A Simple Dinner Menu: Meal Plan Monday Week 2

simple dinner menu

It’s Meal Plan Monday again! I hope you enjoyed last week’s menu! For week two I have seven more frugal dinner ideas on the menu. Remember, every Monday in the month of October the #blogtober post will be on our family‚Äôs weekly meal plan. If this is helpful to enough of you I will keep posting Meal Plan Mondays after #blogtober is over. Let me know! This week I have a simple dinner menu suited for cooler weather.

What’s on the Simple Dinner Menu?

Like last week, this week’s meals are simple, frugal, and mostly healthy.

Monday – On Monday I will cook up my Monday night meatloaf recipe with roasted vegetables and a simple salad (for me and the hubs). I have made this meatloaf countless times over about a decade. This was the first recipe I truly made my own. I really don’t even use the recipe anymore. I just wing it.

Tuesday – Usually Tuesday night is taco night, but in honor of the cooler weather, we’re having taco casserole. I use quite a bit less cheese than most recipes call for in an effort not to make our daughter her own separate casserole and add the vegan stuff. She’s old enough she knows it doesn’t taste like cheese and doesn’t like it anymore. Can’t say I blame her! So we just use less cheese in most recipes then watch what she eats the next day more closely.

Wednesday – Spaghetti with Meatballs – I make both from scratch. I will use the second half of the ground turkey package I opened for the taco casserole. You can find the meatball recipe here.

Here is how I make my sauce: Simply open a can of diced tomatoes, a can of tomato paste (for a less watery sauce – if you like it thinner use tomato sauce), and season with parsley, oregano, basil, salt, pepper, and brown sugar to taste and cook on low heat while the pasta cooks. That’s it.

On Thursday – We will have leftovers if there are enough or I will cook up some chicken noodle soup. This has to be one of the easiest, most frugal meals out there. You just need some shredded or chopped chicken (cooked first), egg noodles, broth, spices to taste, and veggie or two of your choice (carrots and peas are common).

Finally Friday – Friday is pizza night.My kids would probably fire me if I didn’t stick to it. The pizza dough and pizza sauce can be found on my recipe page.

Weekend Plans

Saturday – While we have a family dinner is planned, I do have a backup of leftover soup and hot sandwiches. This time of year we use our sandwich maker a lot.

Sunday – Sunday night I will be fixing homemade tomato soup and salmon potato patties.

Keep the Menu Simple and Easy

Over time I’ve found the less complicated a meal is, the more likely my kids are to eat it. An added benefit of a simple dinner menu is having fewer dishes to wash after eating dinner! Click to download the customized meal plan and add ingredients needed to the shopping list for added convenience!

And if you have leftovers building up, just skip one night on the meal plan and eat everything down! Not only does it give you a night off from cooking, it also reduces food waste!

Need Meal Planning Tips?

Be sure to check out my latest YouTube video! I outline how I come up with my weekly meal plan to save money and reduce food waste! And make sure to like and subscribe for more tips on meal planning, budgeting, DIYs, and… you’ll just have to watch and see! New videos posted weekly.

Meal Plan Monday: What’s on the Weekly Meal Plan?

weekly meal plan

It’s Meal Plan Monday!

Welcome to the first edition of Meal Plan Monday! Every Monday in the month of October the #blogtober post will be on our family’s weekly meal plan. I will link to or post recipes used for the week.

What’s on the Menu?

This week’s menu is simple, easy, and frugal. I do tend to try to make dishes as healthy as possible. It’s not perfect, but it gets better with time.

MondaySheet pan chicken and veggies. This is on fairly regular rotation in our house. It is a very versatile dish. This week I will likely use potatoes and bell pepper.

TuesdayTacos. Most Tuesdays in our house we have Taco Tuesday. It’s quick, healthy, easy to get on the table, and everybody eats it! This week I have scoop tortilla chips so I will likely whip up a little batch of salsa to go with tacos and give the option of taco bowls or traditional soft tacos.

