Tuesday 19 August 2014

Menu Planning

I've had many people over the years ask me how to menu plan and where to start.  Menu planning is the best way to save a lot of money on your food budget.

 I can remember many years ago when my girls were little,  I'd spend about half an hour in front of the pantry,  fridge and freezer trying to find something different to cook that night.  Money was very tight and I didn't have great cooking skills.  Spag bol and chop suey were cooked once a week.  I loved those meals but even I was getting a little tired of eating them so often.  Inspiration was hard to come by when you are looking at the same old, same old ingredients.  In desperation we'd have eggs on toast,  spaghetti on toast or crumpets.  I cringe when I think of it now.

The first step to writing a great menu plan is to write a list of all the meals you can cook.  Include even the basic meals like spag bol,  fish fingers and eggs on toast.  When I first wrote my list I think I had about 15 - 20 meals on it.  As time went on I learnt to cook a few new meals each year.  If they were a success I'd add them to my list.  I now have about 45 meals I can cook.  Some are cooked more regulary than others.

Once you have your list,  grab another piece of paper and write the day and date of each day down the side for the whole month.  Then work out how often you want to eat certain types of meat each week.  For example it might be fish x1,  chicken x2,  beef x2,  pork x1 and lamb x1.  Then you need to work out what meals work best on each night.  If you have swimming with the kids on Thursday night then a roast won't work unless you are happy to eat at 9pm.   If you ae all home on a Sunday night,  then the roast might work better then.  I always have a different meat each night for variety.  If I served chicken three nights in a row,  we'd all be tired of it.  If there is leftover meat from a roast,  it's either frozen or served two night later.

Cheaper meals are included to offset the dearer cost of roasts.  I also don't cook on Sunday night.  This isn't for religous reasons. We quite often have church functions for lunch on a Sunday or family gatherings. By the time tea comes around we are only wanting something simple and light.  I cook from scratch six nights a week so Sunday night in our house is called " Get your own but feed me ".  My girls and husband are quite capable of cooking something simple and it gives them a chance to improve and expand their cooking skills.

Here's my current menu plan -

Mon 18th - Lasagne and veg
Tues 19th - Honey soy chicken drumsticks with mash and veg
Wed 20th - Roast beef with roast veg
Thurs 21st - Tuna casserole and greens
Fri 22nd - Chicken curry in slow cooker with rice
Sat 23rd - Rissoles,  gravy,  mash and veg
Sun 24th - Get your own
Mon 25th - Meat pie and veg
Tues 26th -  Honey mustard chicken with rice
Wed 27th - Chicken flan with mash
Thurs 28th - Fish ( from box ) with rice,  zucchini slice and veg
Fri 29th -  Hamburgers with wedges
Sat 30th - KFC style chicken drumsticks with mash and veg
Sun 31st - Get your own
Mon 1st - Spag bol
Tues 2nd - Wedding anniversary - not sure what we'll have
Wed  3rd - Roast beef with roast veg
Thurs 4th - Salmon patties with rice and veg
Fri 5th - Freezer meals ( pick your own )
Sat 6th - Rissole casserole with mash
Sun 7th - Get your own
Mon 8th - Meatloaf with mash and veg
Tues 9th - Sausages,  mash and veg
Wed 10th - Silverside in slow cooker with roast veg
Thurs 11th - Tuna pasta bake
Fri 12th - Homemade pizza
Sat 13th - Beef stew in slow cooker with mash
Sun 14th - Get your own
Mon 15th - Lemon chicken drumsticks with mash or rice and veg
Tues 16th - Nasi Goreng
Wed 17th - Roast beef in slow cooker with roast veg
Thurs 18th - Tuna caserole with greens
Fri 19th - Lasagne with veg

I do my big monthly shop on the 16th of each month so I  write my menu plan the night before I shop.  If for some reason I can't shop then,  I have a few days up my sleeve on the menu plan.

Chocolate self saucing pudding

Desserts are not written on the menu plan.  If the main meal is a light one then I'll make a dessert as a treat.


