Menu planning often simultaneously sounds simple and overwhelming. In this post, I will give you the basics of menu planning to get you started. I will also share the method that has worked best for our family.
We’ve all found ourselves in this situation: supper time is here, maybe your kids are hungry, and you haven’t even started thinking about what you will eat. So, the answer is ordering pizza or going to a drive-through, right? No! Not only is it REALLY hard to eat remotely healthy that way, it’s also going to break the bank if this becomes a habit. It’s better when the occasions when we order pizza, etc., are kept to a minimum–and better yet, planned.
So, why should you menu plan? To save you stress, time, and money! (1) You don’t have to stress about what to make for dinner. (2) You don’t waste time going to the grocery store more than necessary. (3) You save money when you go to the store with a list instead of buying everything that looks good. Not only that, but menu planning can help if you are in a slump. I know that before I started the method I now use to plan our suppers, we felt like we were having the same things over and over and over again. Not anymore!
If you are ready to start planning your meals, begin with the following steps:
- Take inventory. Write down everything in your fridge, freezer, and pantry.
- Decide how many nights of the week you will cook. List the days of the week and leave space to write in what you will make each day. If you will be eating out or eating at someone else’s house, write that down. If you need to make something quick because you have to get your son to basketball practice, write that down too.
- Think of meals. Write down the meals that you can make with what you have or with only a few extra ingredients. If you already have ground beef and tortillas, you can probably make tacos!
- Find recipes. If the meals you wrote down in step two don’t get you a whole week of meals, look for recipes in your own collection, in cookbooks, or online to fill the other nights of the week. Make sure you write down where you found the recipe so you’re not searching for it when it’s time to cook.
- Create a shopping list. Write down all of the ingredients you didn’t have on hand from the recipes you chose. Make sure to add food for breakfasts, lunches, and snacks to avoid impulse buying.
- Go shopping. Organize your list in the way that is most helpful to you. I like to have separate lists for each store I plan to go to, as well as organize the list by sections of the store. This really helps you go more quickly when you’re shopping with your kids!
- Refer to your menu throughout the week. Make sure to check what you are making the same day and the next day in case you need to do any meal prep or take meat out of the freezer to thaw.
That’s it! Not too difficult, right?
Now the details of meal planning will look different for each person/family, so do what works for you! We have found the following method most helpful for planning meals because it saves me even more time coming up with meals, and it helps us eat a variety of food so we don’t get bored. When you don’t get bored with the food you make at home, you are less likely to crave Chipotle or Punch Pizza every night of the week. (Yes, those are my cravings.) 🙂
I found the idea of using a menu board when I was perusing Pinterest looking for menu planning ideas. I looked a lot of different boards, but I most liked the one I found HERE.
My menu board looks like this:
I loved the look and functionality of this. I bought a large cheap frame from Goodwill and spray-painted it white. I bought a frame to hang on the all, but you could also buy one that sits on your kitchen counter. I bought some fun scrapbook paper to insert into the frame and found letter stickers in my sticker stash at home. The boxes are crayon boxes covered in scrapbook paper and glued to the glass in the frame. Along the left are paper clips– I used Modge Podge to adhere scrapbook paper to those. Each paper clip represents a day of the week, so there are small letter stickers on those as well.
The top box holds all of my recipe cards. Once a recipe has been used, I move it to the box on the bottom. This is one way that I ensure we aren’t making the same meals every week.
As I am choosing recipes, I clip them in the paper clip of the day that makes the most sense. Some days I will be home long enough to start a crock pot meal during the day, some days I won’t. Some days I will have two hours to commit to cooking (Ha! Almost never!), and some days I have like 10 minutes.
The recipe cards have each part of the meal on the front (main dish and sides), and a list of ingredients needed on the back. This makes it really quick when I’m writing my grocery list! The source of the recipe (website, Pinterest board, cookbook) is also on the back so I can easily find it.
The recipe cards are color coded for each category of food. Some people categorize by type of meat: beef, chicken, fish, vegetarian. I like to categorize by different types of cuisine. We do: Mexican, Italian, Asian, American, Soup, and Breakfast. I also use a separate color for occasional eating out, new recipes or our movie nights (a night when I don’t cook and I make a ton of popcorn instead!).
Creating this menu board took some prep work, but it was well worth it! It was easy to make, but the most time consuming part is making the recipe cards. If you don’t have a list of recipes you can make already, this would be the most time consuming part for you too. When I redo my recipe cards to add new recipes we’ve tried and liked, I’m going to pay to have them laminated. I just “laminated” them using clear contact paper, and they have started to curl. There’s also a few dog hairs stuck in them!
I hope you find the tips on how to start menu planning helpful and my menu board inspiring. Let me know if you have any questions about menu planning or about my menu board. I’d be happy to help.
Happy menu planning!
Update: After I published this post, I shared a free printable for meal planning with you. You can read that post HERE.