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My hope is to inspire you to be fearless in the kitchen, to try new things, to take the time to make things the homemade way and most importantly, to have fun doing it!

Menu Planning – Tips and Tricks

I get questions all the time from readers, friends and family regarding my menu planning strategies.  To some, it may seem that menu planning, grocery shopping and cooking dinner every night require tons of thought, time and effort on my part.  On the contrary, I find that planning such things ends up saving lots of time and money in the long run.  So I thought a post explaining my thoughts, tips and tricks might be a useful resource for some readers.

Why I Plan a Weekly Menu
We all have to eat everyday. It’s one of our most basic human needs.  But just because it’s a need doesn’t mean it can’t be enjoyable.  In fact, I think it absolutely should be!  I never want to fall into a rut where we make the same things over and over (and over…) because there are just so many wonderful meals to try.  As much as I love pasta, I don’t want to eat it every night of the week.  When I plan our menus I make sure there is variety, with different types of meals throughout the week.  If we have a high fat meal one night, I try to counterbalance with lighter meals the rest of the week.  I aim to incorporate a variety of proteins as well as vegetarian meals into the rotation to keep things interesting.

Cooking at home is both more economical and healthier than eating foods from restaurants (or frozen or processed foods.) I feel so much better making all our food and knowing exactly how it was prepared.  In addition to planning main dishes, I plan all our side dishes too.  It helps ensure that we are eating the right amount of fruits and vegetables, and keeps every meal well rounded.  This is for the health of myself and my family.  As for the cost factor, I can feed our family of three (including a lot of baking for others) on $80-120/week for breakfast, lunch and dinner.  Pretty good deal, if you ask me.  Not to mention, if you already spent the money on groceries, you’ll be far less likely to head out to a restaurant.

My free time often feels nonexistent, so it is imperative that I use my time wisely.  By planning a menu, making a shopping list, doing one grocery trip per week, and knowing what meal I will be cooking each night, I save lots of time that could be wasted running to the store for little trips or standing in front of the refrigerator wondering what to make each night.

The Process - Planning the Menu
Now that you know why I plan a menu, here are the things I take into consideration when planning.  (I realize it seems I spend a ridiculous amount of time thinking about food but after all, I’m a food blogger.  It’s what I do.)

What sounds good? Always the first thing I think about.  Anything I’ve been craving, it goes on the menu.
How busy is the week? Some weeks are busier than others, and that definitely needs to be taken into consideration.  If I have a lot of other commitments, there is no way I’m spending more than 30 minutes on dinner (but I still make it – just plan simple meals!)
What ingredients do I have around? I’ve found anytime I focus on using items I already have on hand, our grocery bill is significantly lower.
Keep it balanced. If the thing I was craving was a hamburger, I’m not going to plan the rest of the week with meatloaf, spaghetti and meatballs, etc.
Round it out. Plan side dishes to go with all the main dishes to balance each meal.  If you are making macaroni and cheese, don’t plan other starchy sides like potatoes or bread – eat your veggies!
Sales or coupons? It’s not usually a big priority for me, but occasionally I do look at our store’s weekly ad to see if they have any great deals I should incorporate into my menu, or even items I want to stock up on for later.

Make a List
Once the menu is planned, I make a shopping list.  I gather together all the resources I need including cookbooks, magazines and my laptop.  I look at every single recipe that I plan to make during the week and write down all the ingredients I’ll need.  Even if it is a recipe I’ve made a million times, I still look at it because it’s inevitable I will forget something if I don’t.

While I’m making the list, there’s always a few items where I think, “Maybe we have enough…” but I’m not totally sure.  I write those in the upper right corner of my shopping list.  Once the list is complete, I go to the kitchen for a quick inventory check to see if I actually do have those items or if I need to buy them.  It definitely helps to keep from buying something you already have a ton of (except in my case for oatmeal, which I continue to buy in mass quantities.)

I’ve been buying the majority of our meat and poultry products from our local butcher.  If I plan to buy anything there, I call ahead and place the order so we can just stop by and pick it up on the way home from the grocery if need be.

Now, I shop!  One crucial thing for me is to cross off each item as I buy it otherwise I will always, always forget something.  The list needs to be totally scratched out by the end of the shopping trip.

The Kitchen is Stocked
Once all the groceries are home, I do a quick check of expiration dates in case any meat, poultry, etc. needs to be frozen before the date I’m planning to use it.

Obviously it isn’t a requirement, but having a place to display the menu definitely comes in handy.  Ben can just look at the board whenever he wants to know what is for dinner.  I’m sure this would also be helpful with older kids who can read.

Each evening before bed or in the morning before I leave for work, I check the menu to remind myself of what I will be making for dinner and to move any necessary items from the freezer to the refrigerator to thaw during the day.  If I do have some free time in the evening, I may do a bit of prep for the next night’s meal chopping vegetables, making a sauce, etc. so that there is less to do when I get home.  This is especially helpful when I have planned a more labor intensive meal for a weeknight (like my favorite enchiladas).  I can still have whatever yummy food I want, but the work is split between two nights.

