Dave Ramsey is my homeboy

…But boy oh BOY have we been cheating on our budget lately. Ever since it got real up in here ala PPD and an ill-timed international jaunt avec bebe, my go-to line has been ‘where do you want to get dinner tonight?’

I rationalize our ridiculous dinning out expenditures by estimating that ‘oh, it’s only $25, that’s probably maybe almost close to what we would spend on a home-cooked meal.’ Of gold-crusted steak. Or I justify my quick lunchtime run to Chipotle as being ‘for the boys’ (one of whom is breastfeeding and the other who would eat an old boot dipped in ketchup).

The point is, I need to get back to planet reality where I a. menu plan with our weekly groceries and b. produce meals based roughly upon said menu not involving chips and salsa.

I am a straight up Dave Ramsey disciple, y’all, and yet, in the past 3 months (happy quarter year birthday, JP!) I think I’ve begged no fewer than 40 restaurant meals out of this post-partum period. Now, I’m willing to give myself a break because I have been legit psychotic more days than not, (by the way, the new meds are working splendidly well, if you can’t tell by the tone of this ramble) but I’m ready to get back on track.

But I need your help mamas! What are your own menu-planning strategies for evening meals? As mentioned last week, I’ve got lunch covered with a Costco suitcase of refried beans, but dinner is my kryptonite. So I pose the following questions to you, oh wise and all-knowing internet:

1. Do you meal plan? What do you base it on? Family likes/dislikes? Ease of recipe? Sales on ingredients?

2. When do you prep/cook dinner? Do you use a (shudder) crock pot? Are your children more domesticated than mine?

3. How many times a week/month does your family eat out? I am prepared to be severely shamed by this answer, but I’m looking for a good baseline for our family, and I’m not sure ‘every freaking chance mommy gets’ is a reasonable answer.

Oh, and if you’re not familiar with the sage Mr. Ramsey, please do yourself a massive favor and check out www.DaveRamsey.com where you can learn aaaaaaall about his Total Money Makeover, and you can also listen LIVE to his fabulous radio show from 2pm-5pm EST every day via the same magic website.

His plan is the real deal; Dave and I have paid off $47K of debt since our engagement 4 years ago, and we’ve got (vom) $66K to go (Hail, Steubenville).  In other words, we won’t be house shopping any time soon. But we will be completely out of debt while still in our early 30s, and we will  be able to build a much brighter and shiny-er future for our little fam, unburdened by any kind of car payment, student loan payment, credit card balance or even, God-willing, a mortgage payment one day.  Plus, it’s been a huge blessing in our marriage and a great partner to NFP. There are some serious parallels between money and sex, I’m telling you.

So check it out. But first, please help me celebrate being 3 months post partum by getting my act together and learning how to meal plan.


  • Anonymous

    It’s just the husband and me and we both work, so we pre-plan 80% of our meals and play it by ear for the other 20% (go out, dinner at a friend’s, defrost a Trader Joe’s pasta or pizza).

    This is how it breaks down for us:
    1. Breakfast–cereal and fruit, or oatmeal/farro and fruit in the winter. I cook the farro on the weekend and hold it cooked in the fridge. Add some Trader Joe’s (TJ) trail mix to the top of the cereal and we are good to go.
    2. Lunch–two pieces of fruit, a Chobani yogurt and whatever we are having as a lunch entree that week.
    3. Dinner–whatever we are having as a dinner entree that week.

    We’ve gotten it down to a routine of making two large entrees on the weekend and then having them throughout the week as lunch and dinner. That means we spend about two hours on the weekend prepping and cooking and then eating it throughout the week. For us, making a full recipe of something would mean a lot of leftovers. We embraced that and realized that cooking two things we really liked and eating it for most of the week works for us. It gives us meals we can plan on and frees us from cooking each night.

    This week lunch has been TJ Harvest Grains with zucchini and topped with some shrimp. Dinner has been a bok choy/shitake mushroom/snap pea stir fry with tofu over brown rice.

    Hope that helps.

  • KM

    I highly recommend investing in this:


    They set up a meal plan and shopping list for you each week based on the upcoming sales for certain grocery chains. You can also select the type of diet you eat. $5 a week but it’s great.

