Menu Plan Budget

Menu Planning 101, Part 4 | How to Shop & Stay on Budget

Welcome to Menu Planning 101! As a Type 1 Diabetic eating a Paleo diet, detailed menu planning is a must. I’ve refined my menu planning methods over the last few years, and now it’s a well oiled machine. I can’t even imagine grocery shopping or cooking for my family without a plan anymore. It is that ingrained in me. Today’s topic is how to shop and stay on budget. A plan is no good if it is a hassle to complete and leaves your budget broken. Let’s dive in!

If you are new to the series, please visit:

Healthy Menu Plan


Shopping for an Every Meal Menu plan is not for the faint of heart, particularly if you are shopping with kids (as I am!). There are three things you need to figure out before heading out:

  1. The Driving Route
  2. The Route Through the Store
  3. How to Stay in Budget as You Shop

Just like your meals need a plan, the shopping trip needs a plan. Take a few minutes to think through your plan of attack before you head out, and it will save you time and frustration as you shop.

The Driving Route

What is the most effective and efficient route for you to travel to your various stores? I don’t follow a logical distance, as in furthest from my house and work my way back to my house. A cost-effective route is the route for me!

I begin my shopping at Aldi which I know will have the lowest prices on every day items. Aldi has special buys each week which might allow me to pick up a seasonal item at a discount, which will save me money at the other stores.

Then I go to Meijer, our local supermarket chain, and I pick up all the items that Aldi does not have that week and additional less-common fruits, veggies, or international items.

My last stop is Costco. Costco’s offerings are usually the same from week to week, so I pick up our usual items (coffee, eggs, meat, crackers, toilet paper, etc.) quickly. The layout of this store rarely changes too.

The Route Through the Store

I have a different route through each store based on the stores layout. My goal is maximize efficiency and get myself and my kids out of the store as quickly as possible. As I mentioned before, I am not a grocery shopping lover. It is just a necessary evil to put food on the table. My goal is to make it as quick and efficient as possible.

I recommend thinking about the most effective route through your stores and putting your grocery list in that  order before you leave home. To give you an idea of what I mean, here’s each of my routes:


I think of Aldi’s layout like a maze. You enter at one end and exit at the other. The entrance is not connected to the exit which makes backtracking very difficult. I try to avoid backtracking in all stores, but especially Aldi.

Aldi’s layout also rarely changes, so once I familiarized myself with the store, I memorized the best order to shop in. Aldi is my fastest store. I am usually in and out in 20 minutes. Yes!

My route:

  1. Nuts
  2. Condiments
  3. Baking Items
  4. Canned Goods
  5. Fresh Vegetables
  6. Fresh Fruit
  7. Frozen Vegetables

Meijer sells evrything including the kitchen sink. I am purposeful to only walk down the aisles I need to. This store takes the longest to get through (for a reason! I’m know they have their layout to maximize sales!), so I take extra thought to attack this store efficiently.

In general, my method is back of the store to the front of the store so I end my shopping by the check-outs. If I need to pick up any toiletry items, I pick those up first because they are located on the opposite side of the store from the groceries.

My route through Meijer:

  1. Toiletries
  2. Fresh Meat
  3. Produce (vegetables and fruit are all mixed together)
  4. Baking Needs
  5. International Items

I’m sure you’ve heard of the phrase “shop the perimeter” of grocery stores to find the healthier items. I follow this but without planning to! I primarily buy fresh meat, fruit, and veggies which are on the perimeter. The only aisles I go down are the baking aisle for spices and gluten-free baking items, and the international aisle for things like adobo chilis and canned tomato products.


Costco’s layout is roughly the same too: household items on the right side, grocery in the back and left, and seasonal in the middle. If you can guess, I don’t go in the middle section. The middle section is a budget-breaker, in my opinion! It is filled with snack foods, candy, and all the household/clothing items you all the sudden think you need!

I walk through the store in a “U”: up the household side, through the back of the store then down the right side, ending at the check-out.

