Have you ever made a meal plan for the week with great intentions, but then something happens to get you off track, and you resort to take-out instead? (Which then messes up the next day, and then food spoils and there’s $20 in the trash can).
That used to be me, on a regular basis. I was so determined to make everything from scratch, assuming it was cheaper, that when reality caught up to me, I realized that I was WASTING more than I was saving.
Talk about a low-point for a mom and coach whose life mission revolves around saving money!
I had to learn it was okay not to be superwoman. I couldn’t spend an hour cooking dinner every night AND stay on top of everything else! Scratch that: I couldn’t spend an hour cooking dinner every night and simply maintain sanity.
This is why God created the freezer aisle.
Once I got smart about WHICH convenience foods to buy and began scheduling leftovers nights into the meal plan, we started wasting less, stressing less, ENJOYING quality time at the dinner table, and were saving a lot more money.
I actually like cooking and still bake from scratch on occasion (especially when it’s something I can freeze and save for later) but in this season of life it’s all about getting something that’s reasonably healthy on the table quickly and inexpensively.
Since the grocery budget is the largest expense besides housing, and since preparing meals for a family is its own extracurricular activity, I thought I’d share with you some of my family’s favorite meals to eat that you can make for an average of $10 for a family of four.
The best part is not one of these dinners requires more than 10 minutes of your attention in the kitchen! (Seriously, I’ve timed it.)
And to take one more thing to do off your plate, I included a shopping list at the end of this post. For this week of dinners, my total bill at Kroger, plus a Costco rotisserie chicken, was $60.62, before coupons. The only liberty I took with the list was assuming you already have basic spices and oil (which you need very little of anyway).
This plan includes six dinners for the week; the reason I don’t plan seven dinners a week anymore is so that we can be intentional about making use of leftovers. This saves us a TON of money because we’re able to waste less. Not to mention, I get a “free night” of not having to cook when I’m tired at the end of a long day, yet we don’t have to resort to eating out.
Meal Plan Notes: You’ll have some ingredients remaining at the week’s end: 1 ½ pounds of frozen chicken, rice to last at least the next week or two, tortillas, and some sourdough bread (or whatever kind you like). One option is to double the recipe for shredded chicken tacos, freeze half, and use for tacos or quesadillas later in the month. Be warned, there is a salad on the menu, so if your kids hate all things green, they can have a grilled cheese.
Monday: Chinese Chicken Salad
Wash and dry lettuce, drain mandarin oranges, shred about 2/3 of the rotisserie chicken into the salad. Mix with dressing and wonton strips. (Optional: If I happen to have some bell pepper, green onions, or sliced almonds, I’ll use those up in the salad. Salads are great for using up scraps!)
Tuesday: Barbecue Chicken Quesadillas
Shred up the rest of the rotisserie chicken, and toss lightly with barbecue sauce. Dice half of a red onion and some cilantro, and grill quesadillas on a pan with just a drop of oil.
Wednesday: Slow Cooked London Broil with Mashed Potatoes and a Side Salad
Place the London broil in the slow cooker, sprinkle with salt and pepper, and add some dried oregano if you’ve got any. Pour the two cans of cream of mushroom soup over the steak, and cook on low for 8 hours. Before serving, make some instant mashed potatoes and serve a side salad of lettuce, tomato, and cucumber. If you make enough salad for two nights, save half of it (without dressing) in a ziploc bag lined with a paper towel.
Thursday: Moroccan Chicken Thighs with Rice and a Side Salad
This one you can make either in the slow cooker OR pressure cooker. I use my beloved Instant Pot. Put the chicken thighs in the slow cooker (or pressure cooker). Add salt and pepper, then this Moroccan spice blend. You could even make a big batch of Moroccan spice mix to have on hand to make this recipe even faster. After you add the spices, rub them all over the chicken. Then add a can of diced tomatoes, a can of drained and rinsed chickpeas, a can of drained green olives, and a cup of chicken broth (I like to add water with a teaspoon of Better than Bouillon). Cook on low 6-8 hours or press the poultry button on your Instant Pot. Serve it up with rice and a side salad.
Scheduling leftovers night for the middle of the meal-planning week prevents food from spoiling before we have a chance to eat it. Yay for no-cook Fridays!
Saturday: Tuna on toast with tomato and avocado
I love not having a kitchen to clean up on the weekend. This no-cook recipe is PERFECT for a lazy Saturday. Mix the tuna with a little mayo and diced red onion (great with celery too, if you’ve got some), then pile it on sourdough toast, and top with sliced tomatoes and avocado. Add salt and pepper to taste.
Sunday: Shredded Chicken tacos and black beans
This is another one for the slow cooker OR pressure cooker! I accidentally discovered I PREFER the pressure cooker version because the sauce turns out thicker and more flavorful, and the texture of the chicken is perfect even when cooked from frozen. It’s magic.
Take about a 1 ½ pounds of frozen chicken breasts and put them in your Instant Pot (if you’re using the slow cooker it’s best to defrost overnight. My mom has this thing about not slow cooking frozen chicken because you risk food poisoning. I don’t know if that’s true or not. Just play it safe and only cook from frozen if you’re using the pressure cooker version). Okay, here is the big recipe. Ready? Pour in a packet of taco seasoning and 12 oz. of salsa. That’s IT! Cook on low for 6 hours or press the poultry button on your Instant Pot. When it’s done it’ll shred with a fork. Heat up some black beans, and top the tacos with lettuce, salsa, and shredded cheese.
1 3-lb. bag of Kroger frozen chicken breasts (boneless and skinless0
2 lbs. of fresh chicken thighs, bone-in
1 london broil steak, approximately 2 lbs.
3 5-oz cans of Kroger tuna packed in water
1 rotisserie chicken (best deal at Costco or Sam’s club)
Canned and Bottled
1 14 oz can of Kroger petite diced tomatoes
2 14 oz cans of Kroger black beans
1 10 oz can of Kroger mandarin oranges
2 10 oz cans of P$$T cream of mushroom soup
1 14 oz can of Kroger garbanzo beans (chickpeas)
1 can of green olives
1 bottle lighthouse sesame ginger dressing
1 packet of Kroger taco seasoning
1 15-oz jar of Kroger salsa
1 bottle of Kroger original barbecue sauce
Bread and Starches
1 loaf sourdough bread
1 bag of Kroger white rice
1 small box of Kroger instant mashed potatoes
2 10-count packages of P$$t flour tortillas
1 package Fresh Gourmet wonton strips
3 Roma tomatoes (or other variety if cheaper)
2 heads of romaine lettuce
1 red onion
16 oz package of shredded mozzarella cheese