Reader Question: Meal Planning

This reader question comes from Katy! Her question is regarding Meal Planning and using coupons.


How do you do meal planning?   I’m having trouble making meal plans and having it coincide with my weekly match ups.

Any suggestions for Katy? How do you plan your meals based off of what you couponed for that week.

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  • Dana

    I am not good at meal planning, but I have a friend that is excellent at it! She meal plans on Fridays based on what she currently has in her house. Then, shops the deals on Saturdays to fill her stockpile. That way, she is not tempted to buy anything that is not on sale to round out an recipe. I wish that I was this good, but I will take the savings that Cindy helps me save!!

  • apryl

    I have been trying to do meal plans to and Im not very good at it either. Glad this question was post.

  • Kim

    Don’t meal plan based on the coupons for THAT week. Plan based on the couponing from the previous week. That way you already have the items in the house. For example, what you get on sale this week will be the main part of next weeks meals which means you can sit and plan better.

    • Heather C

      This exactly. I don’t really “plan plan” meals, I just keep a well rounded stock pile, and go with what I’ve got. Some weeks, I may not even grocery shop, especially if we got an unexpected bill!

      • Pamela

        Exactly what I do.

  • Colleen

    I always take inventory of what I have before shopping trips and figure out what I don’t have to make a meal. I stock up on alot of frozen vegatables so I always have those to heat quick. We only eat chicken beef and pasta so when those items are on sale I stock up on those things so I always have them. These are my staple meals:
    Shake n bake chicken w/ free idahoan potatoes or rice and free frozen veggies
    Penne vodka with my cheap pasta and free crushed tomatoes
    meatloaf or tacos when beef is on sale
    spaghetti with meat sauce when beef is on sale.
    pot roast when its on sale

    As long as I have these items in my pantry all I need is meat –
    shake n bake or bread crumbs
    canned tomatoes and sauce
    veggies – plenty from can can sale

  • bobbi

    i use the things from my stock pile to plan meals for the week. Then I buy things on sale this week and use it for next weeks meals.

  • Jenifir

    I wish I could be better at this too, so I’m definitely looking forward to reading everyone else’s comments! But I’ve definitely come light years from where I was before couponing! 🙂

    I don’t meal plan based on what’s on sale, at least, not necessarily. I do all of my grocery shopping on Saturday mornings (yes, that means a 5-7 store, 3-4 hour marathon! LOL). Before I go, I check what dinner meats I have on hand and make a menu for the week based on those (sometimes I’ll include meals using meats on sale that week, but not always). I try to choose recipes for which I already have the other ingredients on hand, but I generally always have to buy a few things to round out the meals because I don’t have a stock pile of them. But they are generally things that can’t be easily stock piled, like cream cheese, hamburger buns (I don’t like frozen/thawed bread), cole slaw, produce, etc.

    I find that I’m usually able to plan my meals for the week easily and will spend $5-$10 on ingredients for the meals I’m going to make.

    I also tend to work from a pretty standard list of about 40 different meals. This makes it easy for me to know which ingredients I need to keep stock piled for making these meals regularly.

    I also keep a magnetized notepad on the fridge with a pen attached and use this as my “Shopping List” of items that I’m running low on and I keep a large magnetized clip on the side of my fridge for holding new recipes that I want to try. When I put a recipe in that clip, I note on my shopping list any ingredients I don’t have. During my shopping planning each week, I check the refrigerator shopping list too. This helps me remember to watch for those ingredients to go on sale.

    • Anonymous

      Okay, I feel better knowing I’m not the only one who do 3-6 stores in 3 to 4 hrs once a week.LOL! I used to run to the stores multiple times a week but I thought I’m spending more on gas so I just get up early on saturdays and do my marathon shopping.

      • Jenifir

        Yay! I feel better too! I work full time, so shopping on a daily basis is just too much for me.

  • LK

    If you run a search for the item(s) y0u want to cook on a website like, that will give you a lot of recipe suggestions.

  • Liz v

    I try to keep my recipes simple. I have a pile of canned and frozen veggies. Lots of rice and pasta. I can then buy meat as its cheap and do basically a meat/starch/veg nightly. It says me from going too crazy. I always plan a pasta night (I make tons of meatballs when beef is cheap, and freeze to use whne I need. I used to make very fussy things with exotic ingredients. Life has simplified my cooking ansd spending habits.