That’s it!  Maybe it seems crazy, but the organization makes everything so much easier.   Hopefully this is useful to some of you!

  • http://scratchwithlove.wordpress.com poperatzii

    I do the same thing! My coworkers were shocked when I told them I make dinner every night. I’m always shocked when people don’t. I guess I just grew up with homecooked meals.

    I have to admit, I do have some staple dinners every week. For instance, I make a darn good salad, which we try to have as an entree twice a week because it’s both delicious and healthy.

    It’s good to know that other home cooks do things the way I do. It is such a hassle not to plan meals out in advance – I feel like I spend more money if I go to the store more often because I always pick up things I don’t necessarily need.

  • http://tideandthyme.com Laura

    Everyone always thinks that I’m nuts with my menu planning too, but it really does make life so much simpler…and saves a ton of money not doing the “mad dashes to the grocery store” at 5 PM. Love the chalkboard though, might have to make room in my kitchen for one of those!

  • http://schnitzelandthetrout.blogspot.com Susan

    You have good organizational skills. We found out also that when we put the menu on our chalkboard, it is much easier to plan ahead and makes preparing dinner together much more fun.

  • Alyssa

    Every time I read your blog I’m inspired to get in the kitchen. This was especially helpful to me, I’ve always wondered how you do it. It’s encouraging to see how frugal you can be and still enjoy good cooking!
    Thanks

  • Faith

    I am so relieved to see that I am not the only one who is so detailed with their family meal and grocery planning. My friends tease me continually about this! The only difference between you and me is that I go so far as to organize my list into categories: dairy, meat, frozen, produce, etc., etc. :)

    I am going to add a chalkboard or something to my kitchen. This is great, and it will keep the from hounding me every day about what’s for dinner!

  • http://www.dawnscottagecorner.blogspot.com Dawn

    WOW this is so helpful to me!!! I used to plan a menu, but I haven’t in a while. I love your strategies. I’m gonna give this a shot, as I actually fix two meals a night. One for me (Miss Vegan eater =) and one for my family (Mr. Meat eaters =)

    Thanks for all the helpful hints.

    Have a Blessed day,
    Dawn

  • http://www.thehealthyapron.com Erin at The Healthy apron

    Great tips! I am always creating a meal plan and even when we don’t stick to it exactly, I can usually whip up an alt. version of what ever we don’t decide to make! We spend (for two) about $50-75 per week…I’d say that’s pretty good considering we buy lots of organics, etc. SO much healthier and cheaper than eating out!! Bring back the home cooked meals!

  • http://warmvanillasugar.wordpress.com Warm Vanilla Sugar

    Thanks for the tips! I make a list just like you, and find it SAVES time as well.

  • http://lacucinadilauren.blogspot.com Lauren

    Love this! People always think I’m crazy for making a meal plan and having a menu in my kitchen – so thanks for putting it out there that it makes our lives EASIER. :)

    Here’s a quick tip – I used to always compile my shopping list in the same manner you describe – and then I would rewrite it based on aisle in my store. Much harder to forget stuff.

    Now, I have a shopping list from Real Simple on my fridge that is divided by category and has little checkboxes. So easy. :)

  • JP

    Great post! What you do is what I would do in my ideal world! Thanks for laying out your process…SO helpful!

  • http://wifeonabudget.blogspot.com Ashley @ Wife on a Budget

    Great post! I do almost the same thing with you when I menu plan, but I base the majority of my meals off of sales and coupons.

    I definitely think it saves time and money to menu plan. There were a couple weeks after the wedding that we didn’t have time to plan out a menu. We were going to the grocery store almost every night and were spending way more money than what I do when I just do one shopping trip.

  • http://thebrunettefoodie.com The Brunette Foodie

    I love menu planning. I actually post a weekly menu each week on my blog.

    Menu plannig has become a sort of obsession for me. For June I did an experiment, and I planned the entire month in May. I did this so I could buy my non-perishables at ALDI to save money when I did my first shopping trip. Now every week since then I just have to grab my fresh items & meats.

    Planning the entire month turned out to be easier than just doing a week, because I could plan to use every item in my kitchen. Obviously we’ve had to tweak it a little bit to accomodate impromptu date nights out or whatever, but I can generally move everything around easily.

    We save so much money meal planning, and it is just generally less stressful. With our first baby due any day I need to cut back on the stress as much as possible. I’ve been menu planning for 4ish years, and I love it!

  • http://definitelyra.wordpress.com/ RA

    Yep, we do the same thing, except that ours is on a shared Google spreadsheet, and I print out each week to put on the fridge. I like having a record of what we’ve eaten and when, especially in the fall, when we are hyperbusy. We also have columns for who’s cooking, what to defrost, and what to prep. Yeah, our friends always hassle us about being so regimented.

