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Ideas and resources for menu planning in October, many seasonal fall and whole food recipes. Very simple ingredients, from scratch, frugal recipes.
You can save so much money by planning your meals. Even if you only plan three days at a time, you can be more thrifty by planning ahead. My monthly meal plans are organized into tiers based on how perishable the ingredients are, not sorted into particular days.
In this post: Meal Plan Process * Seasonal Produce * Recipes * Pinterest Boards
I’m doing my meal plan post a little differently this month. I’m including my relevant Pinterest boards, and a bunch of recipes. This is not a conventional meal plan post with a list and stuff. But I think it has some good tips and other goodies.
I know, I know. October is practically over. I’m such a naughty girl. We’ve been doing our monthly shopping later in the month, so my monthly meal planning has gotten skewed from the actual month. Still, the meal plan must go on.
Fall flavors are all of my favorites. Pumpkin, cinnamon, cranberries, turkey. Mmmmmm. I fought the urge to start eating fall foods last month to continue enjoying summer flavors a little longer, but now I can let loose. I’m still fighting the urge to put the Christmas decorations up before Halloween.
I spend $250-300 a month for my family of six. This is all food and drinks. This is not toiletries, household stuff, diapers, or cat food for my million (5) cats. Do not think that you need to measure your spending against mine, differences in cost of living make dollar comparisons futile. The point of making an effort to meal plan is to save you money, however much you need that to be.
The point of making an effort to meal plan is to save you money http://t.co/bQ7fKmimmb
— More With Less Mom (@MoreWithLessMom) May 13, 2015
I didn’t start out as a meal planner. I remember as a young mother skipping right past the produce aisle (cringe) and going straight to the middle of the store, for the tasty things that came in packages, boxes, and bags. Some serious financial trouble later I once again had somewhere to live, but no money left to feed us with. I did some hardcore research and learning, both online and from the library. I learned to live within our means.
In order to budget successfully you have to know how much things are costing you, and one of the most volatile expenses is food. The good news is you also have a lot of control over your food. The more you put into it, the more you get out of it. You can put more time into cooking, or if you have no time you can plan better and utilize what you have more. You can be super organized with spreadsheets and menu boards, or you can keep a menu in your head and a list on the fridge.
At all times I have a 3-day meal plan in my head. It’s a wibbly-wobbly, general idea meal plan, like I got that sugar pumpkin so in the next couple days I have to cook that sucker. Or the soccer game is tomorrow so I know I’d better get something in the crock pot in the morning.
I make a “loose” meal plan. I’m not a rigid person, I can’t stick with a strict meal plan. I only plan about 20 meals a month and don’t assign them days. If I do a meal plan where I assign days, I never stick to it and I just get frustrated, and I’ll miss a recipe I needed to make before something spoiled. In this house we don’t like waste.
We do a monthly meal plan since our income is monthly, and do weekly or bi-weekly shopping runs for produce and dairy. For my meal plan I organize my recipes in a 3-tier order, from the most perishable ingredients to the least perishable. So when I do a big shopping trip I get most of the produce we need (not that we’ve ever run out of money for veggies by the end of the month or anything). The first tier is really perishable stuff, like spinach and mushrooms. The second tier will hold a little while, like broccoli. The third tier just uses veggies like carrots and potatoes that will keep a month.
I know what nights I have more time for prep, and if something comes up I will have a meal further down the list that I can move ahead. I also have a couple meals (read soups) in the freezer for when there is no time at all.
These recipes are all meatless this month. We are not specifically eating vegetarian, but we do often go meatless. I have a bunch of meat in the freezer and often if I have to fill in a meal in my plan I will throw whatever meat and a bunch of veggies in the crockpot. These recipes have mushrooms, beans, and other proteins, and if I feel like it’s too light I will add meat as a side.
If you want to get into the nitty gritty of how I meal plan, here is my process:
You know what works best for you. You may have to try a couple different methods of meal planning before finding one that works for you. Don’t give up, stick with it, and accept that any effort is better than none. Even planning to pick up a pizza after soccer practice tomorrow is planning, and saves you going through the drive thru unexpectedly. Plan as much or as little as works for you, using methods that fit your personality. You can’t just copy some popular blog post and expect it to be awesomesauce, you have to tailor your homekeeping to your own life and personality.
