About Menu Planning

I first tackled the idea of menu planning over four years ago when I became a stay-at-home mom. My initial plan was ambitious–plan a months worth of dinner meals at a time. Unfortunately, I came to dread the beginning of every month because it seemed like I spent all of my free time in that first week thinking about what to have for dinner. I would pull out all of my cookbooks and seek inspiration for something delicious and healthy to make every night. Planning a month at a time was a bit daunting for me.

When I was expecting my second child I changed things up a bit. I planned out a 3-week menu and repeated it again and again. It got me through the pregnancy and new-baby months when the last thing I wanted to think about is what’s for dinner, but we eventually tired of the same menu.

After nine months on my latest menu plan system, I think I’ve got something good. It works for me, so I thought I would share it with you. I’m currently on the Plan One Week of Menu’s at a Time plan. Here are the basics:

  • Monday is my menu planning day.
  • First step is to take a look at my local grocery store ads and see if there are any good sale items that I’ll want to include in my menu.
  • Next I consult my *menu record for ideas: what haven’t we had to eat for a few weeks?
  • I like to try 2-3 new recipes a month, so next I flip through my favorite cookbooks and check any recipes online that I’ve recently bookmarked.
  • My family is small-only 3 meal portions to plan for (my two girls make up one portion together) which means that we usually end up with leftovers–I love leftovers!
  • I plan meals for Tuesday through Tuesday, but I know that one of those meals will usually get dropped in favor of a “Leftover Medley” night. The dropped meal usually ends up early in the week of next weeks menu.
  • Once I have my menu planned out, I take a look through my cupboards and fridge and make my grocery shopping list for the next day.
  • I plan dinner menu’s only. For lunches and breakfasts I just keep a good supply of the basics on hand: sandwich fixings, cheese quessedillas, noodles and beans, oatmeal, cereal, pancake/waffle/muffin ingredients, etc.
  • I usually plan the main dish only, and plan to have on hand enough vegetables as side dishes to get us through the week (salad, steamed broccoli or carrots, zucchini, etc).
  • Now I’m ready for my weekly grocery store shopping trip on Tuesday.

*Something that has been really helpful to me has been keeping a menu record. Last August I started keeping track of what we ate for dinner. This has given me a good pool of ideas to draw from and helps me rotate through our favorites appropriately. Are you curious what we had for dinner on August 22, 2008? White chicken chili in the crock pot.

Menu planning this way is something that is manageable for me. It eliminates a lot of the dinnertime stress and saves us money. But… how does menu-planning work for you? I would love hear your tips.

So after all that, here is my menu for this week:

Monday–Leftover pizza, salad
Tuesday–Tomato soup, grilled cheese sandwiches, zucchini
Wednesday–Macaroni and cheese (the homemade kind-not from a box!)
Thursday–Hula stir-fry with rice
Friday–Corndog casserole
Saturday–Chicken pasta salad
Sunday–Oven fritatta (thanks for the idea, Eliza)
Monday–Lasagna in the crockpot

If you are interested in learning more about menu planning there are loads of ideas online:

Simple Mom posted a Basic Guide to Menu Planning, including the benefits and her menu plan system.

Mandi at Organizing Your Way has a great series about Menu Planning. I loved this tongue-in-cheek Top Ten Reasons You Shouldn’t Plan a Weekly Menu.

Want to see what’s on everyone else’s menu this week? Check out the weekly Menu Plan Monday carnival at I’m an Organizing Junkie.

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