  • Amanda

    I use . They make meal plans that match up with the ads. Im using the Publix low fat plan! I loveit!

  • Anne

    My husband does the food shopping in our house. I’m trying to improve my couponing to improve / add to his shopping. He usually picks up a variety of meats that are on sale / cheap (chicken drumsticks, ground beef, pork chops, sausage, london broil / steaks, roasts) and I try to rotate the meat each day so we don’t eat the same type two days in a row for dinner.

    Usual combinations:

    Roasted chicken and rice pilaf (rice, butter, egg noodles, chicken broth)
    Steak / roast / pork / sausage with pasta / potatoes

    Veggies get rotated among the ones we like to eat.

    I’m finding myself also cooking more since my kids have agreed to eat leftovers for lunch at school (in thermal containers) vs buying lunches for them.

  • christine

    I plan my meals around what meats are on sale.
    I find that’s the most expensive items for me.
    I round out the meal based on what’s in my pantry, purchased on sale & with coupons.
    I plan a left over night, where we go through everything in the fridge.

    I love telling my husband he’s eating fifty cents worth of diner.

    • Pamela

      hahaha that line is awesome!

  • merle

    I do alot of the above too but I add the healthy component to it since I”m on weight watchers ( have lost 62 lbs so far) and now everyone wants what I cook! So I keep a well stocked pantries, look ahead for recipes and rotate between budget meals (i.e. taco night with ground pork or turkey) and expensive meals (steak or roasts, pork tenderloin), and focus alot on the veggies. I make alot of soups and freeze them as well. Oh and I also always do a meatless meal – stuffed shells, baked ziti, lasagna (all ww approved) so that helps too. Planning makes things much easier!

  • wendy

    I’m a little crazy – I have a list of all of the dinners I’ll ever cook. I took the time and wrote out everything we like – if I try a new recipe that the family all likes, it is written on the bottom of the list. It has to be 75 meals. I also only shop at ShopRite.

    On Sundays I do menu planning for Wed-Tues (shop on Wednesday) – it is based on whatever meat is on sale + the meat I have on hand. Then, I usually let my husband pick whatever other meals he wants – I have quite a large stockpile in my pantry so I usually don’t have to buy anything. The weekly shopping trip (~$90-100) maybe has $20 worth of items for dinners for the week (rest I have on hand) & the other purchases I make ($70-80) are of stockpile items that are on sale for future menu planning.

    • Prudence

      I did the same thing to start out. I made a master list of everything we liked to eat and then I keep it in a folder and when I meal plan I always peek at it (3 years later!). I try to plan 1 chicken, 1 beef, 1 pork, 1 seafood, 1 non-meat meal per week and then fill in the other 2 days based on whats on sale or what I have alot of. I make my meal plan then I check the pantry and put on the list what I need to fill out a recipe. Since I keep a well stocked pantry by shopping sales cycles I only need a couple things in a given week. Now that I just stocked up at the can can I plan on only buying milk, eggs and produce for the next few weeks.

  • Cynthia

    I love meal planning and it is been a huge savior in my family. I usually meal plan on Wednesday. The grocery store I usually shop start their ads on Thursday, by doing my meal plan on Wednesday I can grab a few deals from both weeks if necessary. For inspirations I start by looking what I already have in my pantry and freezer, then I check the weekly match up here and finally I look a list of recipes I would like to try or that my family love. For example this week I notice I have everything but condensed milk to make a flan. I always wanted to try to make flan so it seems that next week is the week. When I go to the grocery shopping I usually have 2 list, what I need for the week and good deals.

  • Lori

    I have struggled with this also ,but this year I’ve tried to stay committed and am doing OK. Just don’t beat yourself up if you don’t follow your plan exactly some weeks. It takes time, I think, to really get into it. Maybe you can start off doing a “loose” meal plan and see what works for you. I usually start with what meat I already have and plan around that. Also, say if sweet potatoes are on sale (recently SR had the box for $2.49), I planned that for some side dishes for the week. Usually, we do take out on Fridays, so I start planning my weekly plans for Saturday.

    Once you get into it and you stick to it then you start getting motivated to keep at it.

