Easy Meal Planning Ideas & Solutions for Everyone!

Food, Meal Planning Tips, Video

Tired of your food budget breaking the bank? Save more cheddar (literally) with these meal planning ideas and solutions to help you make the most of your time in the kitchen, no matter who you're cooking for!

Woman cutting veggies on a cutting board, from Fun Cheap or Free

If you know me, then you know I have a love-hate relationship with cooking. There are times when it's definitely more hate than love though.


Whether you love to cook or not, feeding your family is either one of the easiest ways to:

  1. Spend your family into oblivion, or
  2. Save your family thousands throughout the years.

We all know grocery shopping and cooking can make or break the bank! Before we got out of debt, meal planning just wasn't in my vocabulary. We were spending WAAAAY too much money on food. I would grocery shop several times per week, buying whatever I felt like we wanted or needed for dinner that day. I felt like I was “food-poor” but never had anything to eat in our house! (Does that ever happen to you?) Not to mention, tons of food would go bad in my fridge because I would forget I had it.

*Note: When you click the links in this post, we may receive a commission at no extra cost to you.

I have nailed down some super simple tips and tricks when it comes to meal planning in my own home (check out how I meal plan, the easy and affordable way), and thought I'd share them with you in case it helps solve some of YOUR dinner budget dilemmas, too!

Here's a TV segment I did waaaaay back when I was about to have my 3rd kid in 3 years for Studio 5 highlighting my favorite dinner budget dilemma meal planning ideas and solutions.

Watch the video below:

Pretty simple, right?! Let's go over these dilemmas and solutions in a little bit more detail! I'll also show you where to find our updated, shiny, new printables that were mentioned in the video!


Hand writing meal plan on white board, from Fun Cheap or Free

We're breaking down all the dilemmas that people have every day that keep them from meal planning and making home-cooked meals at home!

Let's start with a problem that everyone faces! Tracking what food you DO have and can use to make delicious meals. Sounds simple right? Well, there's a simple solution. I've started using several super easy ways to keep track of food, and plan meals.

Check this out! Grab a cheap magnetic board and stick to your fridge or put it somewhere visible in your kitchen. Make sure there is always a pen attached and plan your meals each week. It will save you BIG!! Literally hundreds of dollars. No joke.

You don't even have to come up with a meal every day! It's always a good idea to make at least one day a leftover day. (They're really quite good as long as you know how to reheat or repurpose your leftovers!) Just make sure you write it down to cut down on those 5 pm scrambles where you end up ordering pizza instead… Don't let the pizza chain suck up all your money!


Don't forget to think through the stuff that's in your fridge, freezer, and pantry as you're planning meals! This will help you use up what you already have and never let anything go to waste. Learn how to inventory your kitchen and never look back!

No matter what your family situation is like, start taking an inventory. It's one of the first meal planning ideas to get you on the right track to success. It's also one of the simplest things I do that saves our family tons of money.

Alright! What other dinner budget dilemmas can we solve?


Young woman making a salad, from Fun Cheap or Free

I have no time to cook between working and social life, so I tend to eat out/buy food on the go, which really adds up.

You're right! That can be very expensive! No worries, I have some solutions for you.


It really is possible to cook for one and make life about more than just Hot Pockets and convenience meals from the store! Between appliances, scaling meals back, freezing leftovers, cooking with friends, and your other options, you can actually lower your grocery budget and spend less time in the kitchen while still eating home-cooked meals! Get even more meal planning ideas for one at Shelf Cooking.


Toss chicken breasts into the crockpot and dump your favorite BBQ sauce over it (no need to measure!). Cook eight hours on low. Then shred and eat on buns or eat whole with rice or veggies. Enjoy Crockpot BBQ chicken in 30 seconds! Other ideas that are easy to make and freeze well: crockpot baked potatoescrockpot salsa chicken, and taco soup.


Family having dinner together, from Fun Cheap or Free

“By the end of the day I'm so exhausted and my young kids are so cranky, I just don't have the energy to cook, or I look at the clock and it's already 5 pm and we need dinner ASAP. So we go for expensive frozen meals or order pizza.”

Talk about pricey! Don't worry, though, I've got you covered!


Get your kids involved with helping if they're old enough! Have at-home cooking classes and teach them those invaluable life skills they need to have before they move out. Prepare as much as you can ahead of time so once dinnertime rolls around, all you have to do is get to cooking! For even more great ideas, check out our post dedicated to meal planning ideas for kids.


Anything that can be baked in a 9×13 pan (casseroles, lasagna, baked pasta, chicken and rice, etc.) is perfect. This usually means it can be prepped as early as the night before, and 9×13 pans are easy to freeze. Either thaw in the fridge the day before you need it, or pop in the oven still frozen and add additional baking time (usually half of the original time) when you need a quick meal.


Family with teenagers eating dinner, from Fun Cheap or Free

“These teenagers eat me out of house and home! My meal budget has tripled, especially when they invite their friends over!”

Holy cow, this one is no joke! Luckily, I have some tricks up my sleeve to help you out!