My route through Costco:

  1. Household items
  2. Fresh Produce
  3. Fresh Meat
  4. Eggs
  5. Frozen Items
  6. Baking Needs
  7. Pantry Items

Menu Plan with Budget

How to Stay on Budget When You Shop

Remember back to Part 2 – How to Make a Grocery List when  I recommended estimating the cost of each menu item as you make the grocery list? Here is where that comes into use.

First, your entire grocery list should be edited to fit into your budgeted amount before you leave the house. There’s no sense in heading to the store with a list that is already $100 over what you have to spend. If that happens (and it will!), here’s some tricks to bring it down into the right range.

  1. Make simpler meals with in season vegetables and fruit. Out of season food always costs more (and is less tasty!) so try to use what is in season. Odds are it will be on sale too because the grocery store has a ton of it!
  2. Buy lesser quality meat and eggs. This is a hard one for me to say. I am totally against pesticides, hormone treated animals, etc., but the truth of the matter is, not everyone can afford it. Personally, we’ve downgraded the quality of our eggs because I buy 7+ dozen every time I shop. My budget cannot afford that many free-range, organic eggs. I believe (hope?) the benefit you get from eating fresh, whole foods outweighs the bad of lower quality meat/eggs.
  3. Buy less meat. Meat is expensive. If you are making chili and the recipe calls for 2 pounds of meat, try using just one and adding an inexpensive vegetable instead (throw in pumpkin puree as a thickener, cubed butternut squash, chopped zucchini, etc.).
  4. Repeat well-liked, simple meals. This is the one I struggle with yet fall back on when my grocery list is too pricey. I love variety, but at least for me, variety can be expensive. So I cross out the more expensive meal and replace it with a more reasonable one I already have planned. For me, spaghetti squash with meat sauce is fairly inexpensive, filling, and everyone likes it. Planning this meal for 2 meals out of my two weeks instead of just one would save my budget some $$.

Now as you shop, keep track of what you’ve spent. I do this by entering each store’s receipt into my YNAB (You Need a Budget) app as I leave each store. You could also do this by editing the grocery list (if you use my spreadsheet) as you go through the store. However you choose to do it, you need to be keeping track as you shop.

Then comes the hard decision. What if you are going to go over budget? Where should you make cuts as you shop?

Quick interjection: If you made your list fit your budget before you left home, any adjustment that might need to be made in the store should be minor, not major.

  1. Choose to buy the small sized item that will still fit your needs but may cost more per ounce. Time for a real life example because I just made this decision when I last shopped! I needed to buy vanilla, and I planned to buy it at Costco. The budget for the vanilla was $15. When I arrived at the store, it was $26! Yikes! Since Costco was my last stop, I didn’t buy the vanilla at all. I chose to wait until the next shopping trip (which I still couldn’t budget $26 for vanilla) and buy the small bottle at Aldi for $4. I know I am spending more in the long run, but I don’t think a larger bottle of vanilla is worth going over budget for.
  2. Choose the store brand. This will likely be cheaper than name brand, and yes, there is possibly a taste difference. You and your family will live though! I guarantee it! 🙂
  3. Buy the less convenient item. I’m looking at you canned beans! If you are really tight, buy the dried beans instead of canned. You will get SO many more beans from a $1 bag of dried beans than that 15.5 ounce can of prepared beans.
  4. Buy in bulk instead of convenience packaging. I’m not thinking about flour, nuts, dried fruit, etc, although that may save you money too. I’m thinking of fresh produce. Our store has a salad section that has lovely, washed varieties of salad greens in nice plastic bags or even plastic containers. This is the most expensive way to eat a salad! Look very close by there and you will see bunches of kale, spinach, lettuce, all manner of greens for $1-$2 a bunch. That bunch will have WAY more food than the entire bag of pre-made lettuce mix (maybe even two or three bags!). Learn how to wash and store these greens, and you will have way more salads/soups/sides for less money.
  5. Last, and most difficult, just stop putting items into your cart when you’ve run out of money. Now, this shouldn’t happen because you’ve estimated your grocery need when you made your list, before you ever left your house. However, maybe everything you planned to buy was more expensive than you guessed. To keep your budget and marital happiness on track, I suggest to you to just stop, go to the check-out, and leave the store. You can get your creative juices flowing at home with how to make meals with what you were able to buy. Just start searching on Pinterest. I’m 100% sure you will be just fine and not go hungry!