Wednesday – Pasta salad with turkey sausage. This is an easy dish my husband and oldest love. Cook the sausage, cook the rotini pasta, chop up some tomatoes or saute some peppers, and combine with zesty Italian dressing.

Thursday – Beef stew. I have a soup kit I picked up at Aldi and some beef from my cattle raising dad to eat up. I plan to slow cook this all day in the pressure cooker. This would also be simple to do without the kit – just buy some beef and vegetable broth, dice up some tomatoes, and use your favorite spices. Add in some meat and let it simmer for at least 4 hours.

Friday – Pizza Night! Almost every Friday night is pizza night at our house. I make my own dough and sauce.

Saturday – Leftovers or baked pork chops and roasted vegetables.

Sunday – Chicken pot pie. I will loosely follow this recipe from All-Recipes. I have not made any pot pie since last winter so I do not have my own version… yet.

weekly meal plan

Meal Plan: Breakfasts and Lunches:

For breakfasts, I have eggs, waffles, oatmeal, and cereal on hand. My kids prefer Cheerios most days but when as the weather gets cooler I like to try to start the day off with something warm in their bellies. The hubby and I typically have a liquid breakfast of coffee.

For lunches, my husband is happy with a sandwich, apple, yogurt, and chips every day of the world. My daughter gets one of several dairy-free school lunches. I keep most of these foods on hand. I also keep some crackers, pretzels, pistachios, peanuts, granola, and trail mixes on hand for morning snack time at school.

My two-year-old enjoys brunch with me (he’s big on second breakfast) typically a second bowl of Cheerios, or he steals some of my scrambled eggs or breakfast sandwich. I love melting a slice of Colby jack on a slice of homebaked bread and topping with a fried egg. Sometimes he’ll eat some gluten-free chicken nuggets.

How to Make Your Own Weekly Meal Plan

The first step in making a meal plan is to do a full inventory of what it is in your fridge, freezer, and pantry. Throw out any expired or moldy food. Try to think of meals you can make to use up what you have while buying as little as possible. This will help reduce food waste and save money in your budget.

If you want some inspiration for dinner be sure to check out my recipe page. I anticipate it to grow quite a bit during blogtober! Write out your meal plan and make a shopping list with the ingredients needed. When it comes to breakfasts and lunch be realistic about what you have time to prepare and what your family will eat. Add some simple breakfast and lunch options to the shopping list. Once you get to the store stick to the list. It also helps to bring the list!

You can download and print this week’s meal plan and add items needed to the shopping list on this free printable! The blank weekly meal plan printable is also available for download if you’d like to come up with your own meal plan. I like to keep my meal plan and shopping list out where I can see them in the kitchen. Now you can keep them both in the same place! Save yourself some paper and if you like this week’s plan keep it and reuse it. Have a rotating list of meal plans (and corresponding shopping lists) to make life a little easier.

5 Tips to Save More Dough on Groceries

save more dough

Save More Dough by Using These Simple Tips

It feels so good to be on a budget and know that your money is now going to work for you! But what if you’re spending more money than you realized on food? Even after slashing the takeout budget you’re spending more than anticipated. I know at one point I just thought, “food is just so expensive,” and that we’d always have a problem with this area of the budget. That doesn’t have to be true! Here are five simple hacks that can save you dough at the grocery store! Pun intended.

*As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.*

1. Shop Your Cabinets and Make a Meal Plan

Before you even think about what to buy at the grocery store you need a solid meal plan for the week. Make a meal plan for the full length of time between grocery trips. Check your cabinets, fridge, and freezer for older food that needs to be eaten. Plan meals around these items first.

Opt for simple, inexpensive dishes if cooking isn’t your forte yet or you are typically pressed for time when preparing dinner. Examples of inexpensive meals include spaghetti night, taco night, turkey meatloaf, pasta salad, baked chicken and veggies…

Consult the Meal Planning and Recipe pages if you need some frugal ideas that are still pretty healthy. It may even be a good idea to invest in one or two good cookbooks. I am to a point where I have several recipes I use on rotation and love to keep a recipe file book on hand. It helps a lot to have a selection of tried and true recipes at hand to make meal planning and prep easier. This can either be a file box or tin with index cards or be kept in binder/book form.

