I thought I would share how I manage our meals in our house. It’s not really that special or unique but I find it creates much less stress for shopping and cooking, and having a system almost guarantees lots of savings. Here’s my meal planning for hungry households.

My meal planning concept is really just a derivative of Sophie Gray’s method and a few other ideas I’ve had along the way. You’ll find for your household, neither Sophie’s or mines will be 100% right for you. So just use some of these ideas, and adapt to suit.

Meal Planning for Hungry Households

The planning binder

Meal Planning for Hungry Households-Binder

I have a planner diary, and it has blank pages divided with horizontal lines into seven days.

It’s a binder system, so I can pull out a double sided page, and file it away again when I’m finished. It also has a notes section, and in there I number the top of each page, and write in it any recipes I want to keep and refer back to.

As it’s a binder, it can also accommodate photocopied recipes from others, and it has a flap in the front where I store ripped out magazine recipes etc.

One of these double-sided pages provides a fortnight of meal planning.

I sit and write down fourteen meal ideas. Family members can each submit 1-2 meal choices (or you can just choose whatever suits you if you like). I like to store the past menu plans in the front of my binder as they provide easy inspiration when I’m struggling for meal ideas.

The reason I number the pages with my frequently-used recipes on them is so I can circle the page number beside the recipe for easy reference.

I like to always include a couple of very easy meals – things I know are already ready-to-go in the freezer (periodically I do a big batch of freezer meals – I may blog on that sometime!) or things I know are really quickly thrown together.

I also try to always include a few vegetarian meals. You could consider what’s growing in the garden, or currently in season, and base your meals around what will be ready that fortnight, so you reduce waste and cost.

6 Quick tips

1. Do a quick stocktake of your fridge, freezer and pantry, and try to use up any ingredients that should/could be used in your meal plan; especially any perishables that will be wasted otherwise.

2. Occasionally you might like to plan a takeaway meal or meal out. This just helps to reduce the pressure on the main cook, and takeouts once a fortnight are A-OK by me!

3. Every now and then I try to add in a few new recipes by looking at websites, cook books, or magazines. This keeps the recipe list refreshed and interesting.

4. I’m not fussed on what order of the 14 meals gets cooked on any one day. The flexibility of this system is important to me – I want what I feel like on that day, not just what’s written beside that day on a page. Keep it flexible, keep it fun!

5. It is useful to make note of the meals that use your perishables to ensure they get eaten before they go off, and aren’t wasted. Not throwing out food has to be the single easiest cost-saving area families can make!

6. I cross each meal off after it’s been made. Then I can see at a glance what the options are for the next day, make a new choice and defrost anything necessary.

Online shopping

This system works particularly well with online shopping.

To the right of your list of meals, you can jot down any ingredients you’ll need to buy to complete the meal.  Then you have the whole fortnight’s list of main meal ingredients that you can sit down and type into the online grocery shopping website.

You can see if any one meal won’t fit your budget, and can change it out if necessary. You can also save lists of your regular shops, which can make it easy to add in your breakfast and lunch ingredients. This is like My Food Bag on steroids!

Change up the frequency

14 days may be too much for you to cope with at once to begin with. I recommend starting out by planning week to week to get the hang of it.

Once you’ve got your system ticking over for 1-2 months, then try and push this out to a 2-week schedule. You’ll find that most food groups can store well for up to 2 weeks. And you’ll find you can shop a little more in bulk, and a little less often. This can easily shave off $50 a fortnight in bulk-buys and delivery fees.

I find it much easier to plan for 14 days now. I have a lot more variety to choose from, which is nice, and I only need to do my major shopping once a fortnight (I will often go to the fruit and vegetable store in between).

Additional savings tip

Periodically, when I have a build-up of food, I like to do something akin to the $21 Challenge. This is a good money saver if something unexpected comes up, and you’re on a tight budget. It’s also a great way to use up all those cans in the pantry that end up just gathering dust.

For more ideas on managing the household food budget see Eating well on a budget. Or check out lots of other food advice in our Grown ups: Nutrition section.

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Sally is the Community Manager here at Kiwi Families. She fills her time with her handsome, busy boys and her handsome, busy husband; trying out new recipes and researching and writing about family life in Aotearoa.

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And one other thing I realised I do differently is I write the recipes in my diary/planner but I do have a folder of recipes plus favourite recipe books- mostly Sophie grays destitute gourmet ones that I refer to a lot!

Jarrod Rendle

Great tip! — Kiwi Families


What a great system! You pretty much do what I do as I love not having to shop every week and I agree that bulk buys and delivery fees savings definitely works! It is a lot to start with so your advice to building up is super wise. Perhaps the only thing I differ on is I do actually plan for each night now. I did used to have a list but I’ve found as my family has grown actually planning the next made things easier for me. I used to love the flexibility of the list but now easiest… Read more »

Jarrod Rendle

Thanks for reading, and thanks for the great tip too. — Kiwi Families

Sally Mangai

Hi Rachel – those are some great ideas. I think getting family buy-in on the system you choose is such a useful thing. Although, certain people I know would always write down ‘nutella’ and ‘milo’, ‘cream’ and ‘Tim Tams’! Haha! Good on you for sticking to the budget and using a shopping list – this will surely set your family on a positive path.

Rachel Larkin

Thanks Sally for your ideas. I do something similar but haven’t got to organising my receipes yet. One thing that I have had success with is an opened notebook stuck on the fridge and anyone in the family can add items that they feel we need on the left hand side. Then on shopping day I plan the menu for the week and write it on the right hand side and check the cupboards for other items that I think we need. It has been a great system – everyone knows what is for dinner on a certain night. I… Read more »

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