  • c

    i’m interested to see what answers this post gets!
    i am always on the fly.
    i will buy enough meat to make two or three nights of dinner and usually have the same dinner as leftovers the next night, if possible.

    i have started also making a vegetarian green pea soup or chili (rotated out every other week or so) that i can easily double and make last for two nights as well.
    the ingredients for the soup are super easy and cheap – dried split peas, onion, celery, carrot, water, spices of your choice – and taste absolutely fabulous .
    if one of those ingredients is on a great sale, i will double up my batch and freeze it!
    that’s one of the cheapest dinners i have come up w/!

    i usually just throw a starch (corn, rice, pasta, sweet potato) w/ a veggie and a meat for a quick and easy dinner.

    i wish i was structured enough to know that i would be having x on monday, y on tuesday, etc., but i’m just not there!!!

  • Dee2

    Keys to meal-planning + couponing for me are a great stockpile (panty + chest freezer) and a FoodSaver… plus a hubby who LOVES leftovers. When meat is a great price, I repackage it into single-meal portion sizes and freeze it.

    Sometimes, I cook and pack it into smaller packages to freeze. I freeze dairy and vege bargains, too. Whole Foods had Arrowhead Mills flour on sale before the holidays. I put each bag in a FoodSaver bag to freeze so the flour won’t absorb other odors from the freezer.

    After couponing for 1 1/2 years, I pretty much just shop for fresh fruit/veges (always what’s on sale), dairy (again, what’s on sale) and any great stockpile items that week. I “shop” the freezer and pantry each week to decide on my menu. If meat is a “stockpile” price that week, it will usually make it onto the menu right away.

    When I’m not feeling inspired, I love You can enter what ingredients you have and it will give you recipes that include those ingredients. I pay a little bit each year to subscribe to their meal planner software.

    Example 1: BJ’s had ground buffalo marked down on its sell-by date. I made one pound into chili and froze the other pound. (Shoprite has had beans and canned tomatoes on sale, so my stockpile runneth over.) We only ate 1/3 of the pot of chili for dinner. I froze the rest in foil-lined muffin tins. Popped them out the next day and stored them in a ziploc bag in the chest freezer. I have enough for at least 2 more meals. Plus, I still have a pound of ground buffalo that will probably be meatloaf in the next couple of weeks.

    Example 2: Shoprite had 10 lbs of potatoes for $.99 at Thanksgiving. I used 3 lbs for mashed potatoes at TGiving dinner. I peeled, then shredded the rest in my food processor. I froze them in FoodSaver bags. They made great latkes several times over the holidays. I also stocked up on sweet potatoes when they were sale for $.50/lb. I boiled, peeled and mashed them. Then froze them in 1 cup portions.

    Example 3: Roasting chickens were on sale for $.69/lb. Made chicken mole in the crockpot (served over free Vigo rice) and froze the leftovers in four FoodSaver bags. I stretched one package of chicken so far with black beans, mushrooms, peppers and onions (all on sale that week) in enchiladas, that it ended up enough for two dinners one week. Of course, they were wrapped in whole wheat tortillas and garnished with shredded cheese from my stockpile.

  • JoAnn C.

    This is definitely a tricky proposition. I use a variety of factors to decide on my meal plan.
    1. I look at how busy my week is and plan what nights I have time to prepare a meal and what nights I need either leftovers or something really fast like pasta.
    2. I keep in my stockpile some basic meats (chicken cutlets, hamburgers, pork chops, ground turkey etc.) Sometimes there are no really great deals on meat that week so I go to the freezer for backup. If there is something great on sale, I plan a meal around it.
    3. When I make my shopping list, I also have a meal plan sheet for each day where I write out ideas (sometimes I get meal requests from my hubby or kids and I try to fit that in this week.) On this sheet I try and plan out based on the schedule of craziness.
    4. When I look at the circular, first I hit the stockpile items which I am getting not for the week per se, but so that they are there when I need it.
    5. Then I plan the stuff I absolutely need like dairy, veggies, bread etc. (ingredients in the meal I want to make). Luch stuff, snacks and basic breakfast stuff. Coupons or not, this is the stuff I need to get.
    6. I will also get out my cookbooks and look for ideas, then I’ll add special ingredients I might need (like prosciutto, which I would not normally keep on hand). I look for recipes where my stockpile items are already there (pasta, broth, rice, canned veg. etc)
    7. Most importantly, don’t beat yourself up. Depending on your level of time and your existing stockpile, some weeks are better than others. If you can save 30% on basics, it helps to afford the “extras”, if you can do better than that great.