  1. Hi Wendy, thank you so much for this wonderful blog, I have only ever menu planned on a weekly basis, this is so much better! I am going to try this and I'll let you know how I go, I used to see myself as very thrifty and thought that my monthly food bill looked quite healthy, healthy alright around $1,400 per month is healthy for Coles. My husband and I have a great excel spread sheet for all our bills and I honestly thought we were doing well, we always save every month, but now I saw you monthly food bill and now you giving us your meal plan I hope I can do this. Again thank you Simone

  2. Hi Wendy, Simone again, sorry but I'm losing sleep now! I'm wondering how I was justifying my enormous shopping bill, I used to work out that $350 pw is $87.50 each person in our family per week so that's $12.50 a day each, for all meals, breakfast, lunch, dinner. We do not do school lunch orders (ever), both my husband and I take our lunch to work and we never, and I honestly mean never to take away, and we don't do the take away coffee. So the $1400 per month is our total food bill for all meals. Please Wendy how can a cull this, is your food bill for everything or just dinners. Simone

    1. Simone, I feed my family for $270 per month. This includes breakfast, lunch, dinner and all snacks. It also includes basic toiletries and the few cleaning products I buy.

      I'll do a post on this shortly and explain it all. For now, why don't you try writing a monthly menu plan and include a few cheaper meals. This will get you on the right path.

    2. Hi Wendy, I noticed that you only planned for dinner in your menu plans. How does breakfast and lunch fit into menu planning?

    3. Breakfast and lunch in my house are very basic. Toast, porriage, corn flakes, rice bubbles and wheat bix are always on offer for breakfast.

      Everyone packs their own sandwiches for lunch. We don't eat leftovers for lunch as it's too expensive. Instead they are frozen for free meals and written into the menu plan from time to time.

      I bake all our snacks from scratch so the items needed for them are always on my shopping list. Same with the spreads for sandwiches.

  3. Wendy that's incredible, you are truly amazing. I have now almost identically copied your menu meal plan, I will let you know how I'm going, I've tried to see how you do this by going back over the ACA program and I will try very hard to shift what I'm doing, I'm honestly have so much admiration to you Wendy. I'm going to work very hard at this. A warm thank you Simone

  4. Hi Wendy
    I am looking forward to seeing how you shop we spend roughly $130pw on 2A 1C and a cat.....don't have a vegetable garden due to renting but do have some items growing in pots such as carrots and herbs. My partner is also away for a lot over two weeks he is only home for about 6 days so does not eat at home
    I have so been enjoying reading your blogs and look forward to many more.....Al

    1. You can grow beans, silverbeet, spinach, lettuce and tomatoes in pots too.

  5. Hi Wendy, thanks for explaining this....I don't know why my brain finds this so difficult to work out all by itself.Luckily you have taken the guess work out for me! I'm going to try this on a smaller scale and meal plan for a fortnight and then go from there. I figure if I start somewhere small it won't seem so arduous for me. We all have to start somewhere right? Wendy I assume the nights you make spag bol and curries that you always cook in bulk so you can freeze some, would this be correct? Or do you have set meals that freeze better than others? Hoping you have a great weekend. Cheers Donna Z :)

  6. Starting with a fortnightly menu plan sounds great. Once you get the hang of it, it's easy to go to the monthly one. Still shop the way it works for you but make sure you write your shopping list from the menu plan. If you have a menu plan that works well and everyone is happy with, keep it and reuse it again just changing the dates.

    I have days where I make 18 meals in one go. This is generally on a Saturday or a day that I don't work. Spag bol is made X4, pie meat X4 etc and frozen. I don't have a big enough slow cooker to make chicken curry in bulk but I make it stretch to have two single serves leftover for the freezer.

  7. There does seem to be a lot of mash with meals, I love mashed potato but peeling that many spuds, so often ? Do you use a rice cooker ? I find that I can cook double what we need and freeze the cooked rice for use in fried rice. K

    1. I counted nine meals out of thirty three with mash. At this time of the year we love mash a couple of times a week I'm very fast at peeling potatoes and we only eat one medium one per person.

      We don't have a rice cooker as my saucepan cooks rice perfectly. I quite often cook double the rice needed for a meal and freeze the rest.

