Dollars and Dinners: Unlocking the Secret to Family Meal Planning Success


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Is reigning in your kitchen chaos a New Year’s resolution this year? How much time do you spend wondering what you’re going to make for dinner? Start the new year right with my prep ahead family meal plan ideas!

The experts always say menu planning saves busy families like ours time and money. But how do you get started? I’m here with my best tips to help you cook from scratch. I’ve got 28 quick, healthy, from scratch meals plus seven easy tasks to fill your freezer for you. Having a family meal plan will save you time, money, and mental energy so you always know what’s for dinner.

portioned meals of meat and vegetables alongside a printed family meal plan menu

Meal Plan with Family Friendly Dinners

The first step to successfully planning meals for your family is to decide what your family’s preferences are as well as your budget. For example, I might really love goat cheese but if no one else in my family does, then recipes calling for goat cheese are off the table.

Keep your budget constraints in mind as well. I might love prime rib, but if I have a black beans and rice budget, then I need to plan accordingly.

It is possible to eat healthier and save money this year. Follow along in January as I work with you to do just that. Let’s take control of cooking and eating, shall we?

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Monthly Menu Ideas for Families

One of my largest obstacles to cooking from scratch is not being prepared. A few years ago I started having themes for each day of the week. This cuts down on all the options I have available and narrows down my choices.

Having the same themes also saves me money because I use the same types of spices and sauces repeatedly. How many times have you bought a jar of random spice and then never used it again? Themed days avoid that scenario.

Pick one option from each category and fill your week with quick and easy, from scratch meal ideas! There are enough meal ideas here for four full weeks and these will soon become family favorites.

casserole dish with homemade mac n cheese

Meatless Mondays

Taco Tuesdays

instant pot mediterranean chicken recipe

Wing It Wednesdays

Porker or Beef Thursday 😀

sourdough-pizza-crust pizzas in cast iron skillets and baking stones

Pizza Friday

Soupper Saturday

From the Sea Sunday

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instant pot hamburger soup

Meal Plan for the Amount of Time You Have

If you know certain nights of the week are really busy, plan Instant Pot or Slow Cooker meals for those days. For example, my kids have sports practice on Mondays and Wednesdays so we don’t get home until later in the evening. I always have crock pot meals on those nights.

Money-Saving Tips for Weekly Meal Plans

Having a menu plan will significantly reduce your food budget and time you spend in the kitchen. To maximize these benefits, plan carefully each time you go to the grocery store. Buy things such as ground beef and chicken thighs in bulk when possible.

Meats are easy to cook up ahead of time and freeze for later.

waffles on pink plate with berries, whipped cream, and honey for toppings

Homemade Breakfast Ideas for Your Plan

Fill Your Freezer with Make Ahead Meals

Want to really make from scratch cooking and menu planning easier? Start filling your freezer! Cook from scratch with these seven tasks. I prefer to do them the first full week of the month.

That way you’ll have leftovers for other meals this month that will make meal prep faster. However, if you’re really busy or don’t have the ingredients ready to go, just shift the tasks to a day when you are able to get it done! Again, flexibility is key.

You can read how I fill my freezer in 30 minutes a day over at Premeditated Leftovers – I wrote a blog post there a while ago.

wooden spoon full of dried beans

1. On Monday, cook up a huge pot of dried beans and freeze in 3-2 cup portions, with the liquid. Make sure you soak the beans Sunday night! A really big stainless steel stock pot like this one 12 qt stock pot similar to this one is helpful for canning and cooking beans.

I generally cook 8 cups of dried beans, which yields about 3-4 bags for my freezer after we’ve eaten the beans for lunch and also for dinner. If you’re not familiar with cooking dried beans, soak the beans overnight and then cook about 1-2 hours the next day in fresh water. You can read here for more details, if need be.

2. On Tuesday, {preferably the week you eat regular ole tacos, so you also get your dinner prep out of the way too} make a huge batch of taco meat using ground meat of choice and beans from Monday’s cook or the freezer, and freeze extra portions of meat.

rotisserie chicken wrap ingredients

3. On Wednesday, roast an extra chicken, in addition to cooking a rotisserie chicken for dinner. This way I have cooked chicken ready for the remainder of the Wednesday chicken meals.

4. On Thursday, make enough crock pot ham so that you have leftovers to freeze. Also, cook up a big batch of bacon in the oven. Freeze some in whole pieces to use on the egg sandwiches, and also freeze some crumbles to use on the bacon pizza! Don’t forget to save the bacon grease as it makes a great, free fat in which to cook your eggs and veggies!

5. On Friday, make and freeze 4 extra portions of pizza dough for each of the other pizza nights in January.

6. On Saturday, make a huge batch of homemade bread. I bake bread in 5 loaf quantities and then freeze extra or store in my fridge. This task actually takes about an hour and half, start to finish – but really only about 30 minutes active prep and clean-up. I’d also make up a double batch of Artisan Bread Dough on Saturday too, so you have a nice crusty bread to go with your soups!

7. On Sunday, make a huge batch of fruit and honey granola to enjoy for breakfasts and snacks.

At the end of the 7 days, you should have quite a few meal components added to your freezer to simplify meal prep at a later date!

About Michelle Marine

Michelle Marine is the author of How to Raise Chickens for Meat, a long-time green-living enthusiast, and rural Iowa mom of four. She empowers families to grow and eat seasonal, local foods; to reduce their ecological footprint; and to come together through impactful travel.

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  1. I really like how you laid out your menu plan by day of the week, and how each day had a theme. I think this would make planning a lot easier. I’m going to try your granola recipe, too. The stuff I usually make has waaaayyyy too much sugar.

    1. I love that granola recipe, Kelli, and I especially like it because it uses honey for the sweetener! Hope you enjoy.

  2. This is a great meal plan Michelle. I like that you are doing a little extra to fill the freezer. That would help out a lot in our house. Thanks for including me in your list of others. This month I’m teaming up with a few other bloggers for the Real Food Experience. It’s a lot of fun.

    1. Thanks, Nicky. Having stuff in the freezer is such a help to me. I look forward to following along on your Real Food Experience! What a great idea. 🙂

  3. Love the 7 extra tips to fill your freezer, I need to do more of that! Thanks for sharing my link as well:)

  4. Great meal plan Michelle! I love that we’re now in Soup Season and it is now big deal to make a soup every week!