Last year I wrote a meal planning book to share all I have learned as the mom of a large family. It contains my technique for maximizing our budget, saving time in the kitchen and serving delicious meals every night, without resorting to mushy precooked freezer meals. These are time-tested and effective techniques that I swear by.
It has taken me a few months to find ways to implement these techniques in my new living situation.
This is my refrigerator, and it was my biggest obstacle for planning meals. It is bigger than most RV refrigerators, but much smaller than I am use to. I was hesitant to do any monthly meal planning/shopping, because I really didn’t think it could do the job for a family of seven.
So I decided to experiment with it this month.
I started by committing myself to ELIMINATE WASTE. I just hate it when we spend our hard-earned money on food that doesn’t get eaten! The reason that was happening was because my planning was not effective enough. I had to be strict and specific about what we would buy, and what we would use everything for.
So this month, all our meals, snacks and beverages are planned. No more grazing through the refrigerator. The only exception is leftovers – those are up for grabs. My kids and husband are all in agreement to follow the plan this month as an experiment, and I am feeling excited about this new way to save money!
Once we agreed on the plan, I cut out out the unhealthy and unnecessary beverages, snacks and convenience foods from our shopping list, opting instead to buy only raw materials for making our meals.
And just look at the extra room in that fridge!
All it took was applying what I learned when downsizing our home to my food storage problem. I got rid of the garbage I didn’t need, focused my efforts, and we ended up happier, healthier, and with room to spare!
This is one half of the freezer. It contains meat for 14 meals: 2 fajitas, 2 chicken breast, 2 ground beef, 2 ground pork, 2 meatballs, 2 mini meatballs and 2 pork chops.
In the refrigerator I have what I need to make 6 more meals: (3) breakfast for dinner, (2) pasta carbonara and (1) grilled ham & cheese. Along with plenty of veggies for sides and snacks. You’re looking at 20 meals here!
If I can do this with a dinky RV fridge, anyone can do it! I highly recommend trying this experiment for one month yourself, and see how much money you can save. List out all meals, and offer leftovers and fresh fruit/veggies as snacks. Post your meal/snack plan in an obvious place for all to see. Ask your family to go along with this schedule for one month, and perhaps provide an incentive, like a fun movie night, or favorite homemade treat at the end of the month.
So here is our dinner plan for the next 20 days. Of course, you’re free to make your own, and I’d love to hear about your results at the end of the month! If you’d like to give mine a try, I’ve included a free printable shopping list below, along with links to all the recipes.
(2) Beef Fajitas
(2) Chicken Bacon Cheese on the grill
(2) Spaghetti & Meatballs
(2) Slow Cooker Fagioli Soup using homemade sausage
(2) Italian Meatball Soup
(3) Breakfast for Dinner: French Toast x 1, Pancakes x 2
(2) Cheeseburgers on the Grill
(2) Slow Cooker Pork Chops
(2) Pasta Carbonara
(1) Grilled Ham & Cheese
As soon as I arrived home from the store, here is what I did:
- Make marinade for beef fajitas. Pour into freezer bags, and add flank steak. Cover steak with marinade and seal bags. Freeze.
- Divide chicken breast into two meal size bags. Freeze flat.
- Make meatballs per recipe instructions. Allow to cool. Place in two freezer bags and freeze.
- Make mini meatballs using the same recipe (only smaller!). Allow to cool. Place in two freezer bags and freeze.
- Mix up homemade sausage according to recipe. Freeze it raw in two separate freezer bags (make sure it’s flat so thawing is easy).
- Make pancake mix. Store in gallon size Ziploc bag.
- Divide remaining 2 lbs. ground beef into two freezer bags in 1 lb. portions. Freeze flat.
- Divide pork chops into two freezer bags in meal size portions. Freeze flat.
- Pasta Carbonara requires no prep ahead.
One Week Breakfast & Lunch Plan:
Items that can be purchased at Costco are indicated with an asterisk (*). Everything listed here will cover items for 3 weeks of dinners and one week of breakfast and lunches, as listed above. Fresh produce and perishables listed are for one week, or are being used for dinner prep.
NOTE: This list assumes you have the following pantry staples: olive oil, worcestershire sauce, cumin, chili powder, red pepper flakes, salt, pepper, cajun spice, garlic powder, italian seasoning, parsley flakes, sage, thyme, nutmeg, paprika, cayenne, oregano, basil, baking powder, baking soda, vanilla, vegetable oil, cinnamon, dry mustard, balsamic vinegar. If you don’t, please add them to the list.
