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Thursday, October 3, 2013

Menu Planning Ideas for Frugal Busy People

Over the years I have had many challenges in my life. Who hasn't? One of my biggest current challenges involves menu and meal planning. I used to be really good at it but lately, not so much, due to a jam-packed schedule and the unpredictable way we do our grocery shopping.

This not a typical meal served at my house these days!

My husband does some of our grocery shopping and buys whatever he can find that is marked down or on clearance. This stretches our funds and is a huge help, but it also makes meal planning have to occur once shopping is completed rather than before. Most every article I see about meal planning encourages a person to get the sale ads, make a menu based on what is on sale, and then go shopping. We end up seeing what we can get for the funds available and then I have to gather my cookbooks together to compile recipes and a menu that make the best use of the raw materials I have available.

Frozen chicken tenders, a can of black beans, a can of corn, and a can of tomatoes and green chiles are the main components of Santa Fe Chicken. The canned items were all purchased on markdown by my hubby and cost 50 cents each!

The completed dish of Santa Fe Chicken. We serve ours over rice and with either tortilla chips and a salad or with flour tortillas. Some of us like to sprinkle a little Monterey Jack or Cheddar cheese over this. The total cost to feed four of us was around $5.00!

In addition to the challenge of creating a menu based on available ingredients, four out of the seven nights of the week, I do not arrive home until between 7:30 p.m. - 9:30 p.m. This makes cooking a meal a little dicey unless we want to eat around midnight. So, I am currently reformulating my cooking routine.

On Sundays now, I am making two meals. One to eat on Sunday and one for Monday. Reheating an already prepared meal is much easier than preparing a meal from scratch. I am now avidly searching online and in women's magazines for recipes that are cook once, eat twice type of recipes. A recent issue of Family Circle was a big help in this area. Some ideas they featured were: roast a chicken one day and the second day make a pot pie, serve spaghetti and meatballs one day and the second day serve meatball sub sandwiches. This type of meal preparation will go a long way to make serving meals in my home much easier. Here are a couple URLs that look promising to me:,,20333807,00.html and

I used to do freeze ahead meals years ago and I think I will incorporate that into my meal planning as well. I really enjoyed looking at the nicely stacked packages filling the freezer shelves and knowing that we had meals at the ready. I used Once-a-Month Cooking by Mimi Wilson and Mary Beth Lagerborg as my guide to cooking up to a month's worth of meals in one day or over a weekend (check out cookbooks in my Amazon store link to get their books). Most likely I won't have enough groceries at the ready to do a month of meals in advance but perhaps I can start with a week and utilize a freezer meal once or twice a week for those days when I am extremely pressed for time.

I am also employing the power of crock pot cooking at least once a week to help me over the meal planning and eating later in the evening hump. I am enjoying perusing the recipes at Stephanie O'Dea's website devoted to crock pot cooking. A big bonus for me in following her blog, A Year of Slow Cooking, ( is that she is also gluten-free. I have eaten gluten-free since 2007 and I really appreciate being able to grab a recipe and not have to take the time to convert it to a gluten-free concoction.

Stay tuned as I share favorite recipes from my frugal busy cooking journey and please share how you handle menu planning and meal prep in your household. I need all the help I can get right now because last night I had to make a stop at Little Caesar's!


  1. Oh I used and still have that Once a Month cooking...and I think I need to go back to many of the things I did at one time. This season is challenging in totally new ways...thanks for the hints and advice!

    1. Let's inspire each other! Even though I am working a lot, I still want to be a good homemaker and home manager. Getting control over meal planning and prep is my current focus.