How I Menu Plan

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 Tips, Tricks, and Strategies for Menu Planning. Includes one AMAZING bonus tip that you don't want to miss!

In my last post, I discussed why I menu plan.  This post addresses the nitty gritty of how I get my menu planned and executed.

There are so many strategies that you can use for menu planning, and it really just takes time to work out a system that works for you.  Here is what works for me!

Several years ago, my husband and I sat down and brainstormed all the meals that we liked.  I looked through my recipes, my e-mail, and some of my favorite cookbooks, and let the list linger for a week or two to make sure that I had plenty of time to remember all the things that we liked.  Then I divided them into categories.  My categories are Asian, Mexican, Breakfast, Italian, Indian, American, Soups, Sides, Snacks, and Lunch Salads.  I typed, formatted, and printed it, and put it in my little binder that holds household-y things.

List of Favorite Meals for Menu Planning
Our list of favorite meals.  Sides, snacks, and lunches are on the back.

Once a week I sit down with my little binder and a good old-fashioned spiral notebook.  With my list of meals in front of me, I write down the days of the week and start filling it in, based on the following considerations:

Menu Planning set-up
Ready to plan!  Notebook and pen, list of meals, and computer to check recipes or sales if necessary.

  • Tradition- Friday night is pizza night around here.  It's always the first thing to go on the schedule.  Your family probably has its own traditions, whether they be weekly meals or something special on birthdays, holidays, or anniversaries. 
  • Prep Time and Schedule- Are you walking in the door 5 minutes before dinner or will you be home all afternoon with a long child-free nap time that you can use to chop veggies or assemble a casserole?  Don't plan something that will take 2 hours to prepare on a day when you only have 15 minutes. 
  •  Stockpile and Fresh Produce- I consider any produce other perishable food that we need to eat up.  If we have lots of bread and eggs, I'll plan French toast.  I make stir fry when we have too many veggies in the produce drawer
  • Clean up time- If you've got to run off after dinner, you can't cook something that will take you forever to clean up!
  • Sales- Check out your grocery flyer to see if there are any sales you want to take advantage of.  A big sale on chicken might mean a chicken dish gets added to your menu.  This can be especially helpful to me when I plan what side dishes I'll be making; I rely on produce sales to round out our veggie intake for the week.
  • Variety/Nutrition- I try to make one pasta dish a week, pizza once a week, and one thing that is loaded with veggies.  I also make sure that I've got something planned that my girls will eat, and that all our nutritional bases are covered. 
  • What do you want?- Don't forget this one!  I always ask my husband if there's anything in particular he wants.  Sometimes I let my oldest pick from 2 or 3 choices of pasta. 
After I have the week's dinners planned, I consider lunch.  If we'll have plenty of leftovers, or if I've got things in the freezer to eat for lunch then I don't plan anything further.  Often though, I like to plan and make one big lunch salad (pasta, bean, grain, etc.) for me to eat on during the week.  Make sure to write it down!

Think about snacks.  Do you want to make something special for your kids?  I make my Blue Ribbon Granola Bars at least once a week, so I always write that down as well.

Once I've got all my meals and snacks planned, I work on a grocery list.  I go through each recipe or meal and write down the groceries I need.  Then my husband and I think about other groceries and household products that we need.

I make sure to have my menu plan written down on the same page as my grocery list.  That way, when I'm at the store, I won't see an ingredient and completely forget what it's for, so I can be sure to get the right size or brand for the particular meal that its planned for.

Ready for the Bonus Tip?

For me, figuring out this last part has made the biggest difference in my menu planning success and failure.  Are you ready?  It's so easy that it will blow your mind.
 
Post it where you will see it.

I can't tell you how many fabulous menu plans I created that just fell by the wayside before I figured this out.  The menu plan would just sit there, in my notebook, and I would completely forget what I had planned, or what I had shopped for.  


Then I made this little planning sheet, laminated it, and stuck it on my fridge.  After the meal plan goes into my notebook (and up on the blog), it goes on to the "What's For Dinner?" sheet on my fridge.   I use dry erase markers, write in the dates on the side, and write in our meals.  

I see it every day.  I see it all day.  It makes it easy to remember what I've planned, which makes it easy to actually prepare and cook it.  It also makes it easy for me to switch meals around if necessary, based on mood or schedule changes.

Click over here to download and print your own "What's For Dinner" planning sheet.

It's made the difference for me.  I hope it helps you as well!

Now of course there are still days when things don't come together as planned, but this system has helped me have the most success so far!

What other tips and tricks can you add to this list to help with menu planning?

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Cutting Tiny Bites: How I Menu Plan
How I Menu Plan
Tips, Tricks, and Strategies for Menu Planning. Includes one AMAZING bonus tip that you don't want to miss!
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Cutting Tiny Bites
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