    2. Thank you, I cook for 5 so when I think of mash it's a 2kg bag each time, with plannedovers for another meal. One potato per person does give me a different perspective,

  8. Hi Wendy
    I too have been re-evaluating our shopping and life in general since seeing you on aca. Thanks for the nudge in the right direction :) Do you shop in the middle of the month for a specific reason ie. Better specials then or it has just worked out that way. Also noticed a frugal task of cleaning the dishwasher. How often do you do this? And what do you use in it for the actual washing? I have made the miracle spray up but am still finishing off the last brand spray to then refill.
    Cheers Tania

    1. Hi Tania, I shop on the 16th of each month because that's when my credit card clicks over and goes back to zero. My monthly budget starts on the 16th and ends on the 15th of the next month.

      I try to clean my dishwasher on the 1st of each month ( for ease of remembering ) or at least at the beginning. I use to use Aldi dishwashing powder but they changed the product and put the price up. I now use the Coles no name powder. It's about $2 for a kilo and works just fine. I don't leave dirty dishes in the dishwasher all day. It's mostly the tea dishes that get washed about 1/2 an hour after tea. We use the quick wash cycle and handwash heavily soiled casserole plates. Much much cheaper than those tablets which I've heard from many people are not good for the dishwasher.

  9. I have just found a recipe for making your own dishwasher tablets so am keen to give that ago....Unfortunately we have no Aldi close to us and this can be a big drain on our budget, also we have to shop weekly as we have not fruit and veg shop in our town....all our shops are in a larger town located an hour and a half away.
    My dishwasher only gets used twice a week as my partner is not home much so I hand wash the dishes when I boil the jug for a coffee....and this saves me on gas and electricity as every time I use hot tap water is gas and the electricity to warm it up...Al(kuda)


  10. helen heyes31 August 2014 09:38

    hi Wendy, would it be possible for you to post your monthly shopping list

  11. Love seeing your meal planning Wendy!

  12. Hi Wendy,
    I love your website, but I am completely stumped at how your grocery bill is so low. We are a family of 5 with one child still in nappies. We've just moved from remote NT to QLD. Our grocery bill per week would easily exceed $500 per WEEK. Now it has dropped to approx. $400 per week (that included nappies and wipes...I only use Huggies as these are the only brand that I find don't leak and are probably the most expensive ). I do a weekly meal plan and shop on Mondays. However, I find that I need to do another shop on Friday as some fruit and veggies don't last. I have started using your money saving ideas (hand wash, body wash, plus I will make your laundry powder today. We also save our left overs for dinners.
    Over the next few months I will do a monthly planner and see how I go! Wish me luck,
    Thanks again for all your ideas!

    1. Buy no name, buy ingredients, buy cheaper cuts of meat, eat smaller amounts of meat,, buy fruit and veg in season, buy from a butcher, buy from a fruit and veg shop and buy what you need not what you think you'll need. Write a shopping list of exactly what you need for the week. Refridgerate all fruit and veg ( except potatoes ). It lasts a lot longer.

  13. Hi Wendy,
    Great Blog, i am 29 and living with my partner and we are always looking for ways to save some money for bigger and better things to come. I just had a question in relation to your lasagne, i see you often have leftover lasagne and i was wondering once you cook it, do you freeze it again and then cook it again when you have it for leftovers?
    Keep up the great work.
    All the best, Samm

    1. Samm, I make the lasagne big enough for 12 serves. I cook it as one large lasagne then serve up one piece each with veg or other things. The remaining 8 serves are individually wrapped, labelled and frozen for two other meals for the four of us. I defrost those single serves in the fridge overnight then heat them up in the oven.

  14. Hi Wendy
    I love your blog. Where can I find your burger mince recipe? How many do you make each time?

    1. I'll put the recipe up soon I always make lots of patties and freeze them into meal sizes.

  15. Thank you. You have inspired a lot of people to get back to basics and realise that less is more.

  16. Do you make your kfc drumsticks from scratch? If so is it possible to post a recipe? I would love to know more things to cook for kids rather then the fancy type meals and I seriously sometimes feel like I cook to much spag Bol too :/
    Even a qualified chef like me can be clueless as to what to cook each night. Slowly trying to start pre planning dinners but I have a lot of house de cluttering to try and do as well as work full time and kids 😩

    1. Yes I make KFC from scratch. I make the dried bread crumbs and season them. Recipe will be coming soon.


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