  • Tara

    love this post, Annie, and it will be so helpful to others! we’ve been doing the exact same process here for years and it’s such a time and money-saver. menu planning is one of my favorite parts of the week!

  • Diana

    Very helpful! Do you have leftovers, or do you make just enough for each meal?

  • http://chereemoore.blogspot.com cheree

    This is an exact description of what I do. I even have a huge chalk board in my kitchen that I write my weekly meal plan on. It saves us money and keeps us healthy. And I always get to experiment – we rarely eat the same thing twice. Your blog is one of the many I use for ideas for trying new recipes :)

  • http://thatwinsomegirl.blogspot.com Amy Kelly

    These are some great tips! I am definitely guilty of not planning out meals and taking frequent trips to the grocery store. We have a Kroger right across the street, so it’s pretty tempting to stop by regularly rather than making one big trip each week (especially since we don’t have a car and carrying all those groceries can be a pain). A few months back I did try to stick to a routine of planning each week’s meals, considering sales, and shopping with coupons. We saved so much on groceries that way and it really took the pressure off trying to think of something creative to make each night. You suggested some great ideas I never thought of before and now I’m eager to get back to a well-organized manner of shopping and preparing meals.

    One thing I’m curious about though, I always seemed to have issues shopping for fresh vegetables once a week. The Kroger I shop at is notorious for having old (often rotten) produce and our refrigerator doesn’t stay at the temperature it should, so I have a really hard time keeping most produce fresh for more than 2 days. Do you have any tricks for keeping certain produce fresh that tends to ruin quickly? (My hubby and I are young and on a budget, so shopping for the best local/fresh produce isn’t always feasible).

  • Natalie

    I have pretty much the same strategy as you! It is way simpler to plan things out and then we never have to resort to getting fast food. Eating out is a treat and we usually go to a sit-down place (even with a one-year old).
    The only way I differ from you is perhaps I’m a bit lazier. I plan probably three meals for a week b/c we usually have leftovers from one meal creatively repurposed – like putting grilled chicken from the night before on a salad for the next night or making chicken fajita burritos.

  • http://Andrea-thekitchenwitch.blogspot.com Andrea the Kitchen Witch

    Great tips on the menu planning!! I used to do it, then I got bored but I need to get back into it again. it really does help keep me organized and use up what I have around the house that I may have forgotten about. Your menu looks delicious, BTW :) I’d love to try the crispy chicken with citrus teriyaki sauce. YUM!

  • http://www.thesingledish.com Heather @ (The Single Dish)

    I do basically the same thing, but on a smaller scale as I am only cooking for one or two. I do bring my lunch to work everyday though, which tastes great and is a great way to save money/calories. I don’t have a pretty chalkboard though…I just scratch it on a piece of paper or email to myself. Your weekly eats sound delish!

  • Jessica

    Fantastic entry! I love the idea of actually posting the weeks menu. Thanks!!

  • http://www.pearcekitchen.blogspot.com kelly pearce

    I plan my meals as well, very similar to what you do and have noticed a drop in grocery bill and less food wasted! My only question is, what do you do with your leftovers? Is that what you eat for lunch the next day or do you freeze some?

  • Casper

    I am the very same way and people think I am nuts for it. I prefer home cooked meals so we don’t eat out often. If I plan I am more likely to make something tasty and it saves money and time. Once you do it for awhile the process goes so quickly and is super simple!

  • http://www.anniebakes.net anne

    I do this same thing! It makes for an easier time during the week, when I’ve already done the hard part on the weekend when there’s a little more time. It also cuts down of the COST at the the grocery store!! Great tips, anne

  • Marcy

    Thank you for sharing these great tips; I think that far too often, working parents opt for the “easy” way out by picking up pre-made food (I know I do!). It’s nice to do this once in a while, but it’s even more important to establish healthy eating habits for our kids and also get them involved in both menu choices, prep and cooking when they’re old enough. Talk about good bonding time! Some of my favorite memories with my dad (passed away in 1999) involve both cooking and enjoying the results.

  • Annie

    Diana,
    It totally depends. Usually I cook just enough for dinner, not leftovers, but occasionally we have some and then we will use them for lunches.

  • Annie

    Kelly,
    I try to make the right amount of food for just dinner, or only small amounts of leftovers. If we have leftovers, we usually use them for lunches.

  • Annie

    Amy,
    I used to have the same problem but I stopped shopping at Kroger. Their produce is just terrible. Now that I have a better grocery store, all the produce seems to keep. Things that I know might spoil more quickly get put on the menu for the early days in the week (Monday, Tuesday) and things that keep longer are for later in the week.

  • http://telly21182.blogspot.com Angie

    I’ve actually been working on a post about menu planning and shopping lists but meal wise I’ve been uninspired lately so I haven’t had any good visuals! I lover your chalkboard menu – much better than the ugly dry erase board I’ve been wanting to replace for years but haven’t gotten around to it.

