4 Ways Menu Planning Saves Money

Welcome back to Menu Planning Month.

I decided to kick off this series by answering the question – Why?

Why bother menu planning? Why not just live – and eat – spontaneously?

The answer is two-fold. There is no doubt that my household runs much more smoothly when I menu plan. Five o’clock is far less stressful for me – and, in turn, for my family – when I know what’s for dinner.

When I know what’s on the menu, I can even prep ingredients or take something out of the freezer in the morning, practically eliminating that five o’clock witching hour.

But the primary reason that I advocate menu planning on this blog is because it saves money.

In fact, as a kosher keeper, I’m fairly convinced that menu planning can save you nearly as much as couponing! And here’s how:

1. Menu planning cuts down on last minute trips to the grocery store

Last minute trips are the kiss of death for your budget. How many times have you run out to the store at 5 o’clock to pick up something for dinner, only to spend $30, $40, $50 or more?

No judgment. We’ve been there and done that, too.  But $50 is half of what we budget for the entire week, so to blow it on one meal – ouch!

When we menu plan, however, I don’t need to run out at 5 p.m., because I I know what’s  on the schedule for every night of the week. Which means I’ve shopped for those ingredients – and have everything on-hand to put dinner together.

2. Menu planning reduces impulse purchases.

Not only are you less likely to make (costly) last minute trips to the store when you menu plan, you are also less likely to make impulse purchases when you’re there.

When you menu plan, you know in advance what food items you need to purchase in order to feed your family every day of the week. With this kind of advanced planning, you can trust that your list is comprehensive – so you are less likely to stray from it.

I fully admit that this benefit to menu planning might be more psychological than practical. Success breeds success, so once  you see that menu planning really does save money, you are less likely to undermine those savings with spendy impulse purchases. Kind of like how once you’ve lost a bit of weight on a diet, you become far more motivated to sick to it.

3. Menu planning reduces food waste 

If you buy a head of bokchoy to use in your stir-fry on Thursday, odds are – you will actually use that bokchoy.  Which means you aren’t going to find it composting on the bottom shelf of your fridge several weeks later.

Even left-overs can be purposefully consumed with a menu-plan, which means no more “Honey, when was this tupperware from? Oh – ugh, never mind!”

When you menu plan, you buy your groceries with a specific purpose in mind. That purpose is what stands between you and moldy bokchoy or questionable tupperware.

4. You eat out less when you menu plan

When you have a plan, and the ingredients to implement that plan, right in your fridge, you are far less likely to give up on making dinner and head for the pizzeria.

Everytime you stay at home, rather than eating out, you are saving your family money. Menu planning allows eating out be a “treat” rather than the 5 p.m. default.

(If, like us, you don’t have kosher restaurants, you can still get tempted by costly convenience foods at the grocery store – see #1.)

So, why do we menu plan? Because I like to be happier  mom with a calmer household… and because I love to save money!

What about you? Why do you (or don’t you) menu plan?


  1. I make a weekly plan (often with some input from my family). I’ve been doing it for years. It helps keep me sane. My kids know to check the white board if they want to know what’s for dinner during the week and on Shabbat.
    Today’s menu called for Minestrone soup and breadsticks from scratch. Normally I would have made the breadsticks and prepped the soup during the early afternoon. However, the day didn’t go as planned and I got nothing done then I didn’t walk in the door until 4:30 from a couple of pediatrician appointments. But b/c I had the plan and the fresh ingredients that I didn’t want to go to waste I stuck with it, gave the kids popcorn to tide them over and we ate the planned meal about 45 minutes later than normal. I was sorely tempted to order pizza but the plan kept me on track and saved me a lot of money. Ordering out for my family of 6 can easily run $40-$50. This meal cost a fraction of that.

  2. As some people know, I resisted and resisted and resisted using a menu plan. I had every excuse you could imagine, BUT we started menu planning in early November, and we’re not going back. Having a plan has saved our money and our sanity. We’re eating healthier, better food than we did before, and in an interesting surprise, it has actually caused us to be *more* creative and try new recipes because we can plan dinner more than an hour in advance.

  3. I do a menu plan for the week, and it is a life saver. My kids are little and I don’t have the time to cook when we get home at the end of the day, as they want and deserve my attention. I cook two nights worth of meals at a time after they go to bed, so I am not cooking every night. It takes time, but we eat healthier and more home cooked meals than anyone else we know (most people just tend to cook for Shabbat). It does help that I like to cook and would rather cook than clean, but this way, ordering takeout for dinner is a treat for us rather than regular backup plan.

