How to menu plan? There’s really nothing to it!

I received an email from Carrie the other day asking me how I go about planning my weekly menus. Since I have done a post listing the reasons WHY I menu plan, it does make sense to also have a post describing HOW I menu plan.

I started meal planning only about a year and a half ago when I first became at SAHM and it was purely out of nessessity. I was pregnant with my third child and in the last five weeks of pregnancy I started on a no dairy, wheat or soy diet to try and prevent allergies from developing with this child like the ones my middle son has (this was on the advice of our pediatrition – purely speclative but I was desperate).

It is nearly impossible to whip up something at the last minute that doesn’t contain those three ingredients. I needed to get creative and get down to cooking things that didn’t come pre-cooked or pre-packaged. You all know by now that cooking/baking isn’t my speciality so I really needed to plan or I’d be in big trouble. I started pouring over my cookbooks and putting to paper what I was going to eat each night, a week in advance. Well let me tell you, talk about taking the pressure off!

Here is what I do and if I can do it anyone can! Every Sunday night I sit down for about half an hour with my menu planning pad (soon to be whiteboard) and pencil, a pile of cookbooks, the grocery store flyer and my laptop (so I can access the recipe favorites I have saved on my computer). The first thing I do is rough in what meat I’m eating on which days. For instance it might be beef on Monday, chicken on Tuesday etc. I try not to serve the same type of meat twice in one week. I’ll often go by what is on sale for meat that week too. Once I have that figured out I go to the cookbooks to find coordinating quick, easy and preferrably lower in fat recipes to go with it. I make sure to jot down where I can find the recipe right on my menu pad under the corresponding day. Thursday is easy because that is the day I always schedule for leftovers. I will purposely cook a little bit extra on the days before this in order to give me a nice break from cooking :)

Once my menu is created I then make up my grocery list from the chosen recipes. This allows me to only buy ingredients I’m actually going to use for the week, reducing waste and saving money. I, without fail, go grocery shopping every Monday morning. This is essential for my plan to work. Rarely do I let anything stand in my way of this happening. Once I finish my grocery shopping, I hope not to have to go back again during the week….not always achievable but I’m getting better as time goes on.

You’ll notice that I often use my crockpot too. This allows me to prepare the meal in the morning when my baby is happier and calmer and when I have more energy. There is such a huge level of satisfaction when your supper is cooking away all day for you and knowing that you won’t have to worry about it later.

My menu plan gets posted on the fridge and everyone knows what to expect. I love that my kids don’t need to bug me about what’s for dinner anymore, they just check the fridge.

A few people have emailed me to ask why I don’t menu plan for Saturday and Sunday. Sometimes, for whatever reason, things don’t go according to plan during the week, hey life happens right. So in order not to waste the ingredients I’ve purchased I just move the meal to the weekend. We usually keep things pretty simple on the weekends too. This gives me a little flexibility to be wild and crazy….lol.

I did the restricted diet for 7.5 months in total and am now back to eating normally. Thankfully my youngest, who has now tried everything except eggs and nuts, hasn’t presented with any allergies to this point. 7.5 months was plenty of time for me to realize how vital menu planning had become for me and there was no way I was giving it up. My life (and my family’s) just runs so much smoother because of it and I love knowing that I can do this for my family. They are so worth it!

I started Menu Plan Monday here at I’m an Organizing Junkie last July and although I would definitey still be menu planning without it, I do know that I take more care in my menu selections knowing I have to post them for all the world to see…lol. I also know that I enjoy getting fresh ideas and recipes from all you ladies that participate each week. My family and I thank you.

If you have been thinking about giving menu planning a try, now is the time. It’s simple and it’s easy. Create a menu of your own or “borrow” one from the many that are linked up each Monday. Then if you blog and want to participate in MPM, that’s easy to do too. Go here for all the guidelines.

You have nothing to lose but everything to gain!

Happy Menu Planning!! Note: Please keep in mind that I’ve only shared my method here. There are in fact many ways to menu plan as demonstrated by the many participants of MPM.

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Comments

56 Responses to How to menu plan? There’s really nothing to it!

  1. 1
    Marcia says

    I went back and re-read your baking story and you know what?

