5 Tips To Help You Be Successful at Menu Planning

The following is a guest post from regular contributor, Sharon at Mom of 6.

I could go on and on about how awesome it is to menu plan. How it saves you from staring at the fridge at 5pm during the “witching hour” wondering what to serve your family for dinner. How planning in advance helps you to eliminate mid-week trips to the grocery store because you were able to purchase everything you needed for the week in just one trip. How you don’t have to answer the question, “Mom, what’s for dinner?” 15 times a day because the kids already know they can find it on the menu board. Menu planning is simply all kinds of awesome.

So why are you still not doing it? Are you having a hard time moving from good intentions to actually getting it done? Well then- here are 5 tips to help you be successful at menu planning!

5 Tips to Help You Be Successful at Menu Planning

Tip #1: Commit To It!

I know- it seems obvious. But you can’t start a new habit without fully committing to actually doing it. So the first step is to figure out when in your weekly schedule you can find 10-15 minutes of time to work out your menu plan for the week. And ideally- this should be before you make your regular trip to the grocery store. For me, it works best if I do my menu planning on Sunday nights. Many times I will ask everyone for input while we are eating Sunday dinner and the kids will all request a favorite meal. I also like to have a copy of our family’s calendar for the next week to review while menu planning- because I need to figure out which nights require “fast and easy meals” due to sports schedules and activities.

But the key thing here is to set aside the same, specific time each week to plan your meals for the coming week.

Menu Planning Tips- Write the list

Tip #2: Keep is Simple

I seriously love my menu planning board with it’s little magnets of our meal items that I can move around easily to create my weekly menu plan. But if the idea of needing to create something functional yet beautiful that hangs on your kitchen wall for the entire world to see is what is preventing you from starting to menu plan… then forget about “the pretty”! Nothing is easier that a pencil and paper list! And it still gets you to the same finish line either way- dinner on the table!

Tip #3: Use Theme Nights

Okay- so you’ve written out the days of the week on a piece of paper, but you can’t begin to think about what to actually cook for any of those nights. So make it easy on yourself. Assign every night of the week a theme- and allow that to be your guide:

  • Mondays: Chicken Night
  • Tuesdays: Pasta Night
  • Wednesday: Beef Night
  • Thursdays: Breakfast for dinner
  • Fridays: Pizza Night
  • Saturdays:  Dinner on the Grill
  • Sunday: Mama’s Choice/Leftovers

It’s so much easier to fill in the blanks against a “theme” than staring at a blank piece of paper. And just allow the theme to inspire ideas- don’t feel that you have to stick with it if you really want to make chicken three nights this week!

Menu Planning Tips- have it on hand

Tip #4: Have a Back Up Plan

But what happens when even the best menu planning intentions go wrong? When you forget to take the chicken out of the freezer to defrost? When you get home from a doctor’s appointment that ran late and now it’s 6:30 and you have four hungry mouths to feed? When you just don’t feel like making or eating the item that you had originally planned?

You need a list of 2 or 3 menu items where you have the ingredients on hand at all time. That you know you can have dinner on the table in 10-15 minutes without too much effort. Here are my back up plans:

  • Pasta with canned sauce
  • Canned soup and crackers
  • Quesadillas with ham and cheese

I keep these 7 things in my fridge or pantry at all times. They can serve as a quick “off the menu plan” dinner when needed, they can be used to feed the kids lunch on the weekends, and they can also feed a starving teenager at 9pm when he’s ready for his second dinner of the night!

Grocery Lists

Tip #5- Keep a Running Grocery List

It’s hard to be successful at menu planning if you don’t have everything you need on hand to actually prepare the meal you have planned! I like to keep a running grocery list on a clipboard in my kitchen, so that every time I use up a product around the house I can write it down on my list. That way I can make sure to replenish the item the next time that I go to the store. And when I create my menu plan on Sunday night, I make sure to add to my grocery list all of the ingredients that I need to buy to prepare the coming week’s dinners. The cool thing about using my printable grocery list is that I have it organized by aisle within the store, so as I am rolling my cart down the aisles I can quickly look at just that section of the grocery list and make sure that I picked up everything that I need, and I don’t have to backtrack a million times in the store!

Laura has a great printable grocery list that you can download here, or you can check out the one that I like to use here:

Are you a committed menu planner, or are you looking for a little nudge to get you started?

Sharon Rowley Head Shot 150 x 150 Thumbnail If you get a chance, I hope you’ll stop by to see me at Momof6 – a place where I write about organizing your home, using a family calendar, creating household routines, hosting at-home birthday parties, and making meals that kids will actually eat!



Filed under: Guest Bloggers, Menu Plan Monday, Printables


9 Responses to 5 Tips To Help You Be Successful at Menu Planning

  1. 1
    Trina Lea Grant says

    I love, love, love menu planning! I learned about this miracle of organization when I was working as an interim library director and up to my ears in busy-ness. This has become a weekly activity for my small family group. We enjoy gathering at the kitchen table and putting in our two cents. There are no surprises for anyone at meal time, and no complaining because everyone had a say. We have begun to arrange our fridge-top freezer in order by when we are using the food every week-major time saver.

    • 1.1
      Sharon at Momof6 says

      I like how you even organize your fridge and freezer to fit the weekly menu plan! Impressive!

    • 2.1
      Sharon at Momof6 says

      It makes things so much easier if the kids are excited about what I am making for dinner this week. Even if a sibling was the one who picked tonight’s dinner, they know they have a dinner this week that was their pick- and it makes them much more enthusiastic about the game plan!

  2. 3
    Havok says

    Firm believer of the back up plan over here! There is always frozen pizza or mac & cheese on hand. Yes, I play my meals, but some days I just do not at all want to cook. Those nights? Frozen pizza! Is it the perfect solution, no, but in the scheme of things, it’s the best answer :)

    • 3.1
      Sharon at Momof6 says

      I feel the same way- sometimes I just want to toss the plan aside and have a “night off”, and if that means popping a frozen pizza in the oven- then so be it!

  3. 4
    Julie S. says

    We just started trying to do this meal planning thing, and it is hard to get into the groove. You’re right, you really need to set up a time and stick with it.

  4. 5
    Sarah says

    Finally! A solution for my family! I have read so many posts about menu planning from all over the web but could never find a system that would work for my family. I’ve tried different things but they always end up being too complicated or too specific and I would just get frustrated and give up. But this is perfect! Theme nights is brilliant! And a back up plan is something I will definitely have too! I get so frustrated if I run late and forgot to defrost something and my family gets stuck eating grilled cheese sandwiches or hot dogs. I wish I had thought of these things before! THANK YOU SO MUCH!!!


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