    We also save a lot of money by packing not just the kids lunches but also our own. How do we do it when mornings are so rushed? We freeze our leftovers in lunch-sized containers, so in the AM we just grab a container and a few pieces of fruit and are set. My husband says that things I made for dinner that were just so-so taste better when they are lunch (since they save him both money and the time needed to go out to get lunch). You have to make it easy, and this cuts out any AM prep time. On the days I commute, I also bring breakfast to work.

    • Aviva Meyer says

      Rachel – that’s so smart! Every Sunday evening I take 30 minutes and make 5 delicious salads with Tuna for the week…. this way I don’t have to worry about having lunch. Every day I get at least 1 compliment stating how delicious my salads look and how they can’t believe I have time to work full time, have a family and have a yummy salad. I try and explain that making lunch or taking leftovers is the best nutritional meal and it’s easy!

  4. The main reason I menu plan is to save time. I don’t have to waste time figuring out what to eat, running to the grocery store for a missing ingredient and I can do some prep work in advance. It’s also an awesome stress reliever and a great way to make sure we’re eating healthy!

  5. I have planned menus for several years now, to save the insanity at dinner-cooking time, but I don’t think I’ve benefitted much in my budget. Whatever I save in return trips to the store and impulse buys, I lose by not having the adaptability to use leftovers without wasting something else I bought. I end up with more moldy produce when I plan the menu than when I just buy the produce and then figure out what to do with it later because, inevitably, either some planned meal gets cancelled due to an abundance of leftovers or a lot of leftovers sit unbeaten in the fridge. When I plan for leftovers, though, we don’t have them. We eat a better variety of food when I plan ahead, but we’re also much more likely to have something the kids won’t eat (more waste). I definitely see a bigger weekly grocery bill with planning than without. What am I missing?

  6. Well look at that. I didn’t mean to post twice. That’s what I get for trying to post from my ipad while nursing a baby!

  7. Aviva Meyer says

    Mara –
    LOVE IT! For the last three years my husband and I have made monthly menus on excel (including a clean up chart) this way it was easier to shop sales… if certain main items were on sale – I would buy enough for 2 or 3 dinners to have during the month. It also forced us to become more creative so we wouldn’t have pasta every night – for less then $2 we could have eggs and fresh veggies.

    A trick we use to make sure all of our leftovers are gobbled up before Shabbos / end of the week – we had Pot Luck Fridge nights scheduled into our weekly menu (usually Thursday) – if we had nothing left it would be pasta, eggs or pancakes – something simple that we always have at home (it would be written in Pot Luck Fridge / Tuna Melts).


  8. menu planned and shopped accordingly for the first time this month. i’ve planned before but never end up following through. this time i shopped last week for my produce for shabbos and the whole coming week and then bought the proteins on monday for the week. i am excited not to be going into a store all week and am even more excited to see how it plays out budget-wise at the end of the month

  9. I’ve been married for a year and started menu planning almost from the start. When I don’t do it, I always wish I did. I love the feeling of being organized and prepared for an entire week’s worth of cooking. I’m a pretty frugal shopper anyway, so I don’t think it’s this that necessarily saves money, but it does save trips to the store.
    Since we’re just two people, leftovers are not an issue. In fact, I consider myself lucky if we have leftovers — I don’t think ANYthing has gotten to the moldy stage!

  10. Without a car, I’ve come to the realization that I absolutely must plan ahead, because I go to the store once a week. Period. (Okay, not entirely true, sometimes I will run to the closer store for a couple of things) Especially now that I have a little one and can’t manage the walk to the store (1.3 miles one way to the store with the good kosher selection) with the shopping cart and the baby. That means that trips have to be planned for 1. when husband can come with or 2. when a friend is doing her shopping as well.

  11. galileegirl says

    I believe that our meal plan is the key to my sanity. I am going to confess that I’m not very creative as we have a set dinner for every night of the week. Sunday – leftovers or chicken wings, Monday – ground beef, Tuesday – soup and bread machine bread, Wednesday – hot dogs or pizza (if I have the energy) and Thursday – homemade falafel. Shabbat meals are also pretty standard.

  12. Aviva Meyer says

    Galileegirl – what recipe do you use for the bread maker bread? I am ALWAYS looking for new things to make in my bread maker.

  13. galileegirl says

    Been experimenting with recipes. I liked this recipe for its ease and flavour but my kids weren’t crazy about it: http://low-cholesterol.food.com/recipe/fluffy-peasant-bread-vegan-and-low-fat-64261. This recipe they liked but its come out a bit wet – I need to tweek it and see if I can get it to work: http://www.food.com/recipe/superb-rye-bread-bread-machine-395966.

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