Tips for Menu Planning + My Menu Plan for This Week

by Marcy on February 20, 2012 · 0 comments

menuplanning101

Menu planning is a beautiful thing. I first learned about menu planning about 4 years ago when I stumbled across the blog I’m an Organizing Junkie. After participating for a few weeks I was sold. Menu planning does take some time up front (usually on Sunday evenings for me), but having a menu plan really does save me a lot of time, money, and stress in the long run.

For those of you new to menu planning, the task might seem overwhelming at first. And while I do not consider myself a menu planning expert, I do have a few tips that I’d like to share about how I come up with my weekly menus. Hopefully some of this info will help you out if you don’t know where to start…or if you have started but feel stuck.

  • How Many Meals to Plan and How Often

The first step to menu planning is to decide how many meals you are going to plan, and how often. While some people choose to plan their meals for breakfast, lunch and dinner, I have chosen to stick mainly with our dinners and our weekend lunches. I do this because we always have cereal, granola bars, fruit and oatmeal on hand for our breakfasts, and lunches are almost always leftovers or items that are always in my pantry or freezer.

In addition to deciding how many meals you are going to plan, you should also decide how often you are going to plan them. For example, I currently write up my menu plans weekly. Others write out menu plans for an entire month. There is no right or wrong answer as to how many meals you include in your menu plan or how often you choose to write your plans. Do what works best for you and your lifestyle.

  • Variety is the Spice of Life…or Something Like That…

The second thing I like to do is to have a rough outline in my mind as to what types of meals I want my family to eat each week. We are meat eaters so I tend base my outline on the types of meat we eat. For example I try to limit our meals that contain beef to twice a week. I plan for a chicken/pork/turkey dish 3-4 times per week, one night for leftovers and at least one night for eating out (usually pizza). While this is my rough outline I ultimately default to what is in my freezer and pantry and what is on sale at the grocery.

Some other guidelines I try to follow each week are:

  • Try at least one new recipe (I’m finding a ton of inspiration on Pinterest lately)
  • Use the crockpot at least once if possible
  • Include a vegetable with every meal
  • Attempt to cook a variety of foods: Mexican, Italian, Asian etc…
  • Cook at least one meatless dish

While I don’t always follow these guidelines to a tee, having them helps me get “unstuck” when I can’t think of meals to add to my plan.

  • You Don’t Have to be a Chef to Create a Menu Plan

Menu planning does not require you to be a gourmet chef. It can serve to eliminate the chaos of trying to figure out what’s for dinner after a long day. It can help you form your grocery list. It can help you to ensure that your family is eating a balanced and healthy diet. And it can help you avoid the (costly) temptation of eating out frequently. But nowhere have I ever seen the rule that you have to be a gourmet chef (or even a good cook!) to menu plan. At its most basic level a menu plan is your guide to ensure that you have food in the house that can be formed in to meals; even if those meals are chicken fingers and tater tots (which I see nothing wrong with, by the way!).

  • Involve Your Family

While I am the one who does most of the planning and cooking in our house, sometimes I run out of ideas. Or the energy to think. Or both. :-) When that happens I ask my husband if there is anything in particular that he would like to eat and I think about my daughter and what she likes to eat. This usually helps. Another thing that I like to do is to post our menu plan in the kitchen when it is complete. That way my husband can see what is on tap for the week and veto anything he isn’t up for.

  • Be Flexible

Things happen. Schedules get screwed up, people get sick, or sometimes you don’t feel like eating what you had planned for the night. You know what? That’s ok. While I assign a meal to each night of the week, I tend to change meals around based on what we are feeling like on a particular night. And sometimes I abandon the plan completely. My menu plan serves to make my life easier, not to make me guilty when I fall short.

Now on to our menu plan for this week. In future weeks I’ll try to include recipes as well. This plan is linked to up the Menu Plan Monday meme on I’m an Organizing Junkie:

  • Monday – Roast Chicken, Cranberry Stuffing, Frozen Veggies
  • Tuesday – White Chicken Chili in the Crockpot w/Tortilla Chips (using leftover chicken from Monday)
  • Wednesday – Cheese Tortellini (I buy frozen) with Homemade Meat Sauce (will freeze half of the sauce for a future meal)
  • Thursday – Dinner date with my husband! (belated birthday dinner for me)
  • Friday – Leftovers
  • Saturday – Eating Out (Pizza and snacks at my soon to be 6 year old’s birthday party)
  • Sunday – Chili from the freezer, corn bread

Stay tuned tomorrow for my first post in my new series, Cooking at Home with Stretching a Buck!

What are you eating this week? What Menu Planning Tips to you have to share?


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