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…. 😉
- 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.
- 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 Lunch, Monday 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.
- It provides flexibility while limiting the options of what to fix.
- 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.
- 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!