At all times I am looking for recipes to use, and I will pin them to whichever of my Recipes to Try Pinterest boards is appropriate. Then when the time to plan comes I will search the internet and Pinterest for budget, seasonal recipes in the month I am planning for, and often keywords like real food. Then I pin recipes to my meal plan board for the season and month. When choosing my actual meal plan from these boards I keep in mind what I have in my pantry and freezer, and what is in season and on sale. I put as much or as little time into this as I want each month, if I have no time I just pull some stuff from my seasonal (fall) recipes to try board.
I do not discount recipes I can make substitutions in, for example a butternut squash lasagna recipe that calls for fontina cheese can use mozzarella instead. I buy a huge block of mozzarella and pick a couple more recipes that use that cheese, or plan on making homemade pizza for a filler meal. The lasagna may taste a little differently than intended, but it will still be good.
To organize my recipes at this time I am making a folder in my bookmarks to keep track of them. I put a P before the title of the pantry recipes, and a Q before the middle recipes (because Q is fun). Google will synchronize my bookmarks wherever I access them, so I can see what’s in my meal plan using multiple gadgets, including if I’m at the store before my shopping trip and something is on sale that I might need. To organize I have used OneNote, Facebook Notes, various meal planning sites, and saving shortcuts to my desktop. I don’t write things down or otherwise make lists by hand, since that hurts my hands.
Download a sample price list & shopping list
I keep a blank price list in Excel I can modify and save as a shopping list each month. I can’t keep my price list in a binder, I want to change it too often and can’t keep track. And math makes my head explode. You can use online flyers from your local stores to start, and fill in prices for items on your list using prices from a local grocery store if you are lucky enough to have that online, or use a site like Netgrocer for approximate prices. Use receipts you already have to fill in prices for things you already buy. The price list is useful for budgeting as well as meal planning, since you will know how much you are going to spend before you get to the store. And it can be as much work or as little as you want it to be, you don’t have to have a giant list of every price you’ve ever seen, just a benchmark price so you know what to expect.
Once I have my recipes chosen, I start my shopping list. I keep a white board on the fridge to write things down, since I know I won’t remember when I run out of something. Those items go on the list, sometimes with just a mark that I need it but won’t buy until the price is low enough. I check my local flyers for things I want to stock up on. I also check sites like Money Saving Mom for deals and printable coupons for items to stock up on. Stocking up on food is a very big way to save money, since if an item is already in your pantry at a loss leader price you won’t have to pay the on-demand price when you need it later. Then I go through all of my recipes and add everything I don’t already have, except the most perishable items. I usually have to double a recipe to get enough to feed my ravenous teens, and I will often quadruple (double for normal people) something easy like a cheap soup so I can freeze it. I make two more small lists of produce, for the second and third shopping trip. I used to leave the pantry items for the later lists as well, but then if something happens and my money has to go elsewhere I am less likely to have the things I need to wing it.
I keep in mind what I will cut from my list as well. I know what I can skip if I find a deal on something I need to stock up on, or a price that is unexpectedly high for something I need.
I do not plan lunch or breakfast. I did at one point, but I almost never followed it, it was just a waste of time. I am not a morning person, so I have a short list of things available for the weekdays, including homemade instant oatmeal, and on the weekends I will make something special. For lunch we usually have leftovers, or this is when I can try something spontaneous like a recipe from yesterday’s The Chew that I have the stuff for. If I see something in particular I want to try I stick it on the meal plan so I can get the supplies, the same thing goes for breads, desserts, football watching snacks, etc.
Our shopping trips take about 12 hours, it is a monthly trip for a family of six. This includes an hour drive each way, wandering around thrift stores looking for nifty things, taking a lunch break at the park, and actually doing the shopping. I use Google or Bing maps to plan my trip efficiently.
I include the following on my shopping map:
Stores where I need to pick up loss leaders
If I have a great coupon for a restaurant I include that (like a bogo for a snack when we’re flagging)
I compare gas prices along the way
I mark playgrounds in the area for distracting cranky kidlets
I mark thrift stores in case I think of something we need after my list is done
If it’s summer I will hunt down flea markets and yard sales on the way
With each location I include the hours and a phone number
I pack for our shopping trip with the comfort of the littles in mind. Luckily I only have two littles that come shopping. I pack a change of clothes for each, something to put on if they’re cold (or change into if they’re too hot/get wet), something fun to do in the car, a couple something funs to do in the stores, snacks, sippy cups, extra water, lunch and sometimes dinner. Luckily I have kids who think riding in the car or going to the store is a fun adventure, so they don’t give me too much trouble.
