Ask the Readers: Do You Meal Plan?

By Ashley Jacobs on 2 February 2016 76 comments

Editor's Note: Congratulations to Michelle, Susan, and Kristin for winning this week's contest!

Meal planning offers a lot to the frugal household. It provides a guide for your grocery shopping, it allows you to avoid wasting food, and it's a way to make sure you have healthy meals at home — or a suitable alternative when you need it.

Do you meal plan? What are your favorite go-to meals? What tips do you have for someone who is new to meal planning?

Tell us whether you meal plan and we'll enter you in a drawing to win a $20 Amazon Gift Card!

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Mami2jcn

I don't meal plan...I just wing it.

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Julie Wood

I meal plan because with a family of four, I need fast easy meals to get me through the week. I like Crock Pot meals because I always have left overs and we can eat the leftovers during the week. I also make chicken breasts in the oven with a cassarole that is so easy to make.

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Paul

Yes, to an extent but it is flexible. We base it mainly on staples that we have in the house and make sure our general shopping has all of those when needed.

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Elena

I don't do meal planning

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Gina

I meal plan. I do bulk cooking on the weekends to prepare my breakfast and lunch for the week so I can just grab and go. It's cheaper and often healthier. My favorites are egg frittatas or oatmeal for breakfast and pasta for lunch.

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K Harvey

Yes, I think every time I make something I plan for the next time. This can include making extra hamburger and freezing it in the portion you need for something like beef stroganoff, chili, or soup. You can also cut up veggies and freeze some (to a point), grind up/chop nuts and freeze for a later date or portion out into smaller sizes. When I shop I don't hesitate to look on my phone if I cannot remember what I'm making for the week and what ingredients are needed. I build recipes around sale items and what I have in the house. This is easily done with a Google search for ingredients you want to use. Saves a lot of time rather than looking through recipe books.

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Tina in NJ

Yes, I meal plan. It really helps avoid wasting food. Doesn't completely eliminate it, but it helps a lot.

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Chris

I do meal plan, because I use online grocery shopping and delivery via Peapod. So it makes it fairly easy to see what the good buys are and plan around that. I do have backup items in the pantry to fill out most recipes.

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SKB

I don't actually meal plan but I do see what is on special at my favorite stores and I always try to use up left overs.

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Michelle Graber

I try to meal plan as best I can- it works much better when I have a calendar that I stick to. I've found that sticking to the meal plan definitely helps to save money!

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Renee

I do meal plan once or twice a week to prep work lunches and dinner. Easy go-tos are tacos, whole chickens (in the crock-pot, so easy!), and tofu and veggie stir-frys with rice.

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Barbara

I do meal plan because I'm the only member of my household eating low carb plus I try to stay on top of my kids lunches!

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Matt

I try to think about it a little, but i don't "plan" as much as I should.

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Guest

I always have pasta and pesto sauce (favorite is in the plastic jar from Costco but can use any), feta cheese and pitted Kalamata olives on hand. This can be added to any sausage, chicken, leftover meat or fish and fresh or leftover vegetables. Also in summer, add in some cherry tomatoes. Makes a quick tasty Mediterranean-ish dish that's different every time depending on what you put in.

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Lisa

i live with my brother, but i love cooking for my boyfriend, too...and they're both vegetarian, so that makes it fun because it makes me eat less meat and encourages me to focus on vegetable and flavors rather than fat or artificial fast food junk

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MELISSA HANSSON

I do meal plan, but not always on the same day. Sometimes it's just Friday to Monday, so I can make sure there are groceries for the week ahead and some leftovers from the weekend to make the week easier!

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Ernest S.

I do plan, but not as meticulously as others. I basically buy the same things every week from the grocery store and try to cook meals using what is available/left. This means that it's not uncommon for me to make scrambled eggs for dinner if that's what is left in my fridge!

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Susan P.

I meal plan based on what's on sale and if I find interesting recipes. I always have certain staples on hand so I can always whip up something.

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Kristin

Yes definitely meal plan!

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Mary W

I don't meal plan as in make a calendar with a meal for each day. I do plan ahead and have ingredients on hand to make a variety of meals and snacks. It pays to be flexible so you can take advantage of unadvertised mark downs and discounts. You never know when you'll find that 10 pound pork loin on sale that you'll have the grocery store butcher cut and package to your liking.