    I heard Nigella say once that baking is like chemistry – you have to follow the instructions 100%. That’s true. Except for substitution of ingredients where necessary of course.

    Once I got that, my baking also improved. You know I studied science and chemistry was my favourite – loved all the mixing. Now my results were always spot on because I’m precise :)

    So maybe that will help you – think of it like chemistry. And be exact! That’s why cooking is creative for me – pretty much anything will turn out okay but baking!

    • 1.1
      wendyb964 says

      I AM a science/math geek, hence have always loved the science of baking! The past 10 yr since I’ve been ill my clutter and organization flew out the window. My resolution is to get organized and stay that way. We have way too much stuff so lots to donate–most is too nice to throw away. That includes food—if we ate our way through the pantry and freezer we wouldn’t need to shop except for fruit/veg/dairy for months! In the summer with our garden our grocery bill should be even lower. A thorough inventory and meal planning is a great place to start. I stumbled across this site and am excited to peruse more and have a plan of action.! Thanks, wendy aka pc

  2. 2
    Twisted Cinderella says

    Great advice. My neighbour menu plans, and I have been thinking that it may be a good idea.

  3. 3
    ChupieandJ'smama says

    I’ll have to menu plan on Thursday then. I shop on Friday. Actually, the Little Man will be in school on Mondays (and so will Older Boy) in the Fall so all that could change. Ok, work in progress but thanks for the instructions. Glad your little one isn’t presenting with allergies. Saying a prayer for the eggs and nuts!

  4. 4
    carrie says

    Laura,

    Thanks so much for posting this. You gave me some great ideas–now I just have to get started!

    It can be challenging to have variety around here, because I don’t eat any red meat, and my husband is allergic to citrus, including tomatoes! I can typically eliminate at least half of the recipes in most cookbooks with these requirements!

    Thanks again.

  5. 5
    Big Mama says

    I’ve just started menu planning and I can’t believe how much easier it’s made my life. Especially since I can just come over here and copy somebody else’s ideas. :-)

  6. 6
    Katrina says

    Yes, excellent post, Laura. I appreciate the glimpse into how you do it. My method is similar except I tend to make something huge one night and serve leftovers the next (my dear hubby and boys actually like leftovers, I’m so lucky!). With a baby in the house, it’s nice to not have to cook every night, and I use my crockpot often for the same reason you do — a baby who is happier and calmer earlier on in the day!

  7. 7
    queenbusick says

    Just want to chime in – she’s not lying – it works! My grocery budget has decreased and this week I spent $75 to feed 4 very well and very healthy!

    It has saved my sanity for sure!

  8. 8
    momrn2 says

    You made this sound so easy. I haven’t been able to do this much yet, but now maybe I will start! Thanks, as always, for your encouragement and support in getting organized!! :-)

  9. 9
    Karen@FamilyBriefs.com says

    Know that you have many “sisters” sitting and planning meals with you on Sundays :) One item I would add – I have a folder where I keep recipes I’d like to try (often things I’ve printed out from others’ meal plans). I have this folder on hand as I’m planning – it’s easy to thumb through and look for something that strikes my fancy :)

    I also check the store’s sales flyer online as I’m planning; so if they have Rotisserie chicken or BBQ ribs on sale, I can plan those into my week :)

  10. 10
    Org Junkie says

    Thanks for the reminder Karen! I too will often go by what is on sale that particular week. I’ve updated my post to include this.

    Thanks,

    Laura

  11. 11
    Melissa @ Breath of Life says

    Laura,

    Thanks for giving us the info. Now I have no more excuses not to menu plan! I’ve been doing it on & off, but I need to be more consistent.

  12. 12
    Susan says

    I do this too, Laura. Now I just have to actually stick with it!

  13. 13
    sheryl says

    As several others have commented, this works! I do my planning either Saturday or Sunday and I look forward to it. It’s such a relief during the week to not have to wonder “what am I going to cook tonight?”.
    We’ve tried lots of new dishes, found new favorites, and we’ve saved money by making this a weekly habit. I’ve also made some new bloggy friends ;)
    Thanks, Laura, for being the inspiration and for hostessing MPM!