  • http://comfortofcooking.blogspot.com Georgia @ The Comfort of Cooking

    This is so helpful, Annie. I’ve always wanted to start planning a menu, but for some reason I’ve just never taken the time. Like you said, it would save a lot of “standing in front of the refrigerator, wondering what to make” moments, that’s for sure!

  • http://healthyabundance.wordpress.com Janet

    I do something very similar, and it’s a huge time saver. I can’t imagine having to start from scratch every day. I’m not creative every day, but I can usually follow my plan, if I’ve made one.
    I do plan on leftovers more than you do. I will make something one night and repurpose it a couple nights later, as part of that night’s dinner. For example, I might grill some chicken for dinner on Monday, and make twice as much as we need. I’ll use that chicken to make a salad on Wednesday. And I also make a big pot of soup (or stew in the colder months) for dinner on the weekend and eat that for lunch all week.
    Eating at home is a big money saver, for sure. Still, I don’t manage to keep my costs as low as you do! I think that more vegetarian meals might help.
    Thanks for the great post!

  • The Cooking Bride

    Great tips! I print out a blank calendar each month and pencil in what meals we are going to have while I am making out my grocery list. I think it definitely saves time and money and it keeps my husband from calling me at work to ask what we are having for dinner that night.

  • http://14karatblonde.blogspot.com Blondie

    I do EXACTLY the same thing – but now Im craving a chalkboard!!!! What a fun and sassy idea!! I absolutely love it!!!

  • http://www.sugarduchess.com LaChelle @ SugarDuchess

    Thank you so much! Meals in our family are always homemade, and I usually have a weekly menu plan, but it’s always sort of vague (almost never written down), and I don’t plan and prepare nearly as well as you do. There’s definitely room for improvement. You’re an inspiration! :)

  • Annie

    Janet,
    I plan on leftovers a fair amount of the time, just not in the particular menu pictured. Totally depends on how busy my week is.

  • http://crystalscozykitchen.blogspot.com/ Crystal’s Cozy Kitchen

    I do the same when I plan my menu, except I always have a back up menu item that we love and is super easy in case something happens on a day I plan a more elaborate meal (or on those days we just don’t feel like eating what is on the menu.)

  • http://www.yardtofork.wordpress.com Amy @ Yard to Fork

    I love this post – and we are basically meal planning twins! Like the others have said, lots of my friends and co-workers think I am nuts but when you’re working and wanting to make good food from scratch you’ve got to have a plan! Plus, since I’m gluten-free grabbing take out isn’t really much of an option for me. I love to make healthy stuff one night a week in my crockpot (a working women’s best friend in my opinion) and I also try and plan my menus so that I can use leftovers from one night later in the week in a different meal. I did a way less detailed post about the same topic on my blog that you might like: http://yardtofork.wordpress.com/2010/03/14/prep-work/ Thanks for all your do on your site; it’s always so fun to see what you’re up to!

  • Traci

    Thanks for the great tips Annie! I love your blog. Any tips for lunch ideas? I’m always looking for something to take to work besides a turkey sandwich!

  • http://www.dessertfortwo.com DessertForTwo

    This is very useful! I have a hard time deciding what sounds good, so I generally go with what’s on sale in the store ads. If chuck roast is on sale, then we’ll have pot roast; chicken breast, then we’ll have a chicken night.
    Do you keep a list of recipes you’ve been meaning to try? And if so, do you incorporate those into the week often? I find it stressful sometimes to try too many new recipes in one week.

  • Katie

    Thanks for this post! I do the meal-planning thing usually, but try to center it around sales at the grocery store as well as what I’ve stocked up on. I have gotten lazy about it lately, so this was good inspiration to get with the program and start planning nutritious meals again!

  • Rachael

    I’d love to do this, but it’s not very feasible in my house. My partner’s moods for what he wants to eat are too variable – it’s tough even to plan something a day in advance. Sometimes he just wants to order a greasy pizza and then the steak I’ve defrosted has to go back into the freezer. Or I’ve prepared a lasagna but he isn’t very hungry. For me, preparing in advance costs too much, as it sometimes leads to wasted food!

  • http://christines-cuisine.blogspot.com Christine

    I love that so many people also do this. I also organize my grocery list by categories and layout of my grocery store – it makes it much easier and more efficient to shop. What type of chalk do you use on your chalkboard? I have one in my kitchen and I can tell you are not using ordinary sidewalk chalk!

  • http://www.aggieskitchen.com Aggie

    Great great post! I menu planned for a few weeks and it changed my life! I am so motivated after reading this.

  • anna maria

    great post – love your menu board!