Stick to “filler” meals that serve lots of people. For example, rather than serving everyone a single chicken breast for dinner, chop up chicken breasts and make a stir fry filled with veggies and rice. It will stretch your meat farther, which tends to be the most expensive part of a meal. For even more ideas, including a list of food that'll fill them up, check out our post on meal planning for teens on the cheap.


You can't go wrong with casseroles, pasta, and anything with rice or potatoes! You can also serve your favorite homemade bread recipe or roll recipe to give them something tasty to fill up on.


Empty nesters eating dinner, from Fun Cheap or Free

“Now that I'm cooking for just two again, I find myself wasting so much food because we just can't seem to eat it all! We get sick of eating the same leftovers day after day and end up throwing it away. I'm still in the habit of cooking for a big family!”

This is a hard habit to break! But don't worry, you'll get the hang of it soon enough!


Did you know you can easily change the serving size of a recipe on Allrecipes.com? It makes it so easy for you to make a smaller meal and you won't have to worry about having leftovers! There are also a ton of meals (like meatloaf and mashed potatoes) that freeze really well and you can portion them out into individual freezer containers for easy meals. For even more fantastic ideas, don't miss our post on meal planning for two!


Learn how to shelf cook like a pro and repurpose your food into new meals. For example:

  • On Monday night, make Rotisserie chicken and potatoes.
  • On Tuesday night, use the same chicken, but serve it over rice and pour a creamy sauce over it.
  • On Wednesday, use the same rotisserie leftovers, but chop it up and make chicken enchiladas, and add taco seasoning to the rice to make Mexican rice.

Everyone can use all of these tips at ANY stage of life, but hopefully, this helps solve some of your sticky dinner budget dilemmas.


Here are some great printables from our ShelfCooking.com site to help!

*Note: These are brand new, updated printables (not the same ones from the 2013 video).

Remember, being smart about how you grocery shop and cooking homemade meals (check out ShelfCooking.com for recipe inspiration and more) is one of the simplest ways to SAVE a ton of money. The decision is yours, so do the right thing and be wise with your meals!

Alright, well there you have it! All my best meal planning ideas and solutions for your dinner budget dilemmas! What are your favorite ways to stick it to the man and crush dinner? Share them with us in the comments below!

Image with text that reads "meal planning ideas and solutions for everyone" from Fun Cheap or Free

Have you checked out ShelfCooking.com yet? Our site is dedicated to helping you cook delicious, homemade, down-home-cooked meals for your family without spending too much time in the kitchen!

Basically every parent's dream, right? Join our Shelf Cooking Community today!

Looking for even more great ideas?

Good luck! 🙂

Jordan Page Signature from Fun Cheap or Free


  1. Mommyx3

    I'm having a problem downloading the free pintables. It's says it's an error in google docs. Can you check your end? I'm anxious to use them. Thanks for the great tips.

  2. LizR

    Oh! These are awesome! I already follow a lot of your ideas, but these printables are just fantastic. We are big crockpot users because there are times when I can't be home for dinner and my husband is in charge of that meal. Again, thanks so much for your printables and advice!

  3. raerob2

    This is great! I love the pintables (esp. the freezer invenory…I'm constantly losing food in the back…lol)!

  4. Christa

    Thanks for the printables! I like to take a few weekends a year and make a ton of crock pot meals that I can freeze and later use. This makes it difficult budget wise, because you're buying a ton of food for use through different months, but maybe it can be built in during a shorter month. If I have a crock pot meal that has a shorter cooking time, or I know my day will be longer than my meals needs to cook, then I plug my crock pot into a timer (they sell them really cheap at Christmas for your lights). I set my crock pot to low and then just program that timer for when I want it to come on and shut off!

  5. funcheaporfree

    Great ideas!

  6. Roni

    What an awesome sight!! Thanks SOOOOO much for sharing your great ideas!

  7. Jennifer

    I work all day and have a 4 year old. She is starving as soon as I pick her up, and has a hard time waiting for dinner. I give her veggies or fruit to snack on while I prepare dinner. She’s happy and I’m getting good nutrients into her before she fills up on bread or pasta. Sometimes I’ll even cook dinner the night before, and all I have to do is heat it up.

    • FunCheapOrFree

      Super mom! How do you do it all?! Thanks for sharing your tips!

  8. Cicily PinkDalmatians

    I love your printables and I’m finally using them. Thanks so much! I’m posting about them on my blog and sharing a link back. Thanks!

    • FunCheapOrFree

      Great, thanks for sharing!

  9. Rebecca

    I liked your video! And the meal planning sheet. Thanks for sharing!

  10. Sarah

    These are great! Just what I need! One question, what are the circles used for on the pantry inventory sheet?


  11. Chance Zander

    These are cute and so simple, thanks for the idea!

  12. Krystal

    Thanks for the printables!

  13. Angelina Mike

    I always thought meal planning would be a hassle. This article saved me.

    • Fun Cheap or Free

      Yay! That’s what we love to hear. Thank you for sharing



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