Meal Plan 101: Recipes


Recipes Are The Heart Of Your Meal Plan

Whether written or memorized, having the right recipes on hand will make or break your food budget.

I learned a very valuable lesson when our income decreased by half...

If we want to spend less money on food then we're going to have to give up some things we love to eat in favor of things that are cheaper to eat.

This was a hard one y'all!!

My hubby makes a mean steak. I mean, stuff yourself to misery because you just can't stop eating it good. I want those steaks daily and I don't even like steak.  But our budget doesn't allow us to eat those steaks daily. In fact, we eat them maybe 2-3 times per year.

I also love crab legs, london broil, bacon and beef ribs. But I rarely (if ever) buy any of those things. As a general rule, I won't spend more than $2.00/lb for any meat....ever. I don't care how good it is. I didn't always follow this rule, however.

It was pretty difficult at first, but I had to change how I thought about food.

Fancy displays in the grocery stores, commercials, billboards, friends, family, etc. had convinced me that eating was an experience to be enjoyed, savored and even indulged in.

What a crock.

Eating is a necessity, not an experience or an indulgence.  It can be those things, sure, but not at the expense of our budget.

  • We must eat, or we will die.
  • We must eat foods that provide the vitamins and nutrients we need, or we might die.
  • It should at least be somewhat tasty, or we might gag and not eat it, then we might die.
  • But super tasty, fancy, nicely plated, smack your lips and happy dance entrees fit for Food Network...that is not a necessity.

What IS necessary to us is paying off our debt and giving to those who need. The less I spend on food, the more I have available to do those things.

Finding Recipes

I used to have a 3-inch binder that was stuffed with recipes (yep, I'm a paper and pen gal). The problem was, they were recipes that would cost upwards of $10-$15 per meal to make. That meant $70-$105 per week just on dinner. That wasn't gonna cut it.

I had to go search for recipes that were less expensive to make...or buy a bunch of cheap processed stuff. Ick!

That was when I discovered Erin Chase. I found her cookbook "The $5 Dinner Mom Cookbook" at the library.


I had no idea that we could eat really good meals for $5 or less. Like whole meals….sides and everything. This woman was a genius! I still use her recipes to this day.

My other favorite places to look for recipes are:

I tend to skip right over the things that call for ingredients that I know are too expensive, or that have more steps than the Empire State Building. I don't have the time or budget for those. When I find a recipe that I think looks worthy of trying I will print it out, or copy it onto a printed recipe page, and put in my meal planning binder.

Side Note: When looking for new recipes remember to think about what can be substituted to make it less expensive. Have a soup or stew that calls for 1lb. of ground beef, but ground beef costs $3/lb.? Substitute ground turkey at $1.89/lb.!

Meal Planning / Recipe Binder

My binder is pretty simple. There are four sections:

  1. Right in the front is the section where I keep the current week’s meal plan along with all of the printed recipes that I’ll need for that week.
  2. Next is a section for a few blank printed meal plan sheets as well as regular notebook paper, which I use to make my grocery list and prep day plans.
  3. The next section houses past meal plans. I can’t recall having used them for anything, but I keep them anyway. Maybe I’ll share them here in the coming weeks!
  4. The last 2 sections are the largest sections because they hold all of the recipes. I have both sections broken down into breakfast, lunch, dinner, desserts, and snacks categories. The first section is for recipes we love, and the second section is for recipes we want to try.

You don’t have to keep a meal planning binder. Maybe an online collection of recipes would work better for you, or even a spreadsheet. You know best how your mind works.


What to do, what to do!

Now that you have all of these fabulous recipes that you’ve gathered, how on earth do you organize them into a meal plan that won’t break the budget?

I have an amazing tool. In fact, it’s the most important piece of my meal planning arsenal! It makes meal planning an absolute BREEZE!


You’ll have to wait until tomorrow to find out what it is!

In the meantime, please subscribe to the newsletter! You'll never miss a thing that's posted in The Nerddom!

Do you have a favorite cookbook or website that you get your recipes from?

I'd love to know what it is!

Please tell us in the comments!


Don't miss all of the post from the Meal Plan 101 Series:
Part 1 - How a Meal Plan Saved Us Thousands
Part 2 - Recipes
Part 3 - The Master List
Part 4 - The Meal Planner
Part 5 - The Grocery List

Posted in Family Life, Meal Planning and tagged , , .


  1. I am loving old low country cookbooks right now. They are, by nature, simple meals. Most of them aren’t written by fancy women, but by home cooks who also have to follow a budget. I am loving them!!!! I made a cabbage tonight with a 15 bean soup that was mind blowing and both recipes came from one of those cookbooks. The whole meal wasn’t more than 7 dollars and we have enough left for lunch!! My kids raved over the cabbage. That has never happened.

    • I don’t know that I’ve ever tried any low country recipes. If I did, I didn’t know what it was! I’ve always wondered how to make a low country boil and what it would taste like, but so far I haven’t tried it. Sounds like you found a keeper recipe with the cabbage!

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