  • http://janiscooks.blogspot.com Janis

    Love this entry. I do the same with the list, but never have had a chalkboard in the kitchen. CUTE idea! Plus it saves me from the “what’s for dinner” question I hear EVERY day when my husband or kids come through the door. :) Somthing that helped me with picking the recipes to do would be to use one cookbook at a time. Sometimes I would drag them all out to go through and plan a meal and that became such an ordeal I didn’t want to do it. Now I will try from one cookbook,then the next shopping book from another. OR I print out recipes from great blogs like yours to add to the mix. :) I love your blog, by the way!

  • Annie

    Traci,
    Lunch is something I’m working on. Sometimes I do well with it and sometimes I struggle. That is one of my goals for the near future and once I get a better lunch routine down, I’ll do a post specifically for that. Thanks!

  • Annie

    DessertForTwo,
    Yes, I have an (unbelievably long) list of recipes to try. I make more new recipes each week than old ones. I need the variety and love to try new things, plus I need material for the blog. I usually try at least 2-3 new main dishes, plus various other baking recipes.

  • Annie

    It’s just regular Crayola chalk (not sidewalk chalk).

  • Jessica C

    this is exactly how I do it as well. otherwise its chaos. lol. I have to make menus/ shopping lists. I keep a written menu on my fridge at all times. i cross off meals as they are used and when I get to my last meal I start menu planning again for the next grocery trip. I have three kids and my DH and they eat ALOT so we get alot of food and I have to stay on top of it.

  • Julie E.

    I also plan my meals weekly. I have 3 little girls, ages 3, 4, and 5. If I didn’t plan my meals I think they would end up eating chicken nuggets all the time! It takes me about an hour or two to plan, make a list, and check the pantry. Another thing I do is I cook enough to have leftovers the next night. My family has grown accustomed to eating the same thing the next night. I found that this gives me more time with my family in the evenings. And we all hang out in the kitchen while we reheat everything!

  • Becky

    Thank you, thank you, THANK YOU for this post! I read your blog regularly and was just getting online to search for menu planning tips and sure enough, today was my lucky day. These tips are great and are already super helpful as I begin learning the art of menu planning and making my life a bit easier. : )

  • Jenny

    Is the shopping list on Real Simple’s website? Do you have a link?
    Thanks.

  • http://www.thekickboxingwriter.blogspot.com Holli

    Thank you so much for this post, Annie. I usually will follow a similar system for a time, and then inevitably “fall off the wagon”. I very much admire your consistency, and still am a little in awe of how you manage to fit everything in.

    I think most of your readers (and count me in!) will find this post extremely helpful.

    Do you think having a family who expects dinner on the table helps motivate you? I am single, and my bf and I eat separately…I wonder if it’s more difficult to stay on track when you’re cooking for one.

  • Lori

    Just wanted to say thank you so much for this entry! We’ve recently been trying to (1) eat healthier and (2) spend less money on eating out, and we’ve come a long way, but sometimes I still feel a bit disorganized. I find myself making extra trips to the store when I shouldn’t need to. Love your tips and plan to implement them right away! Thanks again!!

  • Annie

    Holli,
    I don’t know, my family doesn’t even seem to expect dinner consistently as I do. My husband would be happy eating a bowl of cereal every night, but the thought of that makes me cringe and so I cook. It’s just really important to me that we are all eating good homemade food the majority of the time.

  • Kate

    Great post!! One thing I’ve picked up along the way was when creating my weekly grocery list, I organize it by section of the grocery store. Produce, Meats, Dairy, Deli, Baking, Grocery, Frozen… This way I focus only on that section of the list in each grocery department. It’s been a time-saver for me, as I was the type to run back and forth across the grocery store several times each trip!

  • http://lacucinadilauren.blogspot.com Lauren
  • Missy

    I just love this post, so inspiring. I definitely struggle with each week’s meals, but this post helps so much! Where did you get your chalkboard?

  • http://stopdropandblog.com FireMom

    I menu plan with Google calendar. I sit down with my blogs, my magazines, my cookbooks and look at which days I need real meals and which days can be quick do-em-up meals. I put everything with fresh produce first and do the meals that aren’t going to spoil on the days before our next grocery shopping trip. We do two weeks at a time. We have saved so much money since we started menu planning two years ago. I recommend it to everyone!

  • Annie

    Missy,
    The chalkboard is from Pottery Barn.

  • HB

    I could improve a great deal with planning (and executing!) our meals! I always have great intentions…..:)
    I also agree that it helps greatly that I organize my list based on the layout of the grocery store. And an odd thing I do is that I place my items on the checkout conveyor by category. So all produce, pantry, bread, frozen, etc are grouped together. Seems easier in bagging and also for when I get home. I think I started doing this after some bagger stuck a Clorox Cleanup with my apples! YUCK! Seems that would go against all bagger rules! This post & blog inspires me to do much more with my cooking…thanks!

  • ashley

    annie-love this post. i really think it’ll help me! i am curious how you can only spend 80-120 dollars a week?! i buy a lot of organic, so maybe that’s part of my issue, but i am curious how you can spend so little? any advice of that is greatly appreciated. i feel like the majority of my weekly budget goes towards feeding my family of 3 and would love to not spend as much as i do each time i head to the grocery store!

