4 Cheap Healthy Meal Plans for Families

Let’s face it; cooking is a part of our lives — every single day of our lives, forever.  Consequently, we often get bored with planning healthy meals for our families.  So here are 4 healthy and cheap #meal plans for families to make your life just a little easier!One of the most common reasons I get online, besides Facebook and Pinterest, is to look up recipes and meal plans.

Let’s face it; cooking is a part of our lives — every single day of our lives, forever.

Consequently, we often get bored with planning healthy meals for our families.

I get so bored with it, I frequently tell my kids, “When it’s just me and Dad, I will spend Saturdays making a big salad, grilling a few chicken breasts, and making rolls. We will live off that all week.”

The kids think I’m nuts. They have no idea.

Sometimes, it’s not the boredom, it’s the finances. Every single visit to the grocery store, women discover the price of something has gone up. Good cuts of meat just aren’t in the budget right now and we can’t figure out how to get the protein right.

We want to spend more on fresh fruits and vegetables but when we serve them, they don’t stick to the ribs like other, less-expensive choices; so we need some help in balancing it all out.

How Meal Plans Don’t Have to Be Complicated

Relax. It doesn’t have to be that complicated. Services exist to help you — but beware. Before signing up for a menu-planning service, make sure their food philosophy lines up with yours. You don’t want them sending you meat dishes if you are vegetarian. Nor do you want the recipe for biscuits to include two cups of Bisquick® when you prefer to cook from scratch.

Facing a summer of gardening and canning, and some heavy writing deadlines, I needed help. Since a hired hand was not in the budget, I subscribed to a menu-planning service (for a fee). This service promised the menus would be within my budget (they boasted $50/person/month) and the recipes would be from scratch with healthy ingredients. However, this non-foodie was stuck in the kitchen for several weeks trying to prepare things like “Strawberry Cheesecake Crepes” and “Spinach Alfredo Tortilla Bake” when my family was previously content with toast and eggs or grilled cheese sandwiches.

Meal Planning Resources

In light of this recent experience, I’d like to share a few menu-planning services with you. But I’d also like to share how I do it, too.

1. 5 Dollar Meal Plan

5 Dollar Meal Plan provides an email meal plan, menu, and shopping list each week. The menu includes:

  • Five dinner entrees with sides – Each week they’ll include one freezer-friendly, one slow cooker, and one 20-minute.
  • They also include one lunch and one breakfast, and a random goodie each week – sometimes a dessert, sometimes a beverage, and sometimes a snack.

They only charge $5 a month and they also have a free trial as well. Find out more here.

2. Food on the Table

FoodontheTable.com takes the sale ads from the grocery stores you shop at and recipes you choose, to make a menu and grocery list designed for your family. It really is a clever system for those that plan their meals around the sales fliers.

3. 100 Days of Real Food

If you’d rather cook from scratch and eat “real food,” you might want to check out 100DaysofRealFood.com. You do not have to do anything but “like” their Facebook page to download four already-prepared menus and corresponding grocery lists/price guides. This service boasts that the menus can be made within the government’s food stamp budget for a family of four.

4. Eating Well Menu Planner

The Eating Well Menu Planner is offered by Eating Well Magazine. Using it, you choose recipes from their website, drop them into the queue, and it gives you the plan, a grocery list, and also keeps track of your weight goals for you.

“An integrated tool calculates your Body Mass Index (BMI) based on your height and weight and tells you how many calories you need to manage your weight.” Of course, the planner keeps “track of your daily totals for calories, fat, carbohydrates and sodium” and lets you know if you “go over the recommended number of calories per day.”

5. Menu Planning Made Simple

Check out Menu Planning Made Simple. This is my plan, folks. To begin with, you need to sit down and brainstorm all the meals that your family already eats and enjoys on a regular basis. Don’t hold out, put it all down.

Once you have your list, divide it into seven different categories. My categories are pizza, crock pot, pasta, sandwiches, rice, potatoes, and leftovers. I might change them with the seasons, but this gives you an idea. Then I list each of my family’s favorites in the appropriate category. Each category is assigned a day of the week so that we eat a crock pot meal on Sunday, sandwiches on Wednesday, and pizza on Friday. Our breakfast choices are limited to toast and eggs, homemade granola, or grits with cheese. Lunch – soup and bread or sandwiches.

This method works for me, even in the busy summertime, because it uses what I have on hand and what we already enjoy eating. It works so well, I went into more depth about it, and included worksheets for it, in my book Homestead Cooking with Carol: Bountiful Make-ahead Meals. The key is to do what works for your family and keeps within your budget. If you want to come up with your own plan, but would like an attractive form to print it out on, do an image web search for “menu planner” and you will get a ton of cool printables to post on your refrigerator.

What do you use to help plan your family’s healthy meals? I’d love to collect more ideas in the comments!

Let’s face it; cooking is a part of our lives — every single day of our lives, forever.  Consequently, we often get bored with planning healthy meals for our families.  So here are 4 healthy and cheap #meal plans for families to make your life just a little easier!


  1. I recently signed up for Food on the Table but haven’t used it much yet. I usually plan for a certain amount of meals and leftovers per week, and am always open to new recipes and ideas. Like you, I need them to be affordable and user friendly. Good post, thanks for the info and links!