- (4) Limes
- (1) Head Garlic
- (5) Medium Onions
- (2) Red Bell Peppers
- (2) Green Bell Peppers
- (1) Bunch Celery
- (8) Ripe Bananas*
- Various veggies for side dishes
- (6-12) Pork Chops – 1 per family member per meal x 2 meals*
- (2) Large Flank Steaks*
- (6-12) Boneless, Skinless Chicken Breasts – 1 per family member per meal x 2 meals*
- (6 lbs) Ground Beef*
- (2 lbs) Thick Cut Bacon*
- (1 lb) Regular Cut Bacon
- (2 lbs) Ground Pork (to make homemade sausage, or get 2 lbs sausage instead)
- (1) 9 oz. pkg. Deli Ham
- (1) 9 oz. pkg. Deli Turkey
- (1) small pkg. Pepperoni
- Butter (2 lbs.)*
- Cheese Slices (24 ct.)
- Tortilla Land uncooked flour tortillas (16-32 ct.)*
- Eggs (2-3 doz)*
- Cheddar Jack Cheese (8 oz.)
- Parmesan Cheese (16 oz.)
- Mozzarella Cheese (8 oz.)
- Milk (1 qt.)
- Heavy Cream (1 1/2 c.)
- Cream Cheese (8 oz. block)
- Organic Better Than Bouillon Chicken Base* (or 24 c. chicken stock + 2-10 oz. cans condensed chicken broth)
- BBQ Sauce (12 oz, your fave)
- Breadcrumbs (1 c.)
- (6) 14.5 oz. cans Diced Tomatoes*
- (1) 6 oz. can Tomato Paste
- (2) 15 oz. cans White Kidney Beans
- (1) 16 oz. box Small Shell Pasta
- (1) 16 oz. box Spiral Pasta
- (1) 16 oz. box Pasta – your fave (for Pasta Carbonara)
- (5 lbs) All Purpose Flour
- (1) Maple Syrup*
- (2) cans Tuna
- (1) can Pickles
- (1) 4 lb. bag Sugar
- (1) Chopped Walnuts (2 c. bag)
- (1) can Pizza Sauce
- (1) Jar Mayo (22-30 oz.)
- Peas (1 c)
Bread & Cereal
- 2-3 loaves bread (for french toast, grilled cheese, cinnamon toast & tuna sandwiches)
- 1 pkg English Muffins
Buy these items only if you have room in your freezer, as they are part of the 3 week dinner plan:
- 32 whole small dinner rolls – for chicken sliders
- 2 pkgs hamburger buns – for cheeseburgers
Coupons to Use:
- $1/2 Philadelphia Cream Cheese
- $1.50/1 Kraft Parmesan Cheese 16 oz.+
- $0.25/1 Ibotta deposit – 1 gallon milk at Walmart
- $0.25/1 Checkout 51 deposit – limes or bananas (under “choose your own”)
- $0.55/1 KC Masterpiece BBQ Sauce
- $0.40/2 Rotel Diced Tomatoes
- $0.50/3 Hunt’s Tomatoes
- $1/6 Goya Blue Label Beans
- $1/4 S&W Beans
- $1/2 Hormel Black Label Bacon
- $0.75/1 Butterball Turkey Bacon
- $1/1 Dreamfield Pasta
- $1/2 Barilla Protein Plus Pasta
- $1/1 any Gold n Plump Chicken
- $0.75/2 Domino or C&H Sugar
- Check your local grocery store sale ads to see who has the best deals on meat and dairy this week.
- Shop at Aldi’s or Costco for your fresh produce.
- I highly recommend a Costco membership. They have high quality produce and meat, plenty of organic items, and great prices!
- I suggest printing all coupons, but check other brands (including store brands) before buying to be sure you’re getting the best price.
- If you shop at Walmart, be sure to scan your receipt afterwards to get any Savings Catcher rebates. Sign up for a (free) American Express gift card and your rebate will double. Details HERE.
- If you are in need of any of the spices listed at the top, check to see if your store has a bulk spices section. You’ll find the best deals here, and you only buy the amount you need.
- Consider doing some stockpile shopping while you’re out to help build up your pantry. If you participate in the $40 stockpiling challenge, you might get it all for FREE!
I’d love to hear how this challenge works out for your family! Drop me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.