What to Eat Every Day: A Month of Frugal Meals

by Marla Walters on 12 November 2012 21 comments
Photo: erin.kkr

I have planned menus for the duration of my marriage (nearly 31 years). Every Saturday morning, I do a couple of things. First, I make a fresh cup of coffee. Then I get out a piece of paper and a pencil, and I start planning my week’s menus.

The following method works for me and has enabled me to stay within a household grocery budget for years. I’m a bit of a foodie, so it’s really important to me that food tastes really great. We could eat more cheaply, but to me, food is one of life’s great pleasures. It is also important to me that meals I cook are family-friendly and both the husband and daughter will eat them happily. (See also: How to Grocery Shop for Five on $100 a Week)

A few general notes about grocery shopping:

  • I rarely use coupons, because I have learned that I’ll just forget them at the register. If you can remember to use them, bonus points. I do, however, participate in my store’s discount program, so I receive 5% off every two weeks on my receipt.
     
  • I do look at the grocery ads each week to see what is on sale, and I try to buy things we will use.
     
  • Once every two months, we do a big Costco shopping. (We would go more often, but our nearest Costco is two hours away.)
     
  • I shop at the same store every week because I know where everything is. Time is money, right?
     
  • Buy seasonal fruits and vegetables.

When I learned to cook back in the Stone Age, we were taught that a balanced meal was comprised of a protein, a starch, a vegetable or two, and fruit.  I’ve evolved a little from that, but for the most part, that’s the way I roll. While I am not a nutritionist, I believe the meals presented here are pretty nutritionally sound.

You will notice that several of the “proteins” come up more than once during the month. For instance, in this plan you will see that fish comes up several times in different forms. However, it’s all from the same bag of (frozen) fish. Buying in bulk is cheaper, but gang, we have to use it up. On the subject of proteins, you will notice that a few of the recipes can easily be made vegetarian, such as the split-pea soup, chili, and spring rolls.  Similarly, you may “lighten” recipes by using turkey burger instead of hamburger or egg substitute instead of scrambled eggs.

For purposes of brevity, I need to assume that you know how to make chicken stock or various types of potatoes. If not, the Internet has a wealth of recipes and video demonstrations, and I hope you aren’t daunted by the prospect of picking up a new cooking skill.

I also advocate large batch cooking and freezing portions. I work full-time, and on those nights when I can pop half of a lasagna into the oven or defrost some frozen soup, I think that’s pretty great. This post also presumes that you have access to a microwave at work for re-heating leftovers. 

I am sure you will need to make some substitutions here and there. Keep in mind when you do that to look ahead on the menu plan — because we are using up leftovers here, your substitution might need to be worked into a meal on another date.

Week One

Notes about this week's menu:

  • After shopping on Saturday, make a batch of hard-boiled eggs, wash and re-pack lettuce greens, and make a double batch of chocolate chip cookies.
     
  • Shrimp is affordable if you buy it frozen and cook/clean it yourself.
     
  • Yogurt is cheaper if you buy the large tubs and repack into small plastic containers.
     
  • Save ends of French bread and freeze for later use as croutons.
     
  • Here's my recipe for easy huevos rancheros: To two cans of fat-free refried beans, add ½ cup water and ½ cup salsa; heat. Crack four eggs into heated beans, gently spoon bean mixture over eggs, cover, and cook about 8 minutes, or until eggs are set. Add shredded cheddar cheese and serve over shredded lettuce with taco chips.

Saturday

  • Breakfast: Scrambled eggs with cheese and English muffins.
     
  • Lunch: Tuna sandwiches on whole-wheat bread with green onion, pickle relish, capers and avocado; chips; apple slices; and cookies.
     
  • Dinner: Spring rolls with vegetables and cooked shrimp, peanut sauce, and rice (save leftover vegetables).

Sunday

  • Breakfast: Pancakes and sausage links (make double recipe and refrigerate half).
     
  • Lunch: Leftover tuna salad with crackers, tomato soup, string cheese, pear slices, and cookies.
     