  14. 14
    Tracey @ozcountryquiltingmum says

    I did the whole restricted diet, using soy thing with my kids when pregnant and early B/F as I was asthmatic and DH chronic excema, my kids have never had any trouble other than odd times when their skin got dry and then I would add more nuts and oily fish to their diets, so i am a big believer, Tracey
    Also a big menu planner

  15. 15
    Heidi says

    Laura, thanks for posting how you do your menu planning. I’m a working mom struggling to keep everything under some semblance of control, and I’m always searching for ways to streamline our basic household activities.

    I especially like the idea of keeping the weekends flexible, since there’s a lot that can happend during the week to shift the plan anyway.

    I’ll definitely make sure to gank your banner and include it with my weekly menu plan posts!

  16. 16
    Jen says

    I hope I can get moved into our new home and get on a schedule soon I’m going banana’s not having my menu plan…….thanks for your ideas on kitchen organization….I’ll let you know how it goes.

  17. 17
    Christine says

    I rarely get to post my menu but I do it in a similar way. It does make things soooo much easier on our family!

  18. 18
    Charity Grace says

    Oh, my, I really need to do this. It’s either mid-afternoon panic at my house, or same-ole same-ole. Gotta get out of that rut.

  19. 19
    mommy zabs says

    what a great post, i will be linking to this on my blog sometime this week!

  20. 20
    Tiffany says

    I’ve been menu planning on/off since my first was born in 2004. But have done much better this year sticking to the plan.

    I grocery shop on Friday so I can prepare in case company is coming for the weekend-which we sometimes don’t know until mid week.

    Anytime I find meat on sale I’ll buy in bulk and make meals ahead and freeze them.

    I also plan a month’s worth of menu’s and break down my grocery list by week. Then on Friday I check the list and mark off anything that we may already have. I only plan Mon-Fri menus because we never know what the weekend holds-we may be going out of town or we may have company that prefers to eat out.

    Also on Monday is always something simple: baked potatoes and salad, or sandwiches and salad, or soup and salad-something that doesn’t have to be thawed. Because I usually don’t remember to set the meat/frozen meals out until Monday morning.

    It has saved me lots of time and money. And my DH never has to ask “what’s for dinner” he can look at the menu.

  21. 21
    Mrs. June Fuentes says

    Great blog! I love organizing with lists but feel ‘organizationally challenged’ in other areas—thanks for the encouragement—

    Many blessings…

  22. 22
    Amber says

    Hey, I just came across your blog the other day, I actually have seen your tags around bloggy land, but never clicked over…actually the way I stumbled over here wasn’t even from your menu plans, it was from a sidebar….anyway, would you ever consider being a guest writer on Multi-Tasking Moms, OR entering our Featured Multi-Tasking Moms contest? I love your ideas and wish I stumbled over here sooner.

    God Bless,
    Amber

  23. 23
    Preppy Napkin says

    I am so glad to find your site. Now that school is starting soon, what a great time to get organized

  24. 24
    Matin says

    Hi
    I came across your site through one of the food blogs (mom cooks) and I love the idea of menu planning as I can never decide what to cook on the spot and always buy ingredients that I dont usually use! and I am also really into organizing not as good as you though but I try my best:-) so thank you so much for the great idea and lots of luck.
    X Matin

  25. 25
    Kari Fischer says

    I have been wanting to start meal planning forever-acutally since my first was born 3 years ago, but it’s always felt so overwhelming. I now would have a reason to do it faithfully every week thanks to your menu sharing so I think I’m going to have to join. Being in school full time with two little ones it would make life so much simpiler! Thanks for the inspiration!

  26. 26
    Francie says

    Laura,

    This is so great that I’ve added a whole post about menu planning and your site (Benefits of Menu Planning…Less Frostbite, More Gas). I really believe menu planning is the #1 way the family cook (pretty much MOMS!) can simplify their life!