  • http://www.organizingmadefun.blogspot.com Becky@OrganizingMadeFun

    I love this…I actually featured this recently on my own blog! How do people go grocery shopping without a menu planned? Fantastic…I’d love to share this with others!

  • Annie

    We do all our own bagging because of the reuseable grocery bags, and we prefer just putting whatever in any bag (except meat, which is separate). The store clerks put like one thing in one plastic bag and it is so wasteful.

  • Annie

    Ashley,
    I don’t have any great advice, as I mentioned I don’t make a big effort to cut costs, shop sales, etc. I do buy quite a bit organic but still do pretty well. Maybe it depends on where you live.

  • HB

    I totally agree as well with the reusable grocery bags! I have about 6 sturdy super-cute ones along with a couple of large “cold” bags. That’s what I’ve used for atleast the last year and I love them! I also have several nice tote bags (love Swoozies!) that I use in other non-grocery stores as well. :)

  • candace

    i do all the same things except the way you do the list. but i should try it!

  • Heather

    It pleases me to know that i’m not the only one who does this crazy meal planning. I have friends that think i’m nuts for doing it, but I explained to them it’s way, way, WAY less stressful when I can make one trip to the grocery store and know what we are eating for two weeks worth of meals (i go real grocery shopping bi-weekly, and stop for things like milk/bread/eggs if we happen to run out beforehand). When my husband and I first bought our house, i was frazzled with coming up with dinner ideas. What happened was we were eating alot of crap dinners – kolbasi, burgers, pasta – all things quick and easy, but not really alot of healthy options or variety. Menu planning saved my life, or at least prevented me from getting premature worry wrinkles. And alot of things i make I can guess how many meals worth we can get out of. Chili/soups/stews we usually get about 2-3 days worth of meals out and makes life for me less stressful. I usually make stuff like that on Sundays so Monday I don’t have to concern myself with getting home asap. Friday & Saturday? my days off. I’ll usually bake some bread or a sweet treat for during the week. I love the menu board idea. I think i’m going to have to pick one up!

  • http://www.no-onions-mbc.blogspot.com Missy

    Love this, thank you for sharing. It was fun to read through your process of planning. Very similar, yet different to what I do to plan meals for my family. I think you just inspired me to do a post on how I plan my weekly meals.

  • KCatGU

    We meal plan too! It is an invaluable skill I picked up from my mother. I also have found it helps put my husband and I on the same page and involve him in the process. We usually do a quick plan on Friday before we head out for the evening (either at home or in the car, where I keep a notebook to write on). That way I am prepared when the Saturday early morning farmers market rolls around. Originally I found that when I asked “what do you want for dinner” I would get no answer or an “I don’t know”. So now I kind of focus on proteins, for example in one week we might eat seafood, beef, chicken, ground turkey, and then I ask him “how should we make some chicken breasts this week” this strategy ends up being way more of a team effort.

  • Anna

    My husband knows that if I don’t have a menu set by Friday night that that’s whay we’re doing. I don’t think we’d survive it I didn’t have a menu set, I work full time and go to night school so I had to get in the habbit of menu planning. And we really saved money by doing this instead of eating out all of the time.

  • jordan

    Great thoughts. A few tips that we use to survive residency +kids +healthy + delicious…
    1. making enough every time to either freeze for a 2nd meal or to do lunch portions (or both), or to roll into another meal. Example: chili–making humongous servings, eat, freeze into lunch portions, then a lunch portion can be turned into nachos, chili mac, lunch, or 2-3 lunch portions could be thawed into a second dinner.
    2. buying meat in bulk and prepping it before freezing. we trim our chicken and throw into a ziplock with a basic all-purpose marinade before freezing, then all needs is pulled down to the fridge the night before
    3. we rely heavily on frozen veg, better than canned and often available in organic. we then steam it (from frozen) in the microwave or stove top and add it to a side
    4. Costco-they have high quality frozen veg, easy salsas, hummus, cheese and bulk produce. for instance, a 6 pack of multi color bell peppers is about 1$ per pepper, can make fajita veg, then a pasta salad with the left over grilled veg and some leftover fish, etc…
    5. deep freezer. can’t say enough about this tool!

  • Laura

    I just started reading your blog, wondering if there was an easier way to meal plan… but this is exactly what I already do! Except I don’t display the menu because my kids can’t read and my husband doesn’t care. I also plan breakfast and lunch, but more loosely than dinners. I have to plan to have enough bread and insides for sandwiches, enough eggs and yogurt for the breakfasts, etc. I love to cook and am always trying new dishes!