  • Dinner: Bobby Dean’s Lighter Baked Spaghetti (freeze half), garlic bread, and salad.

Monday

  • Breakfast: Cereal with sliced bananas, hard-boiled eggs.
     
  • Lunch: Turkey sandwiches on whole-wheat bread, chips, sliced pears, yogurt, and cookies.
     
  • Dinner: Huevos rancheros over shredded lettuce, tortilla chips.

Tuesday

  • Breakfast: Leftover pancake-and-sausage sandwiches.
     
  • Lunch: Turkey sandwich wraps, chips, yogurt, banana, and cookies.
     
  • Dinner: Salmon patties, rice, steamed broccoli with Dijon mustard-butter sauce and baked sweet potatoes (save extra potatoes for Thursday/Friday breakfast).

Wednesday

  • Breakfast: Fried rice (use leftover rice) with egg and leftover vegetables from Sunday.
     
  • Lunch: Egg salad sandwiches, leftover tortilla chips, yogurt, cookies, banana-pear cup.
     
  • Dinner: Chicken legs in BBQ sauce (slather with pre-made sauce and either cook in a slow cooker or in the oven at 350 for 1.5 hours.), mashed potatoes, carrots and green beans.

Thursday

Friday

  • Breakfast: Sweet potato muffins and cottage cheese.
     
  • Lunch: Leftover beef stew, crackers, cheese, yogurt, pears and cookies.
     
  • Dinner: Sloppy Joes, French fries, and coleslaw.

Week Two

Notes about this week's menu:

  • After shopping on Saturday, make a batch of Rice Krispies treats (this week's "cookies") and hard-boil some eggs.
     
  • Never toss out extra French bread — put it in your freezer.
     
  • Costco makes a cheaper rotisserie chicken than I can make, myself. In fact, my neighbors always get two and freeze the meat from the second one.

Saturday

  • Breakfast: Whole-wheat tortilla wraps filled with scrambled eggs, cheese, and salsa.
     
  • Lunch: Shrimp-salad stuffed tomatoes and crackers.
     
  • Dinner: Rotisserie chicken with tarragon sauce, salad greens, sliced beets, French bread. (Save half of chicken meat. Make broth with the chicken carcass and freeze the chicken broth.)

Sunday

  • Breakfast:  Yogurt-fruit-cereal bowls and hard-boiled eggs.
     
  • Lunch: Chicken wraps with lettuce, tomato, and leftover tarragon sauce.
     
  • Dinner: Split-pea soup (freeze half); biscuits (from mix), carrot sticks (save extra for Wednesday's breakfast).

Monday

  • Breakfast: Whole-wheat tortillas with peanut butter, bananas, and raisins.
     
  • Lunch: Pasta salad with cheese cubes, cucumbers, olives, tuna, celery, and dressing (make double batch); crackers; yogurt; cookies.
     
  • Dinner: Lighter chicken pot pie, sliced tomatoes.

Tuesday

  • Breakfast: Banana pancakes.
     
  • Lunch: Leftover chicken pot pie, crackers, cheese, yogurt, and cookies.
     
  • Dinner: Tilapia with tomatoes and rice; broccoli (save leftover rice and broccoli). To make the tilapia, spray a baking dish with non-stick spray. Add tilapia filets and sprinkle with oregano, salt, and pepper. Top with sliced tomatoes, bread crumbs, and lots of parmesan. Bake at 375 for thirty minutes.

Wednesday

  • Breakfast: Fried rice with carrots and broccoli.
     
  • Lunch: Leftover pasta salad, crackers and cheese, cookies.
     
  • Dinner: Chili, cornbread, and celery sticks.

Thursday

  • Breakfast: Toast with peanut butter and raisins, apple slices.
     
  • Lunch: Leftover chili, cornbread, and celery sticks (stuff with light cream cheese); cookies.
     
  • Dinner: Veggie calzones and salad.

Friday

  • Breakfast: Cup of instant miso soup with tofu and a hard-boiled egg, an orange.
     
  • Lunch: Leftover calzone and salad; yogurt and cookies.
     