    Thanks so much for this help! :)

  27. 27
    Nancy says

    I’ve been meal-planning continuously for six months. I began by tracking our milk usage, and learned 1 gallon lasts 6 dinners, so I generally plan 6 dinners per grocery shopping trip. (For cereal, we buy plain soy milk, which can be bought way ahead, and kept in our extra fridge in basement.) I gathered my favorite 20 or so healthy recipes to create my “rotation”. For those recipes I typed up ingredients lists and taped them into the empty pages in the back of a dated planner. Now I can do quick meal plans and a grocery list right out of the planner! I use the small size “Planner Pad” in a leather zip cover. It’s my all-inclusive menu-planning kit, plus ongoing lists of what we’re running low on. It sits open on the kitchen counter most of the time, and of course I take it to the grocery store, and I can even plan meals in it on the run. Implementing this consistent meal-planning routine was a major step forward for me in health, stress reduction, weight loss, time management!

  28. 28
    katin says

    I tried applying Unclutterer’s weekly meal planning template & learned a lot. I’d love to see you publish a template of your own.

  29. 29
    Penelope says

    I love this site! What great tips!

  30. 31
    Beverly says

    I just ran across this site. Maybe someone can help me.

    I am a very busy mom/ministers wife w two jobs. My husband is a very simple eater meat potatoes but I love variety as well as my children.

    Any suggestions?

    Bev

  31. 32
    irina says

    about the baby allergies part…

    Probiotics given to pregnant and lactating mothers reduced atopic eczema during the first two years of their child’s life

    Luise Kalbe, PhD., Brigitte Reusens, PhD., and Professor Claude Remacle, Cellular Biology Laboratory, University de Louvain, Belgium

    Excerpted from Functional Foods, Ageing and Degenrative Disease, C Remacle and B Reusens, editor, ISBN 1 85573 725 6

    [EXTRACT:]

    Nutrition is truly functional during pregnancy and lactation, because it exerts prenatal and early postnatal influences on the developing baby: maternal nutrition affects the intra-uterine development of the baby and determines the quality of the breast milk needed to support adequate growth and gut-flora composition.

    The more commonly used approach to functional foods involves designed foods in which ingredients have been added or removed. Only the former category will be considered here. Different types of designed foods are classified as functional foods: pre-biotics and probiotics, vitamins and minerals, bioactive molecules, and fatty acids

    Probiotics added to food products must meet several criteria such as a beneficial effect on health, survival during transit through the gastrointestinal tract, adhesion (permanent or temporarily) to the intestinal epithelial cell lining, production of antimicrobial substances toward pathogens or stabilisation of the intestinal microflora. Over-the-counter supplements, however, may not fulfill these criteria and may not even survive in the gastrointestinal tract.

    With particular relevance for the subject on hand are several trials with either pregnant women, lactating mothers and their babies, or with children, that have demonstrated several beneficial effects of probiotics. These include the maturation and health of the intestinal tract and the immune system, the reduction of lactose intolerance and allergy prevalence, the reduction of the risk of microorganism-induced diarrhea, or the enhancement of nutrient bioavailability.

    Not only are probiotics therefore promising functional foods for pregnant women and infants, but they can be considered for prophylactic as well as therapeutic uses. Prophylactic use of probiotics for women during the last trimester of pregnancy and through childbirth, for instance, permanently colonised the gastrointestinal tracts of their infants. It is not yet known whether the immune-boosting properties of these probiotics require periodic pulse dosage or continuous administration.

    Probiotics given to pregnant and lactating mothers increased the immuno-protective potential of breast milk and reduced the incidence of atopic eczema during the first two years of life in their children.

    Another study showed that in addition to allergy occurrence, the number of infections and the need for antibiotics due to preventive probiotic treatment after birth were reduced even ten years later.

    Preventive feeding of fermented milk also increased the absorption of iron due to the liberation of lactic acid and other organic acids during fermentation. The authors even suggested that consumption of fermented milk during meals might also have a positive effect on the absorption of iron from other foods. Based on such findings and the fact that even temporary colonisation of a baby’s intestines with probiotic bacteria prevents colonisation with less beneficial bacteria, probiotic supplementation of milk formula has been proposed.

    Probiotic foods are non-digestible food ingredients that beneficially affect the host by selectively stimulating the growth and/or activity of one or a limited number of bacteria in the colon.

    Prebiotic oligosaccharides from different origins have been used as ingredients in functional foods. They may be inulin; lactulose; fructo-, galacto-, isomalto- or xylo-oligosaccharides.

