I see you tired, overworked mom. I know that after putting in an 8 hour day at work, picking up the kids, and taking them to practice, the last thing you want to do is come home and cook. It’s so much easier to swing by your favorite fast food place on the way home. But $30 and fifteen chicken nuggets later…guilt sets in and you realize you need to start saving money. You also realize your kids probably shouldn’t be eating fries every night (but fries are vegetables right?).
I was you just a couple of years ago. I would come home stressed out from work. All I wanted to do was eat a bowl of cereal and go to bed. Then I would remember Oh wait, I still have little humans to feed (and one big, very hungry human). Now, I do have to give credit to my husband. He was often the one to make dinner…as long as I left him detailed instructions. We always tried to work opposite schedules to avoid having to pay for daycare. He was usually whipping up dinner for us right before he had to leave for work.
I started to notice that we were eating the same meals every week, and we started to get tired of the same ole stuff. And if we didn’t feel like eating what we had planned, we would order take out or buy fast food. Not good! We didn’t have much extra money to spend on eating out. I quickly realized we needed to make a change.
That’s when I started doing monthly meal planning. At the end of every month, I would print off a calendar (like this) and plan out what we were going to eat for the entire next month. I made sure to put meals on there that I knew everyone liked, but also try out some new recipes. Over the past couple of years, I have learned which meals are hits and which ones are misses. One of the biggest hits is my Slow Cooker Taco Salad.
Since I became a stay at home mom, we have really had to tighten up our food budget. We haven’t completely given up eating out, but we have cut back A LOT! You make a lot of sacrifices when you decide to stay home with your kids, but you know it will all be worth it in the long run.
I have kept our weekly pizza night on the meal plan because the kids love pizza and it means I don’t have to cook (yay!). I have made sure to enroll in all the various rewards programs for the different pizza restaurants. I often get free pizza or $10 off because of this.
The best thing I have found to get the kids on board with meal planning is to have “theme meals.” I don’t mean you have to dress up and do a murder mystery dinner. Just coming up with a cool name will get them excited for dinner! I like to use a dry erase board (like this one) to write out the weekly menu. This way they know exactly what’s coming up that week.
Here are some of our weekly themes:
Noodle Night – We eat Ramen noodles on this night. This is my 5 year-old’s favorite meal (and my husband’s least favorite). I usually make the noodles according to the package directions for the boys. For my husband and I, I use this recipe. We save a ton of money by having a Noodle Night twice a month. Check out how cheap they are at Target!
Souper ___day – This can be any day of the week…Souper Tuesday, Thursday, etc. I will make some sort of soup usually in the slow cooker. Soups are almost always inexpensive and we will have leftovers for 2-3 days. The kids aren’t always excited about soup, but if I make a grilled cheese or quesadilla to go with it, they will at least take a few bites.
Sandwich Saturday – I will make them any kind of sandwich they want (PB & J, grilled cheese, ham and cheese, tuna salad, etc.). The last time we did Sandwich Saturday, I made some yummy chicken bacon ranch grilled cheese sandwiches. I will be posting my recipe for these soon so stay tuned!
Meatless Monday – Meat is expensive! Any time I can make a meal with no meat, I know I’m saving money. I also read somewhere that you can extend your life by not eating meat every day. Sounds good to me! I have some great meatless meals on this board, and I’m adding new ones all the time. Be sure to follow me on Pinterest!
Leftover __day – This is the day to get creative and eat up those leftovers! I like to do this one on the night before I grocery shop. This way, the fridge is all cleared out for the new groceries. Some of the meals I do are chili one night, then chili dogs the next night. I will sometimes make a pot roast flavored with cumin and chili powder. Then, we will use it for tacos one night (the real ones) and enchiladas the next night. I always make my Super Easy Mexican Rice with both dishes.
Breakfast for Dinner – The boys almost always request pancakes for this meal. I love this recipe I found on Pinterest. The boys always gobble them right up! Real maple syrup is a must. Here is my favorite! My husband and I will usually eat some type of scrambled egg dish with tortillas. These are some great, authentic tortillas.
Kid’s Choice – I will typically give each of my boys their own night to pick what they want for dinner. The whole family has to eat whatever they pick. I used to let them pick what restaurant they wanted to eat at…but after they kept picking fancy Italian and swanky steakhouses, I had to say no more restaurants. (They’ve got expensive taste!) Now, they are allowed to pick their favorite home-cooked meal.
More Ways To Save Money
We also save money by going to eat at my parent’s house for Sunday dinners. I know this isn’t an option for everyone if you don’t have your parents around. This has become a tradition for our family. My boys never want to miss a Sunday dinner at Nana and Grandpa’s. They usually only take two bites of their food, then run upstairs to play with their cousins. But they have a blast together!
Another delicious and cheap meal we like to eat is a Nicaraguan dish called “Gallo Pinto” which literally means “Spotted Rooster.” (Don’t worry…no roosters are harmed in the making of this meal). Back in 2007, I lived in Nicaragua for about a month doing mission work. Gallo Pinto was a daily meal for us and, I fell in love with it. I started to make it for my husband once we got married and he came to love it too. All you need to make it are rice, beans, and eggs. It doesn’t get any cheaper than that! Here is a great recipe for it.
More Ways To Save Time
I try to plan my slow cooker meals on our busier days. Those days when the afternoons are filled with practices, rehearsals, and after school activities. This way, I can make it in the morning and it’s ready to eat by the time we get home. If you don’t have a slow cooker, this is a great one.
I also save time by food prepping on the weekends. I will make a pot of beans or cook and shred chicken breasts. Then, I use them for dinners throughout the week. If I wanted to be a real domestic goddess, I could even bake my own bread. I haven’t quite reached that level yet.
My biggest time saver when it comes to grocery shopping is by using Walmart Grocery Pickup. It literally takes them 5 minutes to load everything into the car for me and I’m done! I will never spend 2 hours in the grocery store again! If you want to try it and get $10 off, you can use my referral link. And this is a completely FREE service!
Meal planning has been a game changer for our family. I know it will be the same for yours! Please feel free to share your thoughts or ideas in the comments. I would love to hear them!
Disclaimer: Some of the links in the post are affiliate links which means I may receive a commission if you purchase the items. I only recommend products I use and love.