If you are just starting meal planning you could try The Simplest Method for Meal Planning from Stone Soup. This is 5 days of meals, all from scratch, but very easy. You go shopping for 10 ingredients and you’re set for the work week. Get your toes wet with this one and see how you like not having to worry about what’s for dinner.
Have some quick, healthy recipes in mind for those days when life happens and you don’t have time to cook. You can whip up something faster than a pizza can get to your door. Take a look at 50 Healthy, 10 Minute Meals from Stone Soup
Seasonal produce for October includes:
Epicurious Seasonal produce maps by state
CUESA Seasonal vegetables by month
Recipes from the October/Fall Meal Plan:
Tier 1/Most Perishable
Butternut Squash, Caramelized Onion, and Spinach Lasagna
Chunky Vegetable-Lentil Soup
Tomato & Spinach Dinner Strata
Tuscan Kale and White Bean Soup… In the Crockpot
Tier 2/Less Perishable
Copy Cat Panera Bread Broccoli Cheese Soup
Italian Peasant Soup with Cabbage, Beans & Cheese
Karfiolleves (Paprika-Spiced Cauliflower Soup)
Tier 3/Pantry or Make It Whenever
Autumn pumpkin and sweet potato quiche (with mashed potato crust)
Cheesy Bean-and-Rice Bites with Pumpkin-Sage Sauce
Lentil and Sweet-Potato Stew
Southwestern Three-Bean & Barley Soup
Tuscan Bean Soup
From Scratch Ingredients and Other Doodads
30 Minute Rolls
Chocolate Chai Snickerdoodles
Homemade Egg Bread for Texas Toast for French Toast
Red Enchilada Sauce
Soft Italian Breadsticks (Abm)
Sourdough Bread Starter
Sourdough Whole Wheat Bread
October/Fall Meal Plan Pinterest Boards:
Meal Plan October
Meal Plan Fall
Recipes to Try Fall
Hello my beautiful pinners!
In this post: Meal Plan Process * Seasonal Produce * Recipes * Pinterest Boards
*Also see our Weekly Meal Plan Printable Template OR
Cleaning Secret Weapons – Good Tools for Frugal House Cleaning OR
Frugal Road Trip with Kids – 244 Tips from a Mama Pro
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We hope you enjoyed our October Meal Plan – Frugal, Flexible Monthly Menu Planning post
Cookbooks image from Jenn on Flikr
Vintage kitchen fabric from emily balsley on Flikr
This is one of most thorough meal planning posts I’ve ever read. Very well done! And I’ll be looking at your boards more for ideas 😉
Now this is what I call organized – thanks for sharing and linking up at the #WWDParty last week.
My meal plan does not look like yours but the method you used to create your meal plan we share. Though I only do non perishables once a month and perishables once a week. I also don’t take my kids with me because we are a family of six I leave the younger two home with the older two. It takes me about 2-4 hrs to complete my mission and that’s because a lot of the stores around me are 24hrs. So I’m there at 4am shopping my first store by 8 am I am at the butcher and my shopping trip is over.
Your list is so detailed. I just make a list to go off of for the month and with those recipes every Sunday I make a weekly list so I can go get our perishables. I also don’t include breakfast or lunch unless one of them is a special occasion (ie. Father’s Day breakfast, lunch and dinner are all planned to the T.)
I also like the way you plan
I’m such a night owl, 4 am is really hard for me. If I could leave the littles home I would!
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Oh my goodness!! I love this post! We are a family of 5, however id soo love to add two more littles to my brood. Anyway we too live far away from the stores, we have a few groceries in town (about 45 minutes away) but because it’s a high oilfield area, prices are nuts. So we do the 2 hour drive to the city. We get all non perishables there and a bit of our produce. Meat we get delivered from our local butchers and a whole package will last us several months. I used to mean plan where every day was planned but I to deviated from my plan and would get so frustrated and stressed about it, food would go bad or I’d forget to grab something while I was out. I hated it. But, with school starting and winter heading out way, work will slow down along with the money. So I figured let’s try this again… And here I ended on your blog! You are a life saver! This makes sense to me! Thank you so much!
That sounds like we had it when we lived in SD. Now I’m lucky enough to have multiple stores 15 minutes away, and still live in the woods. I think I’ve learned enough cooking from scratch that I wouldn’t HAVE to meal plan anymore. All I need is carrots, onions, and whatever is in the pantry. I just can’t stand feeling like I’m going to run out of food. If I don’t buy it at the beginning of the month it won’t magically appear later.