If you shop once a week you need a plan for 7 breakfasts, lunches, and dinners. I actually prefer to sit down with the wall calendar and plan out dinners for the majority if not the entire month in one sitting. It saves time and a lot of hassle. It also prevents the endless “what’s for dinner?” question from anyone who can read! Leftovers can take care of at least one night a week with careful planning and portion control. See, budgeting can good for your waistline as well!

2. Make a List

Now that you’ve shopped your cabinets and come up with a meal plan it is time to make your list! Go through each meal on your weekly meal plan and write out all ingredients needed not currently in your cabinet. Need more than just a few items for that ambitious meal you’ve never made before? Is a particularly expensive cut of meat called for but no special occasion to celebrate? You might want to save that dish for later.

Be sure to include any snack items or the ingredients needed for snacks you plan to make yourself in the list. This is one area I need to improve on. I probably spend enough money on snack items a month that if I buckled down I could afford that food dehydrator I’ve been eying after just a few months.

You can even save yourself some time by buying double what you need for one meal and prepping two batches at once. Take that turkey meatloaf for example; from time to time when I bake this tried and true recipe at our house I mix up a double batch and freeze one for later. It takes the guesswork out of things on a more hectic day the following week. Just thaw the day before and put in the oven when you need to set the timer and forget it while you tackle something else on your to-do list.

One last thing on that list – it will take some practice, but organize your list in order of how you plan to move around the store. For example, I shop at Aldi, so I start my list with produce, then snacks, fresh meats, deli, dressings, canned goods, cereal, pasta, spices, and tortillas, dairy, eggs, then frozen foods. It saves a lot of time knowing I can get in, get what’s on my list, and get out without doubling back multiple times to the same aisle.

3. Save More Dough by Cooking from Scratch

Save your dough by rolling your own! I make my own bread and love it. The kids are a harder sell on fresh homemade bread; in fact, they both prefer store-bought. Hence the different school lunches I pack my daughter. See my article on 25 Frugal and Dairy-Free School Lunch Ideas or my Instagram story highlight on School Lunches to see what I feed her instead.

I do however bake bread for my husband’s lunches at work and occasionally enjoy an open-faced breakfast sandwich on one myself. The bread I bake every week can be found in my recipes!

I also save a few bucks here and there making all my sauces from scratch. The pizza sauce I make is really easy and can be found in my recipes as well.

4. Shop the Perimeter of the Store

I’m sure you’ve heard this one before. That’s because it works! Stay out of the seasonal and prepackaged food aisles! Avoid the convenience food section, the candy aisle, insert your weakness here aisle. I myself can be a sucker for the seasonal aisle at Aldi because heaven forbid that item I don’t even need isn’t there next time!

It will save you more dough and more time if you just stick to the list and don’t even go down the aisles that have nothing on your list. I repeat – just stay away from an aisle if its contents are not on your list. And put your blinders on when you’re in line at the register! Those items are there for a reason. So much psychology goes into the placement of items at stores. Be aware of this and pay attention so you don’t fall for their efforts to put more in your cart right before you check out.

5. Time Your Grocery Trips Right

If your favorite grocery store has a deal day (when they set out the weekly deals) go then. If your grocery store has a double coupon day for sure do your shopping then if you have any coupons for items you already plan to buy. Please don’t use a coupon for an item you wouldn’t buy otherwise; that’s not saving any money.

If you’re not worried about timing the sales then save money by timing your trip on a day you are out anyway; for example, my son’s therapy clinic (just graduated physical and is now in speech) is right behind our closest Aldi. Right now he has speech on Wednesdays and Fridays so we go grocery shopping on Wednesdays. Some weeks we’ll stretch it out and go on Friday if we have eaten with family more than planned or just want to wait till payday.

We plan our trips to avoid unplanned purchases and save gas. It really does add up; I’ve been more mindful of what time and how often I go grocery shopping this last month and I go two to three days longer per tank of gas between fill-ups!

Bonus Tip – Scan Those Receipts to Save More Dough With Cash Back Apps!

Who doesn’t love free money? That’s what apps such as Ibotta and Fetch Rewards give you! Browse the Ibotta app for cashback on items you already plan to buy and then redeem those points. There are any brand deals on certain items (say chocolate milk for instance) and any item deals that offer 10-50 cents back on literally anything. Just scan the receipt and cash out once you have earned enough rewards. Need a referral code to get started? Click here to get started with Ibotta and enter referral code itxrhcs. For Fetch Rewards download the app through Google Play or the Apple App Store and use referral code 8H9Y1.

For the full list of referral codes and links to cashback and survey apps that I use as well as hosting information check out my Recommendations page.

What are your tried and true ways to save more dough at the grocery store? Let me know! And be sure to follow a Life on a Dime on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook to see more of mine!

25 Frugal and Dairy-Free School Lunch Ideas

frugal and dairy free

I’m Not That Mom…

I love all those fancy photos of elaborate school lunches lovingly packed by moms and nannies and posted to Instagram accounts dedicated entirely to said lunches. They’re so fun. And not particulary frugal and dairy-free. They’re also so not me. The ones I think I could pull off rather easily (a caterpillar with veggies and grape tomatoes is an adorable idea!) my child probably wouldn’t eat. And that is okay. To each mom her own.

While I may dream of being that mom who packs inventive and unique meals on the daily in reality I am the mom throwing something together at 7 am frantically while my daughter asks why she only gets four things. Don’t I know that’s not enough?Guess what? I’ve been to school at lunch and while the cafeteria does serve more the kids aren’t eating most of the food. I pack what I am convinced she will eat. 

I’m also the mom who gets sidetracked while fixing said four things because her little brother had a poopsplosion at an inopportune time. That usually gets a laugh from the school secretary when you check your child in late. Been there, twice actually. But that’s a story for a different type of blog post!

Over the summer I decided to save money in the budget and be nicer to the planet by eliminating most one-time use products in our house. I stopped buying paper towels, paper napkins, paper plates… the logical next step is using fewer plastic baggies. Yes, I said fewer. I tapering off slowly. My wallet and my lifelong habits need a little easing into some things.

I made a list of some frugal and dairy-free lunches I plan to pack for my lactose intolerant child this school year. This is five weeks’ worth of lunch ideas to try!

Frugal and Dairy Free – the List

  1. Pretzels, hummus, and turkey pepperoni with a fruit
  2. Pinwheels and banana
  3. Mixed veggies and veggie dip on toast with rolled lunch meat on the side
  4. Cookie-cutter almond butter and jelly sandwiches with berries
  5. Birds in a blanket (sliced turkey dog in a crescent roll)
  6. Turkey pepperoni, tortilla strips, and pizza sauce
  7. Hard-boiled eggs, baby carrots, and a home-baked cookie
  8. Chicken quesadilla cut into strips
  9. Pasta salad
  10. Sweet potato fries and a slider
  11. Flatbread with pesto, bruschetta, or other topping and cherry tomatoes
  12. Mini bagel sandwich and baked chips
  13. Rolled lunch meat, crackers, baby carrots, and veggie dip or hummus
  14. Ham muffins and apple slices
  15. Sandwiches on a stick (for older kids – cube sandwich and slide onto kabob sticks)
  16. Chips and salsa or guacamole and grilled chicken
  17. Chicken nuggets with dipping sauce and baby carrots
  18. Chicken salad and toast
  19. Waffles and fruit
  20. Apple and almond butter “stacked” sandwiches
  21. Turkey dog and baked chips
  22. Wrap with fresh fruit and sliced bell pepper
  23. Salad with grilled chicken and berries
  24. Fruit salad and sliced turkey dog
  25. Taco bowls – scoop tortilla chips with leftover taco meat and a few toppings in each with sliced bell pepper

A few hacks I’ve learned to be frugal and dairy-free

Although I find the vegan ranch to be a poor substitute for the original, my daughter likes it. For simplicity’s sake, I will probably use it for a veggie dip. Hummus makes a great addition to sandwiches and wraps. Plain popcorn is also a great filler in lunches. It’s been a bit of a sanity saver at our house this summer. It’s worth noting I also buy all-natural uncured meats where possible.

If it’s inexpensive, dairy-free, and my kid won’t eat it there is nothing frugal about food that ends up in the trash can at the end of lunch. And nothing fun for a teacher dealing with a kid all afternoon after she hasn’t eaten much for lunch. Can we say hangry? We get hangry in this family. Easily.

I’d rather compromise on some things I know she’ll eat that won’t upset her tummy than waste money and food trying to get her to change her eating habits. They don’t do afternoon snacks past kindergarten. Plan accordingly.

My daughter doesn’t actually eat sliced bell pepper – yet. I may or may not sneak some in there. It can be a challenge being frugal and dairy-free since meat and cheese seem like lunch staples, but I’m going to try to be a little more creative this year than I was in Kindergarten.

This year to avoid taking up space in her bag with an ice pack to keep certain foods cool I plan to keep frozen berries in the fridge overnight and let them finish thawing in her bag. This way they keep the rest of her food cool enough as well. I know frozen applesauce pouches work well, but she can’t eat it. If we weren’t dairy-free I would probably also use frozen yogurt pouches.

What are Your Frugal Lunch Ideas?

How do you manage to stay frugal and be creative with your kids’ school lunches? I’d love to hear your tips and tricks!

Healthy on a Budget is Possible and Here’s How

Yes, you CAN eat healthy on a budget! Very healthy!

Put down that boxed meal and hear me out…

This post is coming to you per the suggestion of a follower. Not following along yet? Just click add your email address and click the pink box to the right of the large image at the top of the post. If you have suggestions or questions about future content click here to contact me.

I know it can be hard to get a meal, any meal, on the table in a decent amount of time when you work full-time, have kids to haul to various activities. Heck, it’s hard if you’re home with the kids all day. Any of the above scenarios can make you want to give up and dial take-out. In fact, according to the USDA Americans spend more money eating food away from home than they do on groceries. And we have for almost a decade! You may be tempted to just open up a box and cook up a meal in 30 minutes or less. Been there, done that, gained the weight…

Wanna know a secret?

You can make a healthy meal from scratch in one dish in under 30 minutes as well. It doesn’t always require meal prep in advance either. Still with me? Good. Cooking at home can be healthier, less expensive, and have a ripple effect across your lifestyle and budget!

Instead of pulling up to the drive-thru on the way home prepare a simple, healthy meal (like the sheet pan chicken posted on my Recipes page) with a side salad and homemade dressing. The dressing is easy; pour a little olive oil in a jar, add minced garlic and other spices to taste, put the lid on, and shake. Voila! Salad dressing without preservatives! Maybe cut up a cantaloupe (under $2 in season here in Northwest Arkansas) or other fresh fruit for dessert.

After dinner, you probably feel pretty good (instead of bloated and icky from your fast food meal that sat who knows how long under a warming light) so you gather up the kids, or the dog, your spouse, and take a walk or play together outside as a family.

Not only did you eat well, but you also got some healthy movement in too without really even thinking about it. Over time this can result in a smaller waistline, fewer medications/doctor visits (even just a reduction in indigestion would be nice, right?), and money typically spent dealing with those issues can now go to beef up your Emergency fund or pay down debt.

Examples of healthy meals that can be made inexpensively are included on my Meal Plan on a Dime page. Eating healthy on a budget is so much easier if you make a meal plan before you go grocery shopping. This helps ensure only what you need goes on the list and saves you the headache of wandering the aisles hoping for some dinner inspiration before settling on the frozen food aisle.

Dinner doesn’t have to be complicated; you need a protein, a few vegetables, and if you choose a (preferably) whole grain. One handy trick I like to use is to make sure to eat the rainbow; the food on your plate should be really colorful, not monotone. This will help you make sure you are getting a better variety in your diet. I am no nutritionist, but it’s a good rule of thumb.

Don’t have a lot of time to cook or just don’t like to cook? Batch cook! You can easily double a recipe and freeze one batch to heat up for an effortless meal on a day you’re not feeling the motivation or won’t have time to prep a meal. I love batch cooking a turkey meatloaf or in the winter chicken pot pie filling. It makes the second time around a breeze! Either place the frozen batch in the fridge the day before or allow more time in the oven.

Batch cooking can also come in really handy if you are fixing a meal for friends or family. Just double the recipe and you won’t be left wondering what you’ll be eating for dinner when you get back from delivering the gifted meal.

Portion control is also a lot easier at home than in a restaurant. This is both healthier and good for the budget. We eat pasta two to three times a month, which is very economical and filling. Pasta dishes at restaurants tend to be much larger than a typical, healthy portion. It is much easier to control how much you eat when you control the plate size!

Stretching your meat out is both good for your bottom dollar and your waistline; when cooking pasta dishes opt for a meat sauce or make it a casserole and use less than you typically would by cooking up meatballs or individual chicken breasts or tenderloins to serve on the plate next to the pasta.

Sheet pan meals are an excellent way to stretch your meat as well; simply chop up several veggies and add chopped meat to the mixture. Clean up is a breeze when everything is cooked together as well!

Take a dish you typically order out and hack it to make it cheaper, easier, and healthier to prepare and eat at home! This can be a great way to get your “treat” meals in without breaking the bank going out to eat when the urge to eat it hits. If the ingredients are simple enough keep them on hand so you can make them without making an extra trip to the store. Incorporate them into your regular meal plan.

It helps a lot to have ten to fifteen tried and true recipes you know you can pull off easily, are health conscious and don’t have expensive, hard to find ingredients. Once you have a good set of recipes to fall back on meal planning and list making gets easier and less stressful. Free recipe apps and food blogs can help a lot for inspiration and cook times. Eventually, you will find yourself coming up with your own favorites and new combinations.

What are you waiting for? Get cooking! Can’t figure out how to hack a recipe to make it healthier? Reduce the sugar and/or salt. Reduce the portion size. These are always good places to start.

Would you like to see healthy, budget-friendly recipes/meal plans in your inbox on a regular basis? Let me know! If enough people are interested we will make it happen!

Birthday Party Budget Breakdown

As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.

How’d we do?

I previously posted how we planned to host the kids’ birthday party on a $150 budget including food and kids’ gifts. You can click here to read that if you missed it. Here is the budget breakdown:

budget breakdown

We spent $69 for martial arts lessons for our daughter and she is loving the classes! Our little white belt just earned her first stripe this week for learning her first basic form!

We also spent a total of $54.93 on the previously mentioned sit on tractor and T-ball set from Amazon.

I also spent $12.92 at Target on a felt tool set for my son and favor bags (which I forgot to fill, so they’re ready for next year!). That made a total of $136.85 of the $150 budget.

But what about the food?

budget breakdown
Pickup portion of food

Where is the food in the budget breakdown you ask? We didn’t have to use the budget for the party food! My husband helped a coworker after work one day and was given $40 in return. I used that unexpected money and paid for burger patties, turkey dogs, buns, cake mix, frosting, a fruit bowl, condiments, lettuce, and tomatoes with cash!

So for the budget breakdown purposes, we were able to use $13.15 elsewhere in our monthly budget. Like the newbie I am at this blogging thing I forgot to take pictures of the spread before everyone dug in!

Shop JoJo Siwa bows

Not too shabby! Would you call that under or over? Technically I think it could go either way since we did spend money, but it wasn’t all from the budget. Let me know what you think!

Shop girls leggings

Have you hosted any parties lately? How did you do on your budget? Let me know in the comments! I’d love to hear how you entertain your loved ones on a dime!

budget breakdown
Play Ball!