  2. My wife is always on the search for new recipes to try, but we have a general rotation of 15-20 gluten free and mostly-dairy free meals that nearly everyone in our family of seven enjoys. We don’t have a hard and fast rule re: meal rotation. Some things we really enjoy and have every week. Others we have only when someone requests them (and also volunteers to help prepare it). We have a number of meatless meals which we favor more in the winter. During the summer, we eat a lot more meat and cook it on the barbecue grill.

    • Thanks for sharing, Rich. I know it’s more difficult when you have special dietary needs. My oldest had a legume allergy (that means no soy) which prompted me to do even more label checking and cooking from scratch…20+ years ago. I still think the best plan is what your family already enjoys.

  3. Great resources. I haven’t used any of them – I really don’t cook that much. then again, I don’t have kids yet so it’s not super important yet. Sometimes, my boyfriend and I will cook together and we just try to be healthy but we always forget things at the store.

  4. My husband wrote a software program about 12 years ago that we have been using ever since. I drag & drop recipes from our list into a schedule and the program spits out a grocery list that I import to my smart phone and a printed meal schedule for the fridge. I sometimes reuse old schedules and just repeat and other times I make new ones based on what we feel like having that particular week. Saves time & money because we buy only what we’re going to use and use what we have in the fridge.

    • That sounds cool, Leanne. Do you market that anywhere?

      • Unfortunately, no. We looked into it a while ago and the commercial license for the platform that he used was prohibitively expensive. If he were to re-write it now, there would be other less expensive options available, but time is always so short in our household that this task never makes it to the top of the priority list.

  5. Hi Carol. Thanks for your post. What would you recommend for someone trying to cook at the week’s meals on the weekend. The trouble I have had is that it takes up 3 to 4 hours on a Sunday.

    The trade off is that I eat healthy and save money. That’s great! But it’s difficult to sustain over time. I wish I had another pair of hands (don’t we all ;).

  6. Great question, JP. If you consider that it could take an hour each evening to cook supper, than spending only 3-4 hours in one shot is pretty good. Like I said in the post, I’d live on salad, chicken breast and bread. But if you have a heartier appetite, I recommend doubling or tripling your recipes and freezing them. I rarely make just enough for supper. For one thing, we need leftovers for lunch. Then, if you’re making one lasagne, it’s just as easy to make three. So two go into the freezer. You might also want to check out the once-a-month cooking method (sorry I don’t have a link off the top of my head). When younger I would do this. Spend an entire day and freeze 30 meals. Of course, when I was done, I was so exhausted I’d order out pizza. HA!

  7. Cooking extra food is almost mandatory for dieters don’t always have the time to cook. I like making a nice big pot of healthy turkey-chili. Only takes a few minutes to reheat in the microwave and it lasts for days.

  8. That’s very healthy and delicious indeed! Thanks for sharing this wonderful post.

  9. I found ‘how does she do it’ by search. It’s a site where you can search for recipes, or add your own, then create a printable weekly meal plan AND printable shopping list! (Yay!)
    Very easy to organise into catagories of each person’s favourite meals, or easy dinners, kids lunch box ides, etc.

  10. Veronica

    “One of the most common reasons women get online, besides Facebook and Pinterest, is to look up recipes and meal plans.”

    Sorry, did I miss something? Don’t men cook? Surely women “go online” for more than Facebook, Pinterest and recipes!

  11. Tamela

    FoodontheTable.com is not free! :(

  12. Oh man!! Foodonthetable.com isn’t free!!!

  13. Just FYI – Food on the Table is NOT free anymore! I was excited to try it until I clicked the link and realized they wanted me to sign up for a 3, 6 or 12 month subscription. Bummer. :(

  14. Kathy from CT

    When my kids were growing up and involved in sports year round, both my husband and I worked full time. Because meal planning fell entirely on me and I am a process-type person, I created a 4-week calendar of 28 different meals that we used for quite a long time. I cooked big roast meals on both Saturday and Sunday, with enough for another meal later in the week. Monday I a,ways cooked something with chicken breasts, Tuesday was leftovers from Saturday, Wednesday was something with chopped meat or on the grill, Thursday was leftovers from Sunday, and Friday was my day “off” so we had either breakfast-type foods or pizza if we had a few extra bucks (rarely).

    I was able to take advantage of the sales and keep my food budget quite tight. Additionally, once I made up the calendar, it was one less thing for me to stress about. Many of my friends laughed at me, and now I see this approach is recommended by many others.

    Someone else took this to an even better level. She came up with 33 different crockpot meals that she does all the prep for, bags them uncooked, and freezes them. At night she takes the frozen, uncooked bag out to defrost in the fridge and plops it into the crockpot in the morning. Sheer genius! One of those “WHY didn’t I think of that?” moments.

    She so generously shared it via her blog and some other generous souls created a full shopping list for all 33 meals. Here is the link along with suggestions on how this can be gifted for others —> http://www.mommysfabulousfinds.com/2013/09/easy-crock-pot-freezer-meals.html

  15. What if you like vegetarian non gluten food?