Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Menu Planning

Planning your meals ahead of time can save a great deal of money and make your life a bit easier. No more stressing out over what to make for supper. No more realizing at the last minute that you have nothing to cook and then resorting to that money-waster called fast food.

Before I got into the habit of planning our meals, the process of getting groceries and cooking was a HUGE chore to me. I dreaded it. Our monthly grocery bill was at least $400, usually more.

Now making meals isn't that big of a deal and I actually enjoy getting groceries. And because I plan our menus, I'm only spending $250-$300 a month on food. Major improvement.

There are several ways to go about planning menus, some are more complicated than others. In this post, I will describe the way I do it, which is one of the more simple ways. I'm all for simple and efficient.

I only plan our suppers. Around here, breakfast consists of granola, cereal, yogurt, fruit, or leftover pancakes/waffles. Sorry, but I am not going to get up at 5:00 a.m. and make a monster breakfast for everyone. I have more important things to sleep. Lunch is usually just sandwiches or leftovers. No need for me to "plan" those meals.

First thing's first, get a notebook. If you lived in our house, you would have to write "Mom's Notebook, DO NOT TOUCH" on the front of it because of the little paper thieves who also live here.

Make a Master Menu List. In your notebook, start a Master Menu List. This is simply a list of all the meals you are willing to make. I have around 75-100 meals on my list. One of my goals is to add at least two new meals to this list every month. When you are making your list, be sure to ask your family which meals are their favorite.

Choose your meals. I do two weeks at a time. Some people find that planning for the whole month is easier. Do what works best for you. Choose two week's (or a month's) worth of meals from your Master Menu List. On a separate page in your notebook, write the starting date and ending date of those two weeks on the top of the page (example: Feb. 1 - Feb. 14). Then write your list of 14 meals below. You could assign meals to specific days, or you could just look at the list each day and pick which one sounds good to you.

Next, make your grocery list. Look at your two-week meal list and decide what groceries you'll need. It's always a good idea to check your pantry, fridge and freezer as you make your grocery list. I hate it when I purchase something at the grocery store only to come home and find out that I already had it.

Now, follow your plan!

And that's basically it! Now you know exactly what you will be making for supper the next couple of weeks and you have all of the ingredients on hand.

Extra tips:

Get in the habit of thawing out your meat a day in advance.  Part of the after-supper-clean-up is to take out tomorrow's frozen meat and put it in the fridge to thaw.

One cute idea - you could get a chalkboard or whiteboard and hang it in the kitchen. Write the weekly menus on them. Then everyone will know "what's for dinner."

If you prefer, you could print a blank calendar and fill it in with your menu plans. If you don't feel like making a calendar yourself, you could print one of these:

Menus 4 Moms

The Project Girl

Cooking For My Family

Monthly Menu Planner

Do you plan your meals?


  1. At our last MOPS meeting, we made meal plan wipe-off boards. It was just a piece of pretty paper printed with Sunday-Saturday vertically, each day in it's own box. We put them in inexpensive frames and you can use a white board marker to write directly on the glass. I had mine sitting all cute in my kitchen and a "helper" decided to erase it this afternoon. *sigh* I'm thinking your hard copy on notebook paper would have been handy. Before I had the wipe-off board I still hung the week's menu on the frig. My boys especially, like to know what to expect.

  2. We do plan meals, but I don't know how in the world you have 75-100 meals in your master list. Geesh. My kids only like about 10 meals and I get so frustrated with it. Usually we just make what we can make. Do you have any good websites for picking out meals that don't take a 1000 ingredients. Seriously, I have very little time to make dinner. Ok, thats a lie. I don't like making dinner. So the less ingredients, the better. We might switch to eating gluten free. I haven't decided yet. If that is the case, I'm buying a cookbook. I suck.

  3. No do not suck. When I first started planning meals, the thought of having 75-100 on my master list would have been overwhelming to me. I think I started with 15-20 meals, then slowly added more. Just get a cookbook and start brainstorming. Ask your kids to come up with a new meal that they would like to try every week. That way if they are involved in the choosing/cooking of the meal, they may be more willing to eat it. I started with a crock pot cookbook. So many slow-cooker recipes are really simple and easy. Hope this helps!

  4. Slow cooker...ah, yes. I might try that too. I'll probably be making a trip to the book store this weekend. Hope to find something :). Thanks!

  5. There are some great slow cooker cook books. My favorites are the "Fix It and Forget It" kind.

  6. After the birth of my daughter, I've *had* to get good at meal planning. I try to keep in mind using the meats we have in the freezer (purchased in bulk and on sale which helps a lot with budgeting). I've been using the crock pot a lot lately, too- love that as a time saver! My husband likes meat a lot, so I try to plan meals that have a hearty feeling even if they don't use a lot of meat.