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Tricia

Healthy soups are are great way to use leftovers and are a favorite in the winter months. Use a slow cooker and it's easy cleanup!

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Barb

We do meal plan. I shop the local circulars every week, clip coupons Sunday morning, then go to the stores. I usually spend around 4 hours a weekend preparing lunches and dinner for the week.

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Sara

I meal plan:
Meatless Monday
Taco Tuesday
Wildcard Wednesday
Throwback Thursday (leftovers)
Free for all Friday
Sandwich Saturday
Soup-er Sunday

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Guest

We do not usually meal plan. However, we do make easier meals on busy nights.

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Catseye

I will do some general meal planning most of the time. I make sure that I have the basic ingredients, fruits, veggies and canned beans on hand for meals/snacks. No time or energy for anything more elaborate during this phase of my life.

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Trenton

Ive been meal planning for about 3 years now. Throughout that time, I have saved thousands of dollars by eating what I had in my house vs spending money on fast food everyday. Not to mention my health improved significantly. Some of my favorite go to meals are Crock Pot chili, Grilled Chicken Breast & Sweet Potatoes, and of course the all time classic Spaghetti with home made meatballs.

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Clem

I think we're okay without meal planning.

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Mark C.

I don't really meal plan. Just whatever is fast and easy or we feel like eating.

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Monique

I do meal plan because it helps to keep grocery costs within budget and it helps me and my boyfriend to stick to a healthy diet. I get emails from all sorts of recipe websites and bookmark those that sound tasty, I've got a whole archive to fall back on depending on mood and time. I really like slow cooker and one pot recipes with lots of veggies in them. I recommend checking out a website like Tastespotting for inspiration and exposure to food blogs that fit your interests.

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Guest

I ALWAYS meal plan- or we end up eating out every night OR eating eggs all the time.

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Stephanie

Some weeks i meal plan and other weeks I do not, it depends on what I have planned for that week.

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Kelli

No, I'm terrible about this which is why I often end up getting takeout and spending too much! I'm going to try and improve on this.

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Rebecca Ross

My husband works at a grocery store, so he usually just picks up what we'll have for dinner. I do meal plan for my breakfasts, lunches and snacks, though.

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Miss kim

Yes meal planning is a must in my household! I don't know what we would do if I didn't meal plan-probably starve or eat fast food all day! Lol

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Paula

I do a modified meal plan for a few days of the week. We eat stir fry dishes with rice once or twice a week and simple meals such as shepherd's pie, beef enchiladas, lasagna, chili, chicken fajitas, etc. Other days of the week, we eat from the pantry and fridge like spaghetti, pizza, salads and sandwiches. I tried in the past to make a meal plan for seven days a week including breakfast, lunch and dinner but found this was too much work.

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Mandy

Yes. I plan meals by the week.

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Liisa R

No... I used to and need to get back into the habit!

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Donna D

To a certain degree, weekends I shop sales for weekend cooking and prep for early part of week and then use what is in my freezer.

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IBikeNYC

I love to plan meals!

I get so much more for my money!

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Michael

I don't meal plan but my wife does occasionally.

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Allison

I meal plan -- on Sunday morning, we plot out our dinners for the week. It makes things so much easier because this way when we get home from work, already hungry and cranky, we either have food ready or know what we're going to have and can jump right into cooking!

Tips: prepare whatever you can in advance. If you know you have two meals that both have chopped vegetables, chop them on Sunday afternoon. Use your slow cooker.

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Susan Smith

Yes, I plan my meals weekly.

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Liz

I try to bulk prep stuff on the weekend, but i don't meal plan per se for most of my dinners during the week.

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Guest

I don't meal plan as I am single with out kids. I often will make a few family,sized entrees on the weekend and those will be what I eat for the week.

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C Hui

I used to when my kids were younger but now I don't anymore now that they are adults and no longer live with me. I just eat whatever i feel like!

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AN G

I always do my meal planning for the following week on Sundays. I prep the veggies and fruits then too. Stir fry is are go to meal.

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Guest

I try to meal plan so that I only have to go to the grocery store once per week

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Julie Lundstrom

I do meal plan meals for the week but I am not rigid on which day I have which meal.

