How to make your recipes into a frugal menu

Last week I guest posted on Eat Better, Spend Less for my friend Beth. I shared about my book, Cut It Out! How I Feed My Family of 10 for $500 a Month Without Coupons and the method that I have used for 28 years to keep our grocery budget down. I was asked several times to give examples of my menu and how I keep my meals on the cheap frugal side. But sharing my meals won’t really help you.

menu plans

I’m going to tell you a (not so) secret – it’s all about arranging your own meals!

I am not a big fan of the frugal plans that tell you to eat certain foods or shop at certain stores or turn your apartment window into a city homestead. Don’t get me wrong, if those things work for you, great! But most of us are very limited in the changes we can make and in the options we have. So I think what we need to do is look at what we DO have, at what we CAN do and do it better or smarter.

I know, it sounds like a No Brainer – but it wasn’t for me for many years. I bought into the idea that everyone else knew what they were doing and I did not. So I tried their plans and followed their unique ideas. And I FAILED.


Then I remembered something I had once told a friend who was stressed that her husband wanted certain kinds of food at his meals but that meant she couldn’t be as low in her budget that I could. She felt guilty. I told her, “God made you to be a helpmate to YOUR husband, not to MINE. Your family will function differently from mine because we are different – neither better than the other, just different. And He gives the grace to make each of ours work.”

I had to remember that and I’m here to encourage you all in this as well.

You will have the best success in taming your grocery budget by starting with where your family is NOW.

For me, this meant that I needed to sit down and write out all the meals that our family normally eats. After all, most families have around 20 meals that are their default. Eventually I even put these on my blog sidebar under my Master List of Meals (please check it out). I included recipes for the ones that actually had recipes.

Then I sorted them by type:

meat, chicken/fish, meatless, soups

This really helped me in ordering them for a menu. If I had an expensive meal with meat or chicken, I made sure we had a meatless and an inexpensive soup to match. This was the key for me to keeping things within budget. After I made a week’s menu, I’d sit down with my price book and estimate the cost of ingredients I’d need and sometimes I’d have to swap out lasagna for meatballs and spaghetti (a less expensive alternative) or grilled chicken for chicken tetrazzini (using much less chicken and therefore being much less expensive).

To Do:

  • Sit down and write out the meals that are family favorites (not the Christmas exotic ones). Bring your husband and children into this as well. If you are like me, it helps me to have this list for our breakfasts and lunches as well, although that list isn’t nearly as varied as 20 each.
  • Divide this list into categories (separating out most and least expensive, by ingredient cost).
  • Begin to mix and match the meals so that the final outcome falls within your grocery budget.

Our meals are basic, made from scratch (except for mac & cheese) meals. I offer fruit and/or raw veggies with lunches and vegetables and/or salad with suppers, unless in a casserole with vegetables in it. We repeat pasta twice every week and pizza once every week. You can look at my Master List of Suppers¬†to see some of what we use. I have since added (and removed) some as we’ve tried new recipes that we have loved. But you get the idea.

Also, here you’ll find a link to 5 two-week menus that I have created. I have over 20 of them made. It helps when making our weekly menus. I also have 1 one week menu for when I’m gone…all meals that my children could have made comfortably when my oldest was 14 and my youngest was an infant. Very simple, very basic.

I hope this answers some of your questions and sparks creativity on your part!

What are some of your favorite Go To meals, what are the 20 on your list?

Cut It Out!

All Scripture quotations are taken from the NASB.
Unless otherwise indicated, photos from

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