  • Ana

    I don’t do Dave, although I certainly stand behind all his principles. We menu plan and try not to eat out at all– with the exception of post partum periods and the first 3 months of pregnancy when I live on Taco Bell and Wendys. I bet our average meal cost is about $5 (or less) per meal give or take a little. Honestly, when we’re eating really healthily or dieting (like Mike is currently) we spend a lot more on groceries for good produce and better quality food, but that is certainly a worthy thing to spend more on (I think?).
    I am sure you’re doing great, and this is THE time to cut yourself a TON of slack, enjoy all the chips and salsa that you need!!

  • Grace Marie

    I shouldn’t be giving advice. I’m horrible at this. But I agree with Ana — cut yourself some slack.

    The one thing I do is make sure that any meal I trouble myself to make is to make sure that there is enough for the next night and MAYBE the night after that — Simon loves. ha.

    I’m big on quiche, pizza (easy once you master crust which isn’t that hard) stuffed peppers, bean burritos (you’ve got those covered), sometimes the old (awful) breakfast for dinner trick — if its been an awful day I feel pretty damn good about sprinkling boiled/shredded chicken and frozen bell peppers over a frozen cheese pizza.

    skinnytaste.com is a great blog.

  • Christine

    I’m gonna take the lazy route, and just refer you to someone else’s blog. On Like Mother, Like Daughter (http://ourmothersdaughters.blogspot.com), there’s a whole series of great posts about meal planning. Scroll down the links on the right-hand side until you get to “Happy Home: Food Organization”. I’ve been reading through them all recently, and have been inspired to start (finally) planning meals for REAL this time (I hope).

  • Kris

    We try not to eat out either – maybe 2 or 3 times a month. Mostly because we have 4 boys at home and they eat a lot, so we can’t go out for less than $40 or $50 and that’s the cheap end. I have aspirations of menu planning, but mostly I stick to a repertoire of some tried and true favorites that I rotate around, adding in some new stuff here and there. In terms of planning, I try and only grocery shop once a week, with a monthly trip to Costco. My best “friend” is a website called http://www.allrecipes.com. I pull whatever meat I have purchased a Costco out of the fridge and build around that. Also, I read a great series of posts about keeping a stocked pantry, and that really cuts down on costs and also ensures that I have the basic ingredients for just about any meal already on hand.

  • Anonymous

    I am a SAHM with three under three. I don’t weekly meal plan presently but was just saying that I should start. I know it is more efficient b/c you shop once a week and there is less “oh I am missing one ingredient for that recipe”. I prep my supper while my kids nap in the afternoon. I flyer shop every week and try to only shop once per week for groceries. We go to Costco about once a month to stock up. I almost always make enough for two nights. The nights we eat the leftovers are the evenings when my husband works late. Another tip that someone gave me is to keep a list or at least mark your recipe books (if you still use a book) of recipes that you liked. Absolutely agree with keeping the pantry stocked in order to be more organized and to save money when non perishables are on sale. I do use a crockpot a lot in the winter and we grill a lot in the summer. For example – we had salad and steak last night and I grilled extra to have fajitas tonight. Super easy meal both nights! We almost never eat out but my go to easy supper is frozen pizza with additions to make it more palatable and a big salad to redeem the health quotient of the meal!

  • diana anderson

    i agree with grace and ana– cut yourself some major slack! post-partum is no joke-emotionally, physically, psychologically, ect. (can you tell how it was for me?:) having said that, i also NEED super easy go-to’s, or else i just want to go out every night.
    a few things that have helped me:
    -we try to eat a lot of veggies/salads and chopping all the veggies on sunday’s and putting them in different little baggies helps out a lot.
    – i buy pizza dough at whole foods (surprisingly cheap) and then put whatever we have on hand on top and bake. (at least once a week)
    -i buy costco baked chickens (4.99) and then from there i make chicken burritos/ tacos, chicken pasta, or chicken soup. (whatever, really)
    -breakfast for dinner once a week (if you don’t mind that sort of thing). a veggie scramble with toast. or with beans and avacado (huevos rancheros?)
    hope this helps!

  • Emily

    Jenny, congratulations on paying off over 40% of your student loans! In just 4 years, that is incredible and very inspiring! Unfortunately I can’t help out much with the menu advice. I’m still on a strict ice-cream-and-bacon regimen, while Jim has meanwhile gone vegetarian (temporarily?). When I do cook, it’s a quick search on pinterest of whatever ingredients I have on hand.