  • http://www.meettheblochers.blogspot.com Chrissie

    I love this post, I stumbled across it but it echos thoughts I posted earlier this week on my own blog. I cook a lot and firmly believe in lists and doing one big shop a week! My current thoughts have been around the subject of buying organic and balancing the cost of doing so by shaving my bill in other ways. My local produce market is wonderful for produce that is not too full of pesticides and very reasonable. I am going to look into a local butchers for my meat, I prefer to support local, small businesses. Do you buy dry ingredients in bulk? I am looking forward to following more of your posts.
    And, I laughed out loud when I read about you accidently overbuying oatmeal – I have 3 canisters in my overcrowded pantry right now! ha ha

  • Annie

    No, I don’t really buy in bulk.

  • Maria

    Great post! I’ve been trying to get serious about meal planning for a few years without much success but a few months ago we bought our first home and our commute is now well over an hour. I don’t know what I would do with out my meal plan!! I don’t have time to putz around in front of the fridge anymore so having a plan is essential to getting dinner on the table before my preschooler has a total melt down. It also helps keep our budget very low, we spend $75 a week on three meals a day for DH and I and breakfast, snack and dinner for my son. Here are a couple of tricks I like to use:

    Monday is almost always a crock pot night this way I can try a more complex crock pot meal by getting prep out of the way on Sunday. Also this provides a base protein to repurpose during the week (a beef roast can become shredded BBQ sandwich or a stew etc) or even re-serve with a few nights in between. I always make A LOT and plan to serve some for lunch

    Tuesdays I have my hubby cook, now that it’s warm it usually means BBQ protein, a salad and dinner outside. While he’s BBQing I cook Wednesdays’ or Thursday’s dinner inside. This works really well to allow us to have meals with longer cook times even during the week since I can let something simmer or bake while we are sitting and eating. It also works great for meals where it tastes better once the flavors have had time to sit and blend together.

    After prepping those two days the rest of the week works itself out since now I’ve got leftovers and precooked meals.

    Cooking this way has saved us so much time and money, one week when the budget was particularly tight I managed to get us all fed nutritious meals for $28 for the whole week!! No joke. Usually my menu is less than $75 but I don’t like to “leave money on the table” so I use whatever is left to shop the sales and stock up on cheap meals for upcoming weeks (that’s how I managed $28). Also I’ll stock up on party stuff (beer, paper products, burger meat, steaks etc.) so we always have at least some stuff on hand for inviting people over which really cuts the cost of entertaining and allows us to have a party even if money is tight.

    And a tip I never see online that helps keep my grocery bills really cheap??? Try cooking ethnic meals! Not fancy gourmet versions, more like house food from other countries. For example I cook a lot of Spanish food, fact is most Latin American countries are very poor so tried and true favorites from these countries will be on the cheaper side. I favor Spanish food because the ingredients are easier to find in a regular supermarket, Asian and Indian food can be a good choice too but if you don’t have an Asian market nearby you might break the bank buying a “specialty” ingredient at a regular supermarket or worse yet Whole Foods.

  • http://www.itsybitsybrianna.blogspot.com Brianna

    Where’s the recipe for Chicken Tortilla Casserole??
    sounds DELISH!

    xoxo
    bB

  • Annie

    Use the search bar, you’ll find it easily.

  • Elizabeth

    Great post! And I’ve loved reading all of the comments on this one too. Right now I’m struggling with organizing all of my recipes…I have a manila folder with print outs and pages torn out of magazines. It’s so hard to find anything. I’d love to see a future post on how you keep organized!

  • http://www.pediatricnutritionofgreenhills.com jillcastle

    Great post–i so agree with you–meal and menu planning is the key to stress-free parenthood! My clients struggle to do this regularly, but once they master meal planning, they and their families are much happier, parents feel more confident about feeding their kids, and kids tend to be healthier.

  • Katherine

    I second the Google calendar – it is great for laying out a plan; but my favorite part is that when something is a big hit – I can copy the event and stick it in at a later date so I remember we liked it and want to make it again!

  • http://facebook.com/Baking4Six Dianne @ Baking 4 Six

    Thanks, Annie. Just wanted you to know that I added a link to your menu planning page to my blog :)

  • Christie

    I love and appreciate this post! Family of 4…going on 5. Meal planning has been a life saver for me and I’m always interested in ways to do it better. Loved the tip for segregating the “maybe we have enough…” items on a working grocery list – can’t believe I never thought of that. I also try to organize my list based on the layout of the store I shop since I find my minutes numbered with my 5 & 2 year old in tow and I can only afford so many across the store trips for the stuff I missed – but I don’t always make it happen as it usually involves re-writing my list. Have considered drawing up my own categorized list that I can just fill in and having it printed in pad form. Someday…
    As a wife & mom – I really appreciate your blog…thanks!

  • Meghan

    I have been following your blog for a while now and find myself using a ton of your recipes. I even use your blog to find other great food resources. These tips are great! But one of the issues we have in our house is the produce. Usually a recipe only calls for part of what you have to buy (herbs, green onions, etc.) We are trying to grow our own herb and vegetable garden, but I find that that the produce we don’t use goes to waste. Do you have this issue? Do you have any solutions?