  • Dinner: Meatloaf with BBQ sauce, mashed potatoes, carrots and green beans.

Week Three

Notes about this week's recipes:

  • After shopping on Saturday, make a double batch of peanut-butter cookies and your hard-boiled eggs. 
     
  • Wash lettuces and repackage.

Saturday

  • Breakfast: French toast.
     
  • Lunch: Leftover meatloaf sandwiches with pickles, cheddar, and lettuce; fruit.
     
  • Dinner: Tacos, fat-free refried beans, and rice.

Sunday

  • Breakast: Breakfast strata (save half for Monday breakfast), fresh fruit.
     
  • Lunch: Taco salad (using extra lettuce and leftover taco ingredients from Saturday).
     
  • Dinner: Minestrone (using your frozen chicken broth) — make double batch of meatballs.

Monday

  • Breakfast: Leftover breakfast strata and fresh fruit.
     
  • Lunch: Reheated minestrone soup, cheese sandwiches, and cookies.
     
  • Dinner: Scalloped potatoes with ham, baby peas, and broiled tomato halves.

Tuesday

  • Breakfast: Bagels with light cream cheese and hard-boiled eggs.
     
  • Lunch: Leftover scalloped potatoes, salad, cookies, apple slices.
     
  • Dinner: Shrimp salad with home-made croutons, hard-cooked eggs, and avocado; French bread. To make the croutons, defrost leftover French bread and cut into cubes. Heat olive oil on stove and add bread; sprinkle with garlic salt. Toss until crunchy; drain on paper towels.

Wednesday

  • Breakfast: Scrambled eggs with leftover ham and broiled tomatoes (from Monday dinner), toast.
     
  • Lunch: Meatball sandwiches (using meatballs from Sunday), string cheese, chips, celery sticks, and cookies.
     
  • Dinner: Vegetable stew with cheese toasts and couscous.

Thursday

  • Breakfast: Bagels with cream cheese and hard-boiled eggs.
     
  • Lunch: Leftover vegetable stew with couscous, celery with peanut butter, string cheese, and cookies.
     
  • Dinner: Island BBQ’d turkey legs (slow cooker) with rice and bok choy.

Friday

  • Breakfast: Fried rice with leftover rice and bok choy, orange sections.
     
  • Lunch: Leftover turkey sandwiches, cottage cheese, carrot and celery sticks, cookies.
     
  • Dinner: Beef salad, rolls.

Week Four

After shopping on Saturday, make a batch of oatmeal brownies.

Saturday

  • Breakfast: Cereal and toast.
     
  • Lunch: Chicken-noodle soup (canned), whole-grain crackers, cheese.
     
  • Dinner: Breaded tilapia sandwiches with caper mayo on wheat buns, sweet potato French fries.

Sunday

  • Breakfast: Coffee cake.
     
  • Lunch: Tuna sandwich (with mayo, capers, celery and lettuce) in wheat pita bread.
     
  • Dinner: Cowboy beans; corn bread (from mix); plate of carrots, celery, and cucumbers.

Monday

  • Breakfast: Oatmeal muffins and applesauce.
     
  • Lunch: Leftover cowboy beans and corn bread, yogurt, string cheese and cookies.
     
  • Dinner: Defrosted/reheated Bobby Dean’s lighter baked spaghetti; Caesar salad (use up any frozen French bread and make croutons).

Tuesday

  • Breakfast: Oatmeal muffins.
     
  • Lunch: Leftover spaghetti, salad, yogurt, breadsticks, and cookies.
     
  • Dinner: Baked chicken thighs, twice-baked potatoes, sliced tomatoes.

Wednesday

  • Breakfast: Whole-grain waffles with peanut butter and bananas.
     
  • Lunch: Leftover chicken thighs, leftover potatoes, orange-banana cup with yogurt and cookies.
     
  • Dinner: Hamburger stroganoff over noodles, cooked carrots, bread sticks.

Thursday

  • Breakfast: Cup of miso soup with tofu and hard-boiled egg.
     
