When my husband lost his job in January 2009, our income was split in half. I was forced to do two things immediately—cut back our food budget and find a way to stick to it. It was extremely hard to do at first and I struggled to find a solution for several weeks.

While Luke was home during the day, he would contact me at 4pm almost every day and ask, What would you like fore dinner? So my solution came out of frustration of late day planning —I decided to start planning out our meals weekly and the budget solution naturally followed.

Every Saturday I spend about an hour planning out the meals for a week. I set up a spreadsheet document for the plan in Google Docs so that I can share it with Luke and update it, if necessary. This is what it looks like:

Meal plan

Now, this doesn't include snacks (and it definitely doesn't mean that this is all we can have), but rather just the main course so that it takes the guess work out of each meal. Sundays we plan on eating any leftovers from the week before we stock it with new groceries.

The spreadsheet also includes, next to the menu item, page numbers and the abbreviation of the cookbook the recipe comes from. I also include any notes, since Luke helps out with dinner. I can also link to websites with the recipe, too. This method of meal planning has saved a lot of stress and really made it easy for Luke to fix stuff if I don't have time. But, the best benefit of this plan is that it helps me buy exactly what I need for each meal. No more, no less so that I don't waste anything on our shelves. As I search for recipes, I'll write down the ingredients on a pad of paper so that I don't miss anything.

Before menu planning I used to just pick stuff up off the shelf when getting groceries. I thought about meals while shopping and think oh, this sounds good, but forget by the end of the week and the ingredient go bad. I was wasting money and time. No more impulse buys and stress-free planning/cooking have become my best friends as I battle a busy schedule.

Tipoftheday Get input from your family to help fill in the spreadsheet. Everyone gets input on what they'd like to have for the week = happy family. Saving money and decreasing stress and wonderful, but cooking and sharing a meal with the family is priceless!