    I recently watched a Mr. Coupon video on you tube where he said that on average he saves about 50% each week. That made me feel alot better, mega savings are really hard and not always possible when stuff has to stay balanced. Just don’t give up! Anything you can do is better than nothing.

  • Theresa

    I plan my meals for the week on Sunday, I look at what is on sale and then what is in my stockpile, I then make a list of what I may need to make my meals. Its usally just the meat. But after couponing and Cindy’s match up for the week I find it very easy to do, and I post on the fridge what each days meal is, Hubby and Kids love it especially when its Taco Night!
    Some of my meal ideas are the following: Chicken Alfredo over Penne, (Made with Creamcheese, Butter, Milk, and Parm cheese) Quick and easy and I always by the tenders for this.. And of course pasta is always on Sale.
    Breakfast for dinner, cheap and easy..London Broiler w/ Pots in Crock Pot, Regular Pasta w/ Meatballs or Saus whatever is on Sale.. French Onion Soup & Caesar Salad, on sale alot.. Soup & Grilled Cheese, Chili w/Fresh Italian Bread..Tonite is breaded Chicken Cutlets w/ Veggies and Rice…

  • Lady J

    I’m great at organization – except when it comes to this. I think I am just too spontaneous to decide what I will eat 10 days from now. I am lucky if I decide that morning, and I am bad at remembering to defrost something.

    Despite this, I do have some advice. I hear that people who are very good at meal planning will pick a day and cook everything for the next 2 weeks, or even a month. Then they will portion it all out and freeze it. Then you truly don’t have to worry about what’s for dinner, or cooking, or cleaning. Definitely not for me.

    Good luck.

  • Danielle

    I usually let my kids choose one night from a list of recipes that I know I have all the ingredients to. We also always have one meatless meal a week like pasta and broccoli or black bean enchiladas. I also love to pull recipes that are simple out of magazines that I subscribe too once a week so that our menu changes.I tend to make meal plans on Sundays because everyone is home and can add their input.Another thing we do is we have one night usually sat because thats when I work and my husband is in charge of dinner. Everyone can pick the leftover they want and eat that for dinner.

  • Meal Planning made simple:

    1. Make a list of every main course item you can make.
    2. Now divide that list in, Pasta, Chicken, Beef, Other
    3. Then you just add them to a monthly chart.
    4. Add sides for each (when in doubt add salad or Mac and cheese)
    5. Shop for 1 week, 2 weeks, 15 days.

    • Kendra

      This is exactly what I do. I “shop” out of my stockpile & freezer and just buy the fresh ingredients I need (dairy/produce).

  • Laurie

    I found a cool app (Food on the Table) that matches the food on sale (you pick your store) and matches it up with recipes from the database. You can specify the meats (or none) you use and other preferences like low fat, low sodium, low carb etc.

    I have yet to look at their website:

    • Kim D.

      Their website is awesome! Thank you so much for sharing this 🙂

  • Laurie

    Does anyone know of a website (I swear one exists) that lets you plug in the items you have on hand and gives you recipe ideas using those ingredients.

    • Laura D.


      • Laura D.

        Also,, both websites were suggested by other readers above.

        • dusk1

          Sure, There’s app for that –

    • Kim D.

      I like 🙂

  • Tina

    I like all these comments:) I do a plan of what I have in the house and whatever 2 big meals I make that week… Such as Chicken, Roast Beef,Ham or Pork Loin etc and always make 2 meals out of it… Taco’s, chili, soup, sandwich’s, pasta…. My sides such as mashed potatoes I try to incorporate into a 2nd meal or use as a side for a different meal and if I don’t have enough meat for a 2nd meal that is when my pasta and black beans comes in for the stretch.. I hardly have leftovers since doing this:) Love saving the $$$$$$$$$$$$ I always have a good stock pile of veggies and starch thanks to Cindy’s coupon tips and store deals..
    If I do make a soup I always freeze half:) 3 meals out of 1

