Step-by-step instructions for making pre-planned, three-day menus

Meal Planning Made Simple

by Monica Resinger

Related Articles

Super Frugal 7 Day Meal Plans

Reverse Menu Planning

8 to 12 Hour Slow Cooker Recipes

Meal planning can be a time-consuming job, and often times, this is why we just give up on it and just go get whatever looks appealing at the store and be done with it. I know from experience that this leads to wasted money, extra trips to the store, frustration and cooking boredom.

So what's the solution? The solution I came up with was pre-planned three-day menus complete with shopping lists. This way, I'd only have to do the work once for a given menu, then from there on, that menu would be hassle-free. This method also allows me to work in new recipes.

Meat is usually the most expensive part of the shopping list, so this is why it is the biggest factor in my menu planning. On a given week (I like to shop weekly for the sales to save money), there is usually one or two different meats* on sale that I'll buy for the good prices. This is why I make my menus for three days. I can use the two sale meats* in my menu plan (I pick out two menus that include the two meats I'll be using). This ads up to six meals within a week. I don't plan 7 meals because we usually have at least one (usually more) meal per week with enough leftovers to make up for that one missing meal (and of course, there's always those nice days when we get to go out to dinner!). Maybe you or I will have leftovers after each meal and extend our shopping trips and save us money!

Here is the step-by-step instructions for making pre-planned, three-day menus:

  1. Choose the meat* you'd like to include in your meal plan. To help decide, look at what meats are on sale in your weekly grocery store sales flyers.
  2. On a sheet of paper (or a page in your word processing program on your computer), label "Meal 1" and leave a few spaces to fill in a main dish, vegetable, bread, etc. (whatever food groups you like to have included in your meal), then do the same for "Meal 2" and "Meal 3."
  3. Fill in the names of the recipes you want to include in each meal. For this part, you can use your tried-and-true recipes or fill in new ones you've been wanting to try. If the recipes are from a cookbook, list the name of the cookbook with the page the recipe is on in parentheses so you can find it later, or if you'd like, you can write the recipes on additional sheets of paper (or additional pages in your document on the word processing program) to include with your menu for ease of use later.
  4. Make the shopping list. On an additional sheet of paper, include all the ingredients from each recipe you used in Step 2. If an ingredient is included in more than one recipe, simply increase the amount on your list. It's nice to categorize these, but not necessary. I suggest making a basic shopping list for yourself that includes items you use all the time such as fresh fruits and vegetables, milk, eggs, bread, flour, sugar, etc. These are the items you always want to have on hand.

Subscribe to Saving Dinner Premium Menu Mailer
Your weekly road map to making daily family dinners a reality

You can organize your meal plans in a three-ring binder and section them off by meat. Obviously the more three-day menus you have, the better. Yes, this can be time consuming to begin with, but it is time well invested because later there will be hardly any work involved. When it comes time to go shopping, all you'll have to do is look up two appealing three-day menus that include your sale meats, write down the items you need from those and your basic shopping list, then go shopping.

* Note: If you happen to be a vegetarian, simply plan your meals around the produce sales.

Reviewed July 2017

Monica Resinger is a loving wife and doting mother of two who enjoys gardening, painting, dancing and homemaking. You can check out some of her other articles at

Take the Next Step

  • Prepare a three-day menu.
  • Calulate the actual cost of meat per serving with our meat calculator.
  • Continue to trim food costs by visiting our food & groceries section to get tips and tools for keeping more of your hard-earned dollars in your pocket.
  • Join those who 'live better...for less' - Subscribe to The Dollar Stretcher newsletter, a weekly look at how to stretch both your day and your dollar! Subscribers get a copy of our ebook Little Luxuries: 130 Ways to Live Better...For Less for FREE!

Share your thoughts about this article with the editor.

Stay Connected with TDS

Little Luxuries

to the Dollar Stretcher newsletter and get a copy
of our ebook
Little Luxuries:
130 Ways to Live Better...For Less
for FREE!

Your Email:

View the TDS Privacy Policy.


Debt Book