyone else have a standard weekly or bi-weekly menu plan? How does it work for you vis a vis frugality, food waste, and energy levels? Do you find since making a menu plan you've saved money on groceries, time in the kitchen, or reduced stress levels? What is on your menu plan? Did you consult with your family members before making it, or did you just make it and hope they'll eat it?


  1. For a few years our family functioned with a biweekly menu plan. It was very helpful at the time, for the reasons you say: "So usually what happens is the kids come up to me and say "Mommy, I'm hungry! What's for lunch?" And then I have to start thinking about what to feed them, and then it usually involves something super fast and easy to make because there isn't time to cook something lengthy since they already are hungry by the time I start cooking."

    Your boys' suggestions are impressive. My kids said they like Toast. When I asked what else, they said Bread.

  2. I don't really meal-plan; I have three things kidlet gets to choose from for breakfast on any given day (on the weekends I might make pancakes or muffins), and I always have leftovers or sandwiches with fruit for lunch. For snacks he can ask for a cookie, or fruit. So I only really worry about dinner, and even then, I'm more apt to take my husband's preferences into account than kidlet's. Kidlet will eat just about anything if he's hungry enough--there's a reason I cut off all snacks at 3 pm.

  3. I think this is a great idea, especially how you involved your kids. I've done the same with a weekly lunch menu that rotates.

    For supper, I find that what works best for me is to plan about 3 days at a time. This way, I can be flexible and use up what might otherwise go bad. Shopping more often, counter-intuitively, saves me money. I wrote a post about this recently, I hope it's ok for me to share it here:

    Also - I used to read your blog years ago and forgot about it, but then I read Hard Core Poor, and when she mentioned you, I came back over to subscribe. :-)

  4. Hubby is the worlds pickest eater. Something he loved 2 weeks ago, he will hate now. So while I shop with budget and meal plan in mind, I always have to have a "just in case" backup meal for him.

    It's funny, in most marriages the biggest fight is usually about money, in my house it's "What do you want: FOOD! I'm sorry love that I don't know what you want to eat for dinner and that you seem to not know either. Have a pizza." In the end one of us usually will run to the golden arches for a burger. And I hate that cos it blows up my food budget. And let's face it, most fast food isn't healthy and I refuse to pay $4 for a salad when I have everything at the house to make one.

    It will be interesting coming up as I'm going to switch my eating to something more diabetic friendly because I fear getting diabetes as I get older which means a totally different diet than the one I've shared with him. Wish me luck. - Mattie

  5. You can freeze pre-made sandwiches and yogurts for outtings (PB&J or butter on bread freeze well). A box of cut up vegies. A large water bottle with plastic cups. A bag of pretzels. Maybe a ziplock pre-filled with forks/spoons/napkins. Good luck! P.s. I don't think you should call yourself disorganized :) all of us have the same issue of "dinner again? didn't you just eat last nite?!" We all need to work on how to plan food, as we are usually busy organizing many other things!

  6. This weekly meal plan sounds good but I believe that it could be really stressful to follow it. Maybe I’m not the only one who begins to stress if I’m not capable of following my weekly meal plan. Also, I think that children tend to want something else than you already planned to make. Your planned looks simple and easy to follow. So maybe all people should make their own meal plans in order to meet with their, children’s and husband’s preferences. I believe that the best thing you did is evolving kids with your weekly meal plan. It is kind of impressive and helps your children to participate in daily routine of adults. And I really like your method of frozing food and like that you have more time for yourself and do housework. Thank you for your advice.

  7. I'm pretty good at figuring out what I can make with the ingredients on hand, but my partner is not and is even worse at it when distracted by child(ren). Five years ago, he began working from home on a contract basis while I was still working full-time outside the home, so he became the weeknight dinner chef (his cooking skills are as good as mine; it's planning skills where we differ), and then we had a summer when our son came home from day camp at lunchtime. That's when I started planning menus for my partner to cook. It felt to ME like I was bossing him around, but it turns out he's happy to have a plan and 90% of the time makes exactly what I tell him to make. I plan 3-7 days ahead, based very much on what we have in the house and what's on sale. Here's an example of what my meal plan looks like.


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