Bottom line: a successful menu plan is one that stays on budget. Do whatever necessary to stay within yours. Make a plan before you leave your home: know your route to the stores, through the stores, and how you will stay on budget as you shop. This will guarantee a successful shopping trip and the beginning of a two week (for me!) time period of delicious meals.

Do you have any wisdom to share on this topic? How do you optimize your grocery trip? Do you have tips and tricks to staying in budget? Do you shop every week? Every two weeks? Every day?


Menu Planning Stay on Budget


Menu Planning 101, Part 1 | A Dinners-Only Menu Plan

Welcome to Menu Planning 101! To manage my Type 1 Diabetes, I eat a Paleo diet and follow healthy lifestyle habits. A Paleo diet requires extra thought before grocery shopping and time in the kitchen. To make that more feasible with a busy family, I’ve become a serious advocate for menu planning. Today kicks off a five week series on menu planning with various levels of intensity to accommodate your life. Let’s learn how to menu plan so you can feed yourself and family whole, nutritious meals and stay on budget!

If you fail to plan, you are planning to fail. ~Benjamin Franklin

Not 100% sure Benjamin Franklin said that, but it is a true, wise statement. The way to success in any diet, budget endeavor, or new year’s resolution to eat healthier is to plan.

In this series, I will be sharing the following:

  1. How to Create a “Dinners-Only” Menu Plan – This is a good method to ease your way into being more purposeful with what you put on the table. Menu Planning Lite, if you will. Plus free printable weekly menu plan included!
  2. How to Make a Grocery List – The Menu Plan doesn’t work if you forget to buy key ingredients! I’ll share my method to effective list making and shopping. Plus free grocery list!
  3. How to Create an “EveryMeal” Menu Plan – How to execute planning for each and every meal you put on the table. This is the method I use, and I’ve found I have to plan to this detail due to our new diet. Plus free printable weekly menu plan!
  4. How to Shop and Stay in Budget – It’s all well in good to have a menu plan and an organized list. But how should you get your shopping done, and how do you keep your budget intact while you shop?
  5. How to Avoid Burnout – Taking on the commitment to eat healthy takes hard work. How will you stay the course?

Let’s jump into it!

Healthy Menu Plan


How I Used to Menu Plan

As a newlywed, I jumped whole-heartedly into buying and preparing food for my husband and myself. My mom had given me a recipe box full of her recipes as a wedding gift, so I felt fully equipped. I would write a list on a sheet of paper with what “necessities” I should buy, estimate how much those would cost, adjust my list as necessary to meet our budget amount, then head off to the store. (Note: I did not look at any recipes in this process.)

My list would consist of things like:

  • Ground Beef – 3lbs.
  • Onions
  • Celery
  • Flour
  • Cream of Chicken soup

When it came time to make dinner, I would flip through my recipe box and figure out which recipe I had most of the ingredients for, and I would make it.

There were so many flaws in this plan, but I didn’t see them. That bunch of celery? It rotted in the fridge every. single. time I bought it. I never had as use for it, but I thought my job as a wife was to have a well-stocked kitchen, and everyone knows, a well-stocked kitchen has celery. Right?

My mom shopped with me once during this time and she even questioned my purchase of said celery. “What are you going to use that for? Do you have a plan for that?”

Over-zealous, defensive newlywed responds with “Of course!”

The truth was I “of course” did not. That bunch of celery rotted in my vegetable drawer just like the last one had, completely untouched.