  • Annie

    I honestly don’t think there is an easy solution to this issue. You can’t only buy the amount you need with some things, and though I try to incorporate ingredients into multiple meals over the course of a week, I’m not going to force myself to cook with one herb every night just in the interest of using it up. One good solution is compost, though we haven’t started that yet (hopefully next year).

  • http://justthetip.wordpress.com vanessa

    I created a google document that is shared electronically with my partner. It has one table that has the day of week, which mains and sides are planned for each day (including links to the recipe if it’s online), and what I need to pick up from the store for those dishes. I have another table with columns for the various stores I shop at (costco, trader joe’s, market basket) and just plug in the items I need to buy into the respective store I get it at. Works well for us!

  • http://lovesavocado.blogspot.com/ Jessica@LovesAvocado

    Great post! I love your blog! I found this great printable layout for meal planning on the ATCO website https://www.atcoblueflamekitchen.com/NR/rdonlyres/F7A4F51E-773D-4BD5-8EE5-F7339F6B3845/0/ATCOBlueFlameKitchenMenuPlanner.pdf

  • http://thegingersnapgirl.blogspot.com/ Gloria

    Hi Annie, I just read your post about organizing recipes and now about meal planning. Thanks for sharing your tips. I love that you “just do it all”. Life is what you make it, right? Sounds like you have a very busy schedule…do you photograph for the blog at night? If so, what special equipment do you use? Do you make a recipe for the blog more than once before you post about it?

  • Annie

    Gloria, information about my photography can be found on the “About Annie” page. Generally I only need to make something once to get the photos I want but occasionally I am not satisfied and will reshoot. Of course, it’s happening more and more often the pickier I get :)

  • Katie S

    I don’t think you’re supposed to thaw and re-freeze meat! I say eat the steak yourself and let him make his own dinner if he’s not in the mood for what you’re making!

  • Katie S

    We do much of our meal-planning the same way. It’s strange, though, I find that I cook dinner every weeknight, but when it comes to the weekends I lose all desire! We end up eating out almost all weekend long. I can’t explain why, because logically I should do all the cooking on the weekend when I have time….right?

  • Annie

    If you read this post, it discusses the fact that you actually can safely thaw and refreeze meat.

  • Kate Gallimore

    Although this post is old, maybe someone will benefit? storing green onions (white part up) in water will keep for a week +. Storing cilantro/parsley/etc in cold water in fridge covered from drafts also makes it last a long time (i get two weeks out of mine). i keep telling myself, it will be even better when i have my own garden and can just pick what i need! anyway – google storing herbs, there’s plenty of information on how to keep them fresher longer.

  • http://www.eatmedelicious.com Ashley

    Great post! I love seeing how other people do meal planning for the week. :)

  • http://www.cluttercafe.com cluttercafe

    May I just say that I love you? I am in awe of people with organizational skills, as I seem to lack them. I am realizing that our food bill is OUT OF CONTROL and I know it is because of lack of planning. I don’t have the time and don’t need to spend the extra money on food items that many times I throw away. I am going to plan my menu for next week starting today and see how it goes. It will be a good experiment for me. Thanks so much for all the helpful tips. As a busy wife, mother & physician, you truly inspire me that I too can do it all and enjoy it more with some proper planning. Happy holidays!

  • Sarah

    I just stumbled across this post and I have to pat myself on the back! I do a lot of the things you also do when planning meals for the week – I’m happy to know I’m on the “right” track!

    The one take-away for me was adding items to the top of my list that I’m not sure we have enough of. It never fails, I’ll get all spread out to make my lists and choose our meals and then several times I’ll have to get up to check on ingredients. This such a simple and easy solution, do it all at once, Duh!

    Love your blog…

  • http://www.feelingfoodish.com/ Marie B

    This post is full of excellent ideas! I just started food blogging, for fun, and I find myself making the same things over and over at times. What a great way to get more variety in the kitchen…

  • Angel Shadoff

    I have made menus for years and when I tell people that they look at me like I am nuts. I am a dietitian – yes – but I was a menu planner long before that. Saves so much time! Glad to see this post!

  • Leslie Francis

    Love your recipes and organizational ideas. Thought I would share a fabulous app with you for storing grocery lists, etc. it’s called Cozi. It really simplifies grocery shopping. Plus, my husband and I share the same app so if he’s at the store, he knows what he needs to pick up without having to ask me.

  • Kay Mack

    with herbs at least, you can use the leftovers to make pesto. Just throw whatever herbs are about to go bad into the food processor, add olive oil (perhaps pine nuts or walnuts if you like, or a bit of parmesan) and you have pesto! It freezes well too, but can be used as a spread on sandwiches, a dressing on salads, or as pasta sauce if you have enough volume.