  • Lunch: Leftover stroganoff and breadsticks, fruit cup, cookies.
     
  • Dinner: Defrosted/reheated split pea soup and English muffin pizza halves.

Friday

  • Breakfast: English muffins with peanut butter and applesauce.
     
  • Lunch: Egg salad sandwiches, chips, yogurt, and cookies.
     
  • Dinner: Baked pork chops in mushroom-sherry sauce (I like to substitute sherry for the water listed in the recipe); dilled carrots; rice.

I hope this helps you out, readers! 

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Guest's picture
Guest

I love the meal plan but I wish every week started with some items to make sure are on your grocery list.

Marla Walters's picture

Guest, thank you. The post was already so long, I felt like I needed to skip that part but I agree with you. If I do it again, I'll add in a section for a grocery list. Tx for commenting!

Guest's picture
Kostas

I agree with you, I love the meal plan as well but remembering all of the items when hitting the store is the key. When you don't have all the ingredients, it misses the point a bit. Overall a fantastic article.

Guest's picture
Marla

Another great, helpful article!

Marla Walters's picture

Hey there, "other Marla"! Tx for comment. :-) Thought of you since I know how much you LOVE to cook!

Guest's picture

Great info! I'm a big advocate of freezer cooking. Would you consider putting this in a calendar for the visual junkies out there.

Marla Walters's picture

Hi, Mandy! Thank you for your comment. I agree about the freezer cooking, too. It's so great to just have something already made - toss a salad and DONE. Regarding the calendar format --I originally had the post in table format, which I loved, but the WB software freaked out about it. If I do this again I will see if there isn't some way we can do that. I agree, I like to see it all laid out. Will look into it. Thanks for writing!

Guest's picture

Wow, what a list! I just pinned this for future reference. I'll be trying out some of your menu ideas shortly. I also do menu planning on Saturday. I brainstorm from a master list of go-to meals my family loves, then on Sunday I place my online shopping order. ;)

Marla Walters's picture

Hi, Lena! Thanks for the comment and pin. What a great idea to have a master list of meals that your family loves -- I can see how that would speed up the process!

Guest's picture

This is perfect! I find it so hard to create a meal plan and I spend way to much on food because I go about things unplanned. Not only is this list a money saver, but it looks really healthy too. I'm going to use this list to help create my own and hopefully it is something I can stick with.

Marla Walters's picture

Levi, thank you so much! I hope this guide helps you save big bucks on your meals. :-)

Guest's picture
Karen

I love meal planning. It makes everything run so much smoother. I can never understand why some people don't like leftovers. I'll gladly eat a good meal again. I want to try a breakfast strata after reading this.:)

Marla Walters's picture

Me, too, Karen! Some leftovers get better, too, like Italian food - the flavors seem to be better on day 2. Here are some more strata instructions, too. Thanks for commenting and happy planning/cooking! http://www.cruelironing.com/1/post/2012/04/thrifty-housewife-using-up-fr...

Guest's picture
Guest

Could you do this for vegetarians? That would be great!!!

Marla Walters's picture

Hi, guest. Yes, I could, and I would love to. I am looking into it! Thanks for the comment!

Guest's picture
Guest

You do realise that there are vegetarian alternatives for almost every single meat product known to man, don't you? It's not really fair to ask someone to edit their blog to add the words "substitute" or "tofu" after or in place of the meat used.

Guest's picture
Natalie

A hyperlink to each week's shopping list would be fantastic!

Marla Walters's picture

Agreed. We are kicking things around!

Guest's picture
kri

Boring. Menu filled with carbs; rice, chips, bread. I'm all about fresh food and never let anything sit more than 2 days in my fridge. Sorry, but this menu is repetitive, hardly contains a balanced meal. Who eats fried rice for breakfast? Weird!

Guest's picture
Guest

"Who eats fried rice for breakfast?" :-) Check w/the entire State of Hawaii . . .

Guest's picture
Olga

This meal-plan dosen't seem very healthy. Chips and cookies almost everyday? And freezer cooking?Oh dear...