  • MDiskin

    I had 3 babies in less than 4 years, along with another pregnancy that didn’t make it. We were blessed with a non-sleeping child, hyperemetic pregnancies, and severe postpartum depression. After months of ordering delivery or defrosting chicken nuggets, I finally resolved to cook again. I set the bar low at first: every meal had to have a protein, at least one veg, and another side. Some days this was simple: chicken with frozen broccoli and rice. Or pasta with chicken and pesto, with a fruit salad or green salad on the side.

    I still do fairly quick meals, but try to make at least one part a bit more special: either a nicer side (like sweet potato souffle) or a dressed-up entree. I’m trying to replace starches with more nutritious veggies, mostly so my kids get used to eating or at least trying something new when it’s on the table.

    Definitely head to the LMLD blog mentioned above. So helpful! The trick is to cook a 3-4 times a week and make enough for leftovers. One large roast chicken can serve up one dinner, a lunch of chicken salad (or chicken to top a homemade pizza), and a carcass to make broth as a base for soups. (Cover with water in crockpot, cook on low overnight. Easy!)

    And I refuse to make crockpot recipes with canned cream soups, so the “Make it Fast, Cook it Slow” cookbook was a revelation — easy Thai curries in the crockpot, and other ethnic faves that are fairly simple to make and not at all gloppy. In the fall & winter I do one slowcooker meal a week.

    I also make my own dry mixes for muffins: (2 cups flour, 1 TBS baking powder, 1 tsp salt, 1/2 cup sugar, and any other spices I want. I keep ziplocs of this in my stash and pull one out to mix with an egg, 3/4 cup milk, and 6 TBS melted butter. Add a little pumpkin or a handful of berries or chopped fruit and you have a great muffin in minutes (bake at 375 for 20-25 mins).

    Basically I find efficiencies where I can, like making 5 bags of dry ingredients at a time, or chopping ingredients throughout the day, or putting dinner ingredients in a plastic bin on the counter as I have time so they’re all corralled when it’s time to cook.

  • Colleen

    I know you’re asking for meal planning ideas, but I have a question on your Dave Ramsey mention. We are paying down debt at a fast pace and should be debt-free from car payments, a stupid IRS loan repayment, and student loans (Hail Steubenville also!). But, we will still have a mortgage payment. How are you expecting NOT to have a mortgage payment? Are houses in your area cheap? a four bedroom house (we have 5 kids) here is easily $350,000 on the low end. I can’t imagine having that much in the bank. Tell me your secrets, oh wise one.

    Oh, and a great crockpot idea is frozen (yes, frozen!) chicken breasts and a jar of salsa on low for 8 hours. Then you shred the chicken with two forks and use it to make tacos, fajitas, enchiladas….whatever!! I’ve also done this with barbecue sauce instead of salsa. Yum!

    • Jenny

      So we are not planning to be *completely* debt free for a decade or so, once the mortgage factors into our budget. We are still renting as we chip away at our ‘debt snowball,’ but as soon as we’re out of debt, the plan is to save 20% (if possible) to put down and then acquire a 15 year FIXED RATE (super important detail) mortgage, which we may be able to pay off much sooner than that, given the absence of any other debt. Technically, Dave considers mortgage the only kind of ‘good debt’ out there, though he is adamant that your monthly payment be no more than 1/4 of your take home pay. Sounds like houses are about the same price in our area, so we’ll see how long it takes us to save up that fat down payment 🙂 I’m guessing an additional 18 months once we’re out of debt. Love the chicken idea, totally making it tonight!

  • JaneC

    It’s been a while since I was postpartum but I remember being sure to always have at least 2 items in the freezer or pantry for a quick fixing (10 minute or less) dinner. These included:
    Frozen hamburger patties and frozen hamburger buns
    hot dogs
    pancake mix in pantry
    eggs for scrambled eggs or omelets
    flour tortillas and grated cheese
    canned chili
    canned soups
    sausage patties and BACON

    I also tried to fix double or triple batches of things and freeze them for later:
    taco meat
    spaghetti sauce
    meatloaf frozen in small bread loaf pans (bake straight from freezer for 90+ minutes while doing other things)
    frozen veggies

    This is the time to give yourself a little grace. Keep meals simple and if it takes bacon everyday to keep mommy happy it is still cheaper and better than dragging the kids to eat out every day. Spend your energy making sure that you get a shower, brush your hair and teeth and drink plenty of water. Meals are just to keep you feed. There will be a season of wonderful, tasty and economical home cooked meals but you are not in it now.

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