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J. Pario

No, but I'm married to someone who does. :)

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Suz_Glo

I try to make a plan for the upcoming weeknight dinners every Sunday. I've found it really helps reduce irritation and stress if I know what I want to do each day and have all the ingredients I need. Plus, when I know I will be working until 5:30pm, a made ahead of time crockpot meal is a real blessing!

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Rick

Look at the flyers that you get in the mail from local grocery stores. We look to see what is on sale and game plan our week based on making our budget stretch as much as possible.

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Lynda

i sometimes do but only 1-2 days in advance

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Sarah

No I don't meal plan. I don't have kids or anything so it's just me and I don't like to make big meals.

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Fatima e

I never used to meal plan but recently found out that the average household throws away 30% of their groceries, that is money wasted. I started meal planning two months ago and haven't turned back, it has changed my life! I know exactly what is in my fridge, when it expires/best before dates and it has made planning for meals each week so simple. It has also reduced the amount of money I spend on groceries, since I only use what is in the fridge or come up with recipes that only need one or two more ingredients to make a dish. Last month, I saved $60 in groceries. I build recipes around what is in season or what's on sale as well. I really enjoy the ease of meal planning.

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Emily

Not very seriously. Sometimes I map out what I want to cook for the week just to organize my thinking but there no spreadsheets or NASA-like planning are involved.

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Ren

Meal planning makes my life easier and my wallet happier! I love making a crockpot of beef stew or chicken soup once or twice a week and supplementing with mason jar salads or steamed veggies.

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Kim D

Yes! I feel like it helps me stay on track with both my diet and my budget. It also makes shopping easier when I have a plan and saves me time in the store.

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BRB

No, it seems to take a lot of effort for things I may or may not want to eat by the time that day comes around. We try to have a few things ready for the week, but if we feel like having something else and we have the money in the budget we eat what we want.

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Curt

Yes, I meal plan every week. I develop cookbook recipes and it really helps curb spur of the moment purchases.

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JLee

Yes!! My husband and I have a routine where we grocery shop sat and meal prep Sunday. This saves us from eating out, time spent cooking or prepping the day of and gives us ease of mind not to think about what we will eat when we get home from work.

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Amber

I meal plan for my family of 6 and it saves us a lot of money and time. I try to prep meals on weekends and make snacks too.

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Laura J

I do meal plan a little...but really want to learn to do some freezer meals! I think it would be so great to buy more in bulk and prepare meals and freeze! Would be so nice and easy on week nights!

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cnorvell

I meal plan. A few hours of time over a couple of weekends a month make my work weeknights so much better! I also like the money that we save by using the food that we buy and not being tempted to go out to eat because I'm tired. I'm still trying new recipes to find ones that my family likes. Some are a hit....some are a miss. Pinterest has been a good resource for recipes for freezer meals

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Louly

I sort of do. I shop the sales at our organic market each week and then plan around what is on sale.

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Stephanie

I do meal plan. I look at sale circulars on Monday evenings. I plan the meals around what is on sale. I also try to plan for leftover makeovers ( tacos one night and taco pizza the next, etc). I only shop once a week. Meal planning is key to staying in our monthly budget for food and meals. I do NOT shop at WalMart.

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caroline

I have an idea what to eat every day but do allow variations and last minute going out to eat

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Elle

I do meal plan when making my weekly grocery list so I can buy certain ingredients in advance.

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Rich

We don't meal plan but I bet if we did, it would help our budget.

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Zachary

Depends on what one would consider a "meal". Today it seems like there's a lot of "one-box" options which I suppose our family makes sure we have in a pinch. If it's an actual meal, like cooking and all that, then I find meal planning, i.e., making sure you have all the right ingredients and a proposed time to prepare it so it doesn't spoil, is pretty necessary. It seems we do so more often when we are in an "eating healthy" phase.

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Joyce

I usually shop for the week as I really don't want to waste food. I look at the sale ads but tend to buy what I want.

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Guest

My meal planning is called just eating lots of leftovers haha.

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Michelle D.

I try to meal plan but I don't do it regularly. I find it hard to keep it up and need to get more organized!

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Pam

Yes I meal plan. I find it helps reduce waste in my houses bs saves me money.

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Jeff

nope. do not set a meal plan

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CF

I don't really meal plan. I tried it once and I just couldn't get into it.

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Happy Love

I do some loose meal planning each week based on what is on sale at the grocery store.

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Thomas Murphy

I don't meal plan.