Shopping, Food Storage, Sales, and Stockpiling ~ Menu Planning 101

Welcome to Part 4 of my Menu Planning 101 series. This series is designed to get you in the kitchen, start planning, and help feed your family delicious home cooked meals they will enjoy. Part 1 discussed why we should menu plan, part 2 included almost 40 links with meal ideas for your family, and part 3 added 5 extra meals plus sides.

By now you should have enough meals and side to get you through an entire month of menu planning with a few repeats and leftovers. It is time to implement your list.

Shopping and Sales

There are several ways to shop for your meals. The most common would be weekly, twice a month or once a month. I do know people who shop daily, but I have yet to meet someone who manages to shop like that frugally. I shop twice a month, with dh picking up milk and veggies on the off weeks. This has worked well since I now live about 25 minutes from the Commissary. Some people have had great success shopping once a month. I like the idea of shopping once a month, but I have never been able to make it work for me.

You can menu plan before or after you shop. If you create your weekly meal list before you shop, make your list of needed ingredients to make your meals. If you are planning after you shop, make a list of all the deals and sales you want to find. Either way this is your shopping list. I really like Laura’s master shopping list template which is a free download on her site. Of course if you google “master shopping list” you will find many other options.

It is a good idea to check your local store’s sales before you plan your menu for the week. If your store is having a sale on ground beef, this might be the week to plan your tacos, meatloaf and hamburgers. There are several great websites that run store sales and coupon matches across the web. Mommy Snacks, Keeping the Kingdom First, and Stretching a Buck all post weekly store deals, coupon previews, and printable coupon links that can help you with your planning.

Another way to shop is to only shop the sales. Stockpile the really cheap (or free) stuff and then menu plan from your pantry full of food. I did this when we lived in a remote area and it worked well. It is also the method Amy Dacyczyn  (Tightwad Gazette) used when she was writing her newsletter.

A note about menu planning, shopping and lists. I am sure we have all been in a situation in which we are getting ready to make dinner, or we have already started it, and realize we are missing a key ingredient. This does not mean you have to scratch dinner and order pizza. Many times you can substitute the missing ingredient with another item you have in your kitchen. Once again, let the internet be your friend, and search for a substitute. I found this ingredient substitution list after searching for less than 3 seconds.

What if you planned for spaghetti and only have 1/3 a box of noodles? Get creative. I once had someone bring us a pasta meal that had about 5 different kinds of pasta mixed together. My friend had just combined all her leftover boxes to make one big meal. Focus on the ingredients you do have and try to make it work.

Food Storage and Stockpiling

I frequently hear from people that they do not have room to stockpile or store food. Over the past several years I have lived in some very small houses and I believe if you are organized and you want to make it a priority you can find room. My friend Kate lives in a small condo with her family of six, yet she is able to shop once a month because she is very creative with her food storage. In our last house we turned our coat closet into a pantry by adding shelving purchased from Lowes for under $30. Currently I have food grade storage buckets stacked high in my garage filled with grain and oats that I was able to purchase at a discount.

Properly contained food can be stored anywhere in your house, not just the kitchen. Evaluate your home and see if you can find some extra space. By buying certain items in bulk I am able to save hundreds of dollars a year on my grocery bill. As I write this I am reminded of a friend who found an incredible deal on Cheerios and bought 40+ boxes. She was living in a tiny apartment so she stacked up the boxes in the dining area. It wasn’t the latest in home accessories, but she saved a lot of money on breakfast!

It could be as simple as just organizing your current pantry. I have found that my pantry needs to be reorganized at least once a month. Each time I do it, I always have a lot of extra space. It might mean getting rid of other things in your kitchen that you do not use or use so infrequently they aren’t worth having. If getting rid of the punch bowl set you have used once in ten years means freeing up an extra cabinet to store food, I say the punch bowl takes a trip to the thrift store. (Unless of course it was a gift from your great aunt, and you just can’t part with it)

Take an afternoon or two and give your kitchen a good spring cleaning and de-cluttering. I think you will be surprised at the extra space you will find.