    According to their chemical nature they support higher populations of individual bacteria species in the gut flora. The largest increase in lactobacilli was seen with xylo-oligosaccharides and lactulose. Although fructo-oligosaccharides promoted a large increase in lactobacilli, they also supported higher populations of streptococci than did galacto-oligosaccharides. The latter supported higher populations of bifidobacteria and higher levels of lactate than fructo-oligosaccharides. Latulose and xylo- and galacto-oligosaccharides thus stimulate the growth of bacteria found in the colon of breast-fed infants, on the other hand, have a more diverse and adult microflora and tend to suffer more from microbial infections than breast-fed infants.

    This means that lactulose, xylo- and glacto-oligosaccharides are the prebiotic oligosaccharides of choice for functional foods aimed at infants. Supplementing milk formula with these oligosaccharides should therefore circumvent the problem of aberrant colon colonisation in formula-fed infants. However, prebiotics functional foods will be effective only where there is a real need, since responses to prebiotics depend on the numbers of bacteria colonising the colon. Individuals with low bifidobacterial counts displayed much higher responses to prebiotics than individuals with higher bacterial counts.

    Prebiotics positively affect the absorption of various minerals as well as mineral contents in bones. The risk of osteoporosis is higher in formula-fed children than in breast-fed children born at term, even though milk formula has a higher calcium content than breast milk. Prebiotic supplementation of milk formula might thus help reduce the risk of osteoporosis in formula-fed children born at term.

    This finding does not apply, however, to children born pre-term, where the source of milk does not seem to influence bone mass later on. Nevertheless, it might be worthwhile later on to follow these term and pre-term children into adult age to check for possible long-term protection against osteoporosis due to early prebiotic supplementation.

  32. 33
    Brie says

    I am so excited to have found this. I need to start doing this pronto – I am hoping to make it a real routine. Thanks for these great guidelines, they are really helping me :)

  33. 34
    Cee says

    I am interning at Family Foodies dot com and am thrilled to have found your site and menu planning. I love how you help us organize. I’ll be checking back quiet often! Thank you so much!

  34. 35
    Sandra says

    I am a wife and mother to 3 very active and hungry boys (ages 16, 13, & 7). I love that there would always be something prepared for them, instead of the constant grazing of junk food they seem to do all day long. I’m also new to meal planning. I’m not sure if this was cover and I just missed it…Once you make the meal on your cooking day, do you freeze it and defrost and warm, slow cook or bake? Please help.

  35. 36
    Plan to Eat says

    If you are a meal planning junkie you should check out http://www.plantoeat.com. I initially created it for my wife with the goal of taking a lot of the repetition out of meal planning. Now it is available to anyone. It basically allows you to create your own family menu of recipes, easily add them to a weekly plan and then it automatically creates a shopping list based on that plan, categorized by grocery categories. You can also share your recipes with friends, kind of like facebook. Oh, and it is free.

  36. 37
    Kay says

    I began using meal planning as a way to go through hundreds maybe thousands of recipes that I had collected over the years. If the family liked it, it was added to the recipe program and delegated to a menu plan. After 2 years of doing this I have a year+ of menus in my program that I can choose from. I have gone through about half of those clipped recipes, Getting rid of clutter in the process. When I pick up a new one it is almost immediately tried. I still sit down on Wednesdays with the sales sheets and my coupon box and choose a new recipe or two to try for the next week. I don’t post them for the family to see because I want true reactions and the kids have gotten curious about Grocery shopping and guessing sbout what’s for dinner. I have actually used a few of thier guesses because they sounded (and Tasted) Good. They now come into the kitchen to help on Fridays Putting away the groceries after school. to save more time, I prepare the meat with seasoning and chop any needed vegetables according to the recipe lable with the date I plan to use them and freeze. This way anyone can take it out of the freezer and still not know what it is. The secrecy has put a new life into dinner time, they want to be there.

  37. 38
    Gabi says

    Hi from Portugal! Great site and great advice. I am starting a menu plan today! I almost only cook on my Thermomix so I created a wiki with all the recipes available on my books, magazines and online so that I have a “pool” to choose from. I hope this works for me because I reaaly need to get organised!!!