  • felicia

    I’m a busy stay at home mom of 4, I spend a lot of time in the kitchen and I have to plan a weekly menu for 3 meals plus snacks. I HATE wasting food, so every month I check my stockpile expiration dates ( I organize by them, so it makes it easy). I grab out all the things I need to use and put them in my kitchen pantry. I view the circulars on Thrusdays, write down the good meat and produce deals and come up with dinner meals for the week based off what I need to use and what’s on sale. Normally I don’t have a lot of expiring items, so it’s maybe 3 meals a week, then I go to what I have on hand that I have a surplus of
    (right now its panko bread crumbs, thank goodnes sI spent 4 years in Japan!) . I try to balance it our so we don’t eat mexican food every night, or pasta. I will cook up extra meat on one night and then use that for lunches.for example I’ll bake a ham on Sunday and Monday the kids will get a ham and homemade mac n cheese cassrole with veggies. Tuesday I will make Chicken Tortilla soup (kid favorite), I add in 3-4 extra chicken breast and strain it out before I add all the veggies and then use the meat for enchiladas for lunch or dinner the next day. I don’t assign meals to a day, that didn’t work for me, but I make that meal with in that week. I also always keep 2 frozen pizzas on hand for those nights that cooking just isn’t working out. Meal planning helps save me a lot of money, and I am always trying new recipies to find ways to use leftover meats. GOOD LUCK!

  • Jan

    1) I have created a nice stock pile to pull from and my freezer chest is full of frozen veggies and meat. I’m lucky that my husband works for a beef packing plant so I get meat in bulk at a great price. I repackage the meat into 1 lb. servings (love my Food Saver) and put them in the freezer. I do this for chicken when it’s on sale.
    2) I’m not afraid to have breakfast for dinner. When I’ve used all my resources, I make eggs, pancakes, waffles, biscuits/gravy, cereal, etc.
    3) Pasta is always on the shelf, so it’s an easy go to meal.

  • CT girl

    Ground Beef :
    One of the best time-saving things I do with hamburger (usually bought in large packs at BJ’s) is to divide it up when I get it. I will take a couple of pounds and brown it up, then freeze it in ziplock bags. This way I always have already cooked ground beef to add to add to sauces, gravy, soup, spaghetti sauce or tacos. I also use a couple of pounds or more to make mini meatloafs. I shape them and cook them ahead of time then freeze them. It’s easy to pull some out in the morning to thaw by dinner (or microwave frozen). The rest of the hamburger ends up as hamburgers. (add a little onion powder and black pepper when mixing.) Even frozen these burgers cook up well on the George Foreman grill we have.

    • CT girl

      Boneless chicken can also be cut up into tenders and cooked ahead for salads, pasta or fajitas. Or you can freeze the boneless chicken (uncooked) in ziploc bags with italian dressing. It will marinate itself when you thaw it.

      Buy a huge pork roast or two (seasoned or unseasoned) and slice up your own pork chops then save the rest for roasting.

      • CT girl

        Then I use all the cheap and free stuff in my freezer and pantry thanks to Cindy lol!!

  • Rachel

    I did not read all the comments, but I plan my weekly menu off of what I already have in my freezer and stock pile, that frees me up to buy the cheapest deals that week at the grocery store and not worry about matching it all into meals. I just buy based on sales and eat based on what I have. When I have time I also make double of a meal that freezes well, so I can just stick one in the freezer to have to busy nights.

  • Kelly Castiglione

    I recently got into meal planning, as I read a lot about people saving tons of money. I am a new couponer, meal planner, and budgeter. With the new baby coming we need to do everything possible to save money! I check out what I have in my freezer (always have leftovers of meat, sauce, veggies, or random ingredients), my pantry, and fridge, and I base most meals off of that. I also like to make large meals which serve as left overs for 2-3 nights. Stuffed shells, lasagna, turkey. If you know you’ll have leftovers, freeze them asap instead of waiting, I used to wait and then the food got old/moldy then it was too late to freeze/save it. Also, when you make things, freeze what’s left and make a different meal out of it several days later. Fried pork chops one night? Make a cheap and easy pork lo mein several nights later. etc. As far as incorperating coupons, I usually just buy whatever there are good sales/coupons for, then I go from there as far as meal planning because obviously these items would be added to my fridge/pantry.