Fast forward a few years, and money is tight. I beginning looking on the internet for ideas on how to tighten our belts. Finding my first blogs on how to be thrifty, menu plan, make your own soap, etc. opened my eyes to a whole new world of managing my grocery budget differently. I realize I need to plan the meals I intend to make BEFORE I make my list and go to the store. What? Seriously?

Please laugh with me. My logic was so flawed, and I didn’t even realize it, for years.

At this time, I refined my “Dinners-Only” Menu Plan strategy.

My husband and I did not have any dietary restrictions, so the variety of food I will describe is very different from how we eat now. You can easily adjust these concepts to fit your dietary needs.

The “Dinners-Only” Menu Plan

As working professionals, we barely left time for breakfast, and we packed our lunch everyday from dinner leftovers or simple sandwiches. This made for a nice routine for those to meals. We didn’t mind a lack of variety, so I would purchase the same items for these meals each shopping trip.


  • Oatmeal – which needed raisins, cinnamon, and brown sugar
  • Eggs & Toast

I wasn’t kidding when I said little variety! We basically ate the same two things for breakfast day in and day out. The only time I’d make something different would be on the weekend. Makes for easy shopping though!


  • Leftovers from dinner the night before
  • Meat & cheese sandwich or PB&J sandwich
  • Sides of fresh fruit, nuts, or sweet treat

Lunch was primary leftovers. Lunch meat rarely fit into our budget, so it was purchased only as a special treat. Peanut butter and jelly was tolerated by me alone. I guess when you only eat peanut butter and jelly when saving for an engagement ring, it sort of turns you off for a VERY long time. (I do mean VERY long time. Dan bought the ring 12 years ago, and he still doesn’t like PB&J.)


Dinner was the only meal I really planned. I loved variety at dinnertime, and I could not stand eating the same thing for more than 2 days in a row.  Remember, I wanted leftovers for lunch? So I did not cut recipes down even when just feeding just the two of us. I would make the full recipe, whatever it was casserole, tacos, soup.

I would pick 8-10 meals for a two week period. Since I didn’t cut recipes down, and most recipes fed 4-6 people, this would be enough for dinner plus lunches for both of us for two weeks.

Now, let’s chat how this method could work for you! If you’d like a free printable weekly menu plan, click on the image below to download your copy. Otherwise, you can easily do this on a scrap sheet of paper.

Dinners Only Plan

Downloads for weeks beginning Monday / Tuesday / Wednesday / Thursday / Friday / Saturday

  1. Use the “B” box to write out a few breakfast options. Add those items to your grocery list.
  2. Use the “L” box to write out a few lunch options. Add those items to your grocery list, along with any snacks, fresh fruit, or sides needed for packed lunches.
  3. Select recipes for the dinners for the week. Write each one on the appropriate day of the week (plan in leftover meals as necessary). As you write each recipe on the menu plan, add to your grocery list too.
  4. Repeat for as many weeks as needed.
  5. Go shopping!
  6. Eat 3 meals a day for the time period you planned!

I used this method right up until my Type 1 Diabetes diagnosis. At that time, we had added 2 kids, but I kept our menu largely the same: simple breakfast, leftovers for lunch, and new meal at dinner.

Super simple, right? It’s a good place to start if you aren’t in the habit of menu planning yet. Give this method a try for a few weeks before jumping into a more detailed plan. If you don’t have strict dietary needs, this amount of planning will be enough for you. This is the end of “What’s for dinner?” and resorting to take out! You will be able to feed your family healthy, nutritious meals consistently and efficiently.

Next time I will share my current, more detailed menu plan (The “EveryMeal” Menu Plan) and grocery list method (with a free document and printable for you to download!). It’s not rocket science either, but most things in life aren’t. You just need someone to point out the simple way to do things, and I hope to do the same for you.

How do you plan out your meals? Have you given a more formal menu plan a try? Did you stick to it? If not, what went wrong?

Menu Planning 101