  38. 39
    Rashel says

    I came across your site by doing a menu search in Google.
    I too am not doing dairy or soy (or peanut). I was doing that plus wheat and eggs. Now it’s just dairy and soy. I’ve been doing it for 7 months now. I’d love to see some of your recipes you used before you were able to add that stuff back in. We’re having some pretty boring meals these days. I’m also trying to start a menu to reduce grocery trips and waste as well.
    Thanks!

  39. 40
    Char says

    I do my shopping on Wednesdays…only because that’s double-coupon day at my grocery store!

  40. 41
    Rose says

    Hey I hope you have time to reply to this (and see it!!). My son has allergies to dairy, eggs and peanuts. I thought about avoiding those but both my OB and my ped (specializing in allergies) seem to think there’s nothing to doing that. If I DID do it, what type of foods do you recommend? Even with my son’s dairy and egg allergy I have a hard time being creative with his meals. He ends up eating a lot of the same and then ends up refusing to eat .. any advice, websites, cookbooks?? Thank you and I love that you menu plan, it saves tons of money.

  41. 42
    Pam T says

    I’ve just moved to the US. Back in England, when my husband and I were both working full time and had a million and one commitments on mid-week evenings (no kids though), we used to plan the week on Sundays too. We’d start by listing the days and activities – if Monday we both had things on from 7pm, then I would have time after work to make salmon and boiled potatoes with green veg (good on a Monday, since it was bought fresh on the Sunday)…. but if on Wednesday he had bowling til 7 and I had college from 7, it was a good day to have chilli in the slow cooker! I found the planning avoided stress in the most part, but when I started we occasionally had last minute take-out panic if one of us stayed at work late, or traffic, or other disaster. I intentionally buy some extra bits and pieces like stir fry goods for hurried assembly should this happen. :-) I’d like to use my slowcooker more, and here in the US I’m working from home, so I’ll be keeping an eye on this website for new slow cooking, and prepare hours ahead recipes.

  42. 43
    Melody Hyatt says

    Thank you so much for this! Im starting 2011 menu planning and Im following your system! Hope this helps lessen the chahos in our home as far as dinner goes.

  43. 44
    Faith says

    I used MS Outlook to set up my menu plan.

    1. Wednesday is “leftover” day, along with clean out the fridge, since the trash is picked up on Thursday. We have sandwiches or soup if there are no leftovers.
    2. Rotation of starch – Every Thursday and Sunday= rice; every Friday and Monday = pasta; every Saturday and Tuesday = potato (remember, Wednesday is leftover day)
    3. Rotation of meats – a little trickier to program, but I use a 3 week rotation; Beef, Fowl, Pork, Seafood, and keep repeating (skipping Wednesday of course).
    4. Rotation of vegetables – even trickier, but I made a list of the vegetables I like, then a list of the vegetables my husband likes (on the ones we like the same, they are only on his list). I have two vegetables a night. Mine rotate every 25 days, his every 10 days (again, skipping Wednesday).
    5. Once the calendar is on a rotation schedule, I determine what meal I will make with the options at hand. I cook just enough for 3 meals – one for each of us and enough for me to carry to lunch the next day.
    6. Thursday is shopping day. The fridge is clean, the menus are planned, and shopping is a breeze.

    I started this system because we would both get home from work and ask each other, “what’s for dinner?” This led to eating out because we had not planned anything. We not only save a ton of money with this schedule, we eat healthier and it helps our waistline!

  44. 45
    Rashmi says

    Quick question –
    Do you plan all meals and snacks, or just dinners?

  45. 46
    Elizabeth says

    My husband and I have been meal planning for about 4-5 months. It gets easier and easier as we have some go to favorites when we are stumped. I put 6 of my favorite meals and 6 of his favorite meals on a blackboard and about 5-6 go to meals for dinner. We grill a lot of chicken so is pretty easy for dinner. He doesn’t like many salads so I keep 2 kinds of salads in the fridge at all times for me along with fruit prepped in snack bags he’s fine with leftovers for lunch. I grab fruit faster than chips or crackers. ;) and I have nuts in snack bags for him. I will never live without meal planning again.

    • 46.1
      Elizabeth says

      Also I only plan for 4-5 days. Eat leftovers when I cook too much and make a new dish once a week. I love to cook and he is larn I no to. He shops with me and can now find stuff at the store faster than I can.

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