Monday, March 26, 2012

Menu Planning

Do you plan your menus? I didn't until I realized it saved me money, aggravation and keeps us all healthier. It saved me money because I check my freezer to see what I have to use first, then I re-stock with meats and frozen veggies, etc., on sale. And it also saves money because when you have a plan, you might follow it instead of relying on take-out and fast food. And it saves me aggravation because I don't have to figure out what I am going to do when the twins are screaming at my feet and want attention. (And sometimes I can prep the entire dinner during their nap, which makes the after-school pre-dinner rush go smoothly.) It keeps us all healthy because I make sure we have healthy options included in our meal, like veggies and fruit, and allows me to stick to better food choices. It also allows me to try out new recipes because I can plan ahead, and any Pinterest, Food Network, blog reading addict (like myself) understands how important it is to try out all those new recipes!

Many of my favorite bloggers do menu plan, and they inspired me to do the same. (Frugal Upstate is great at this -- she usually posts her menu plan every Monday.) Basically, I look at my calendar to see what our week is going to be like. If we have an activity after school that involves me volunteering or running around a lot, I try to do something simple. If my husband is not going to be home, I do a kid-friendly meal or something fun, like breakfast for dinner (Big Girl likes that).

I also try to keep my meals in a pattern. Monday night is usually a pasta night, which can be as simple as sauce and pasta, or as elaborate as meatballs with pasta, baked ziti, or penne a la vodka. Tuesday I usually make chicken or some other meat meal with potatoes and veggies. Wednesdays can be the kid-friendly night or breakfast-for-dinner night. Thursday is piano lesson night, so Big Girl's tradition is to have Annie's Macaroni & Cheese (which I stock up at Target when it goes on sale for $1). The babies eat before I leave, and hubby and I fend for ourselves with leftovers or other easy meals. Friday is currently meatless for Lent, so it's fish, or grilled cheese, or whatever I can dream up, depending on if we have an activity scheduled. Weekends vary, but I do like to make homemade pizza if we are home and hanging out -- I usually buy pizza dough for $3 at the local grocery and we make our own sheet pizzas. I also try to work in crockpot meals, casseroles and other things I can cook during the day and finish off at dinner time.

I mentioned that Monday is usually pasta night (because leftovers are good for hubby's lunch during the week, or on Thursdays for leftovers). Other people use other theme nights, like Taco Tuesdays, or Crockpot Wednesday, Baked Potato Bar Thursdays, or Frozen Food Fridays (frozen fries, chicken nuggets, etc. -- kid pleasing!). Some people prep the week's meals on Sundays, to make life easier during the week. You can work it however it suits your family and your schedule.

You can put your weekly menu plan in a frame:
Print out a Monday-Sunday sheet and put it in the frame.
Use a dry-erase marker to write in your selections for the week on the glass.
Now your family won't be asking "What's for dinner?"

So that's basically it. I make sure to look at my list on Sunday to guarantee we will have everything we need. I try to use what I have first. What good is a fridge, freezer and pantry full of food if you don't use it? I am getting much better at this since the twins came along, because I can't just run out easily to pick up something.

And I also should note that I'm not a slave to the menu plan. If something comes up, it comes up -- no biggie. A plan can be changed and adjusted, and I do it all the time.

There are some great menu plan display boards and ideas on Pinterest, but mine is fairly simple. I write it on a plain piece of paper and put it on the side of the fridge, or I use a weekly planning pad (with a grocery list spot on the side, kind of like the photo at the top) which I got for $1 at Michael's craft store. There are many, many free printable menu plan pages available on the internet.

The blog Bold Turquoise put together a meal planning binder that you can recreate yourself:

I don't think I need to get that fancy and uber-organized, but if you are up for it, then go for it!

Do you meal plan? Share your successes and tips in the comments section.


  1. I started meal planning for the month because I just couldn't make weekly work. I love it. We have a few changes each month but like you said it's no big deal. I don't know if you have Safeway there but they have pizza dough 10 for $10 until Wed. I'm headed there today. :)

  2. Menu planning is one of those things I wish I was better at. The biggest challenge for me is actually wanting what I have planned for dinner. Something may sound good on Sunday when I'm planning, but come Wednesday not so much. One thing that does seem to work for me is doing a lot of prep before hand so I am able to switch it up on the fly.

  3. Yup. I laminated my meal cards with the recipe on the back so that once I plan out the week, I flip the cards over to make my grocery list. Saves me time and it helps me to make sure the family is getting a full range of nutrition. My kids have gotten in on the act with meal suggestions and they seem to complain less on a healthy night because they see I make an effort to accommodate everyone's favorites over the course of the week. My board is here: