My Menu Planning Method

I received an email from a friend a while back asking how I do my weekly menu planning, and as I was drafting my response to her, I decided that perhaps I should share my method here on my blog, too.

One thing I have learned from experience is that cooking for my family is a lot more fun–and happens a lot more regularly–when I have a plan. I have admittedly been in a planning–and therefore, cooking–slump the past few months, which has resulted in too many procrastination/lack of motivation-induced late suppers and/or too many trips through the McDonald’s drive-thru (which is definitely NOT in accordance with a whole foods diet!). :-) Thinking of Proverbs 29:18 (“Where there is no vision, the people perish.”) the other night, I jokingly said to my husband, “Where there is no plan, the people starve to death… or eat fast food.”

While I am slightly embarrassed to admit that I haven’t been feeding my family all that well as of late, I do have a couple excuses…. 😉

  1. When we transitioned to more of a whole foods diet, I put several of my usual recipes out of commission until I could figure out how to adjust them to make them healthier. As a result, my menu planning document (which I’ll tell you about shortly) was also put out of commission until I could get it revised to reflect those adjustments.
  2. Soon after our transition to a healthier diet, I also began a transition to buying more grocery items in bulk. Because of the start-up costs associated with that, I didn’t have as much room in my grocery budget for much meal variety; and that started me on a cycle of just coming up with a meal based on whatever ingredients I had on hand.

 
Needless to say, I have recognized that my lack of a plan has been robbing not only our “dining out” budget but also the joy I find in cooking for my family. I have therefore been working on revising my menu planning document; and now that I’m ready to get back to the benefits of having a plan (and to get myself excited about it!), I thought I’d share my menu planning system here for others who may be looking for ideas.

Let me first say that I cannot take full credit for this. Just as I am sharing my method with you, my super organized friend Melissa shared her method with me; and her ideas served as the framework for what I have developed….

I do have a recipe/menu planning software, but I don’t like it; so I just started from scratch using Word. My document contains several pages, titled as follows: Monday-Friday LunchMonday Supper, Tuesday Supper, Wednesday Supper, Thursday Supper, Friday Supper, Saturday Lunch, Saturday Supper, Sunday Lunch, Sunday Supper.  Within each page I have at least an “Option A” and an “Option B” (with the exception of Monday-Friday Lunch and Sunday Lunch because for those meals we do either leftovers or sandwiches); and on many of the pages I also have an “Option C” and an “Option D.” 

To further break things down, I have designated Monday as fish night, Tuesday as beef night, Wednesday as chicken night, and Thursday as pork night. Friday nights are meals that don’t provide leftovers (since I cook lunch on Saturdays); Saturday Lunch and Saturday Supper meals are crock pot meals or other meals that require little preparation but provide hearty leftovers (so that I don’t have to cook lunch on Sundays); and Sunday Supper meals are ones that are light and quick to fix.

Under each “Option” I have everything listed that goes with that meal, including the recipe(s) if necessary. For example, on the Monday Supper page under “Option A” I have listed Salmon Patties w/ Lemon Sauce (followed by the recipe for both the salmon patties and the lemon sauce), Mashed Potatoes, and Sweetened Tomatoes.

Each page is printed out and stored in a plastic sleeve in a 3-ring binder that I keep in my kitchen. Since all the recipes that I use on a daily basis are contained within the few pages of this binder, I store all my cookbooks in the basement instead of keeping them in the kitchen where they take up cupboard space.

I do a lot of my grocery shopping through a food coop (once every four weeks), and I make a monthly trip to Costco where I buy some things in bulk; but other grocery shopping is usually done at the local grocery store on a weekly basis. I am beginning to figure out exactly what items I need to purchase each month from the coop and from Costco to accommodate my menus, but I do still consult my binder before putting my order/grocery list together. It isn’t until sometime before my weekly trip to the grocery store that I actually plan which meals I am going to cook that week. (Some people plan a whole month of menus out at once, but I like the flexibility of doing it weekly.) Then, I make my grocery store list based on that week’s plan.

In order to keep track of which meals I have purchased groceries for, I utilize my planner. (Yes, I did buy a planner!) So, if this week I chose Option A for Monday, Option D for Tuesday, Option B for Wednesday, and so on, I simply write an “A” on Monday, a “D” on Tuesday, a “B” on Wednesday, etc. Keeping that information in my planner also serves the purpose of helping me to not repeat meals back-to-back weeks. So, if I see that last Monday I served Option A, then this Monday I will probably serve Option B.

While this system may not be exactly right for you, it has really worked well for me.  I like it for several reasons.

  1. It provides flexibility while limiting the options of what to fix.
  2. Each day’s meal options are organized either by type of meat, by preparation time required, or by amount of leftovers provided, meaning that whichever option I choose for a particular meal is going to work well and make sense for our lives/schedules.
  3. I don’t have to make a new written plan from scratch every week or every month, which saves me a lot of time and thought.

 
My friend Kathleen has a food blog called Feeding a family with love and great food (and she does, too!).  I don’t know about you, but the best way for me to do that is with a plan!

2 Comments

  1. Kristen says:

    I think I have your plan figured out. I’m more of a visual person (Crazy I know), but I think I got it. Hopefully it helps me stay more organized. Thank you for sharing.

  2. Melissa says:

    So are you saying that McDonald’s doesn’t offer whole foods? Whoops.

    (Morning sickness = lots of foods that you wouldn’t normally eat on a regular basis)

    :)

    I feel your pain!!! :)