This article on stockpiling presents a good real life example of stockpiling. As a warning the site is full of ads, so if you have to overlook them to get to the content.

On Your Mark, Get Set, GO!

By now you should have your meals and sides list, a grocery list, coupons, and a place to put the food when you come home. It is time to actually menu plan. For those who have put it off for years, the time is now! Several years ago I cut my grocery bill in half and the only change I made was menu planning. It really does work. Not only does it save you money, it saves time, and the “what’s for dinner” dilemma.

By starting to menu plan you have nothing to lose and everything to gain. You can stay flexible with your plans and create a weekly list without assigning days. Or you create a more scheduled plan with a specific meal planned for each night. However you do it, the key is actually doing it!

This post wraps up my Menu Planning 101 series. I am happy to answer any specific questions, so leave your question in the comments.



  1. I agree totally about stockpiling in small spaces. We don’t have enough room for a stand alone freezer, but we still have almost 70 lbs of on-sale ground beef in our regular freezer.

  2. OldNuffToKnoBtr says:

    I’m relearning how to do the menu planning, coupon using, grocery listing and stockpiling that I did when I was raising my family.

    I’m semi retired now–had to take a part time job because of costs–and I need to relearn these skills. Social Security is limited and my retiremnt income was reduced by the recession.

    It really is fun to be planning ahead again for groceries. I have determined the amount I will spend each week and will use cash only to grocery shop. I have made up my menus for this week using what I have on hand and what is on sale. I have crossed a few things off the list to stay within my cash allotment. Thanks for your help and motivation.

    • TheHappyHousewife says:

      I am glad to be able to help. I have used cash to shop for a few years now. I cannot believe how much money I have saved using a cash budget! It really helps.

  3. I have a bunch of related posts on my blog, but it would only let me link up one of them… feel free to pursue some of the various posts on

    I’m a SAHM who HATES to shop. I only shop sales when they are actually good enough to make me want to leave the house with two kids 2 and under in tow. I do a massive shopping trip once every three months or so to restock my pantry and freezer (we bought a chest freezer for meat, frozen meals, cheese, butter, etc).

  4. What a great post! I have really enjoyed this whole series. Thanks for taking the time to write it!

  5. I have to give you a huge “Thank you” for this topic! Over my nine years of marriage I have always struggled so much with menus. I always menu plan, but it takes me forever. I’ve come up with different (complicated) ways of doing it, but it almost always took me over an hour to make out my menu plan for the week! Very frustrating!

    Since we’re on a quest to eat healthier, I sat down and wrote down 20 of my healthiest meals. On a separate piece of paper, I wrote down some of our favorites that aren’t quite as healthy. My list of sides and veggies came pretty quickly.

    Then I sat down and planned my menu for the week. Instead of an hour it took me mere minutes. OK, so why didn’t I ever think of doing it this way???

    Thank you, thank you, thank you! 🙂

  6. I am in the process of re-doing my kitchen to utilize its very small space. So, when I get it all done (by next week) I hope to put all of these lessons into practice. Thank you so much for all your hard work & sharing!

  7. Oh no!! I didn’t see that this was the end of this series until just now. I want to thank you so much for taking the time to the time to walk us through this. I have done my first grocery shopping trip and have a menu plan set up for the next two weeks. I am going to get the 2 weeks after that ready and start watching sales. I am also thinking of keeping a list of kitchen staples that I can stockpile in my coupon binder, so that I will only buy the things that I know we will use! Tonight was the first night of our menu plan and it was a great feeling to know exactly what was for dinner…veggie lasagna/salad/garlic bread…thanks again!

  8. Another idea for shopping is to do it every 3 weeks, instead of 2 or four.
    Many stores have a regular rotation for what goes on sale based on the week of the month. SO if you shop only once a month, or even twice a month you may not be able to stockpile certain items, because they are going on sale on your off week. By shopping every 3 weeks, you will eventually rotate through the sales and potentially be able to stockpile all of the different types of food.
    We have also found that often gas station have the cheapest gas, so we don’t even have to go to the market. Especially during the summer, when we get produce from our garden or farmers markets.

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