Simple Menu Planning

In many facets of my homemaking, I am still very old fashioned. When it comes to menu planning, I really like a simple plan. No fancy menu planning software, programs, or applications. Many others might find these systems useful, but I love the simplicity of my dry erase board and  a basic grocery shopping list. I prefer shopping twice a month to consolidate my outings and keep me closer to home, so I prefer to build a two week menu plan. This same system works for all methods, whether you chose to plan weekly, every other week, or monthly. I have found through trial and error that you really can save alot of money by only making a monthly or bi-monthly trip to the grocery store. It’s worth it. In times past I have done a monthly plan and system, but currently, a two week plan is working well.

1. Set a day and time you can do your planning and shopping.

I choose Sunday evening every two weeks to work on menu planning along with my other miscellaneous planning for the week. Sometimes it gets spread out during Saturday morning as well, but my goal is to have it completed before Sunday evening, so I can go shopping twice a month on a Monday morning. Pick a time that works for you.

2. Pick your a printable menu plan chart & shopping list of choice.

It can be a weekly or two week calendar pasted to your fridge or wall, or in your kitchen drawer. Money Saving Mom has some awesome free printables for weekly/two weeks/and monthly plans. Tip Nut has a collection of free printable grocery shopping lists. I love this cute grocery shopping list. Laminate it, place it in a sheet protector, or put it in a glass 8×10 frame for simplicity and resuability. I hang both my two week menu plan and ongoing grocery list (both in hard covered sheet protectors) on the wall in my kitchen, so I can jot down different food staples as we run out of them throughout the week. When it is time to head to the store, I transfer this list to a basic document on my phone which makes it easy to delete items as I pick them up (I like the iPhone Clear app). You could also just print a new grocery list for each shopping excursion, if you love the use of paper.

3. Ask your hubby and kids.

What do they want to eat this week? Any special requests? I want to honor their desires on occasion to show them I love and care for them deeply, and this is a practical way I can show love and appreciation to them. I jot down these ideas and then any new ideas that I have been desiring to try. Inspired from Pinterest? Jot that down.

4. Scan the freezer.

Then I look in my freezer and cupboards and check out what meats I currently have on hand, what needs to be used, what meals have been frozen and forgotten, etc. I make a quick list of these items to reference. Since we purchase our meats annually in bulk buys, I have to keep an eye on what I have and spread them out.

5. Pick nightly themes.

What kind of cuisines does your family prefer? Set a regular pizza night, chicken, soup, main dish salad, mexican, casserole, or italian as a theme in your schedule. Pick 6-7 of your favorite themes and assign a night for each of them. You may want to have a leftover night or eat out night as desired. We like to keep Sunday evenings for the occasional family dinner out, date night, hospitality, or leftovers. Friday evenings is often pizza night at our home at least every two weeks. Having a theme gives you a launching point for each day so you don’t feel like you’re completely lost.

So your list might look something like this:

Mondays: Soup & Salad
Tuesday: Crockpot
Wednesday: Mexican
Thursday: Chicken
Friday: Pizza
Saturday: BBQ

6. Make a running Breakfast, Lunch & Snack Menu.

I keep a running weekly breakfast, lunch, and snack menu that goes on repeat week by week. This keeps things simple and more easily restocked. I rarely change this part of my menu planning except for special occasions (birthdays, holidays, etc.). Once the plan is set, I don’t have to think about it and can just focus week by week on the dinner menu. Here are our regulars:

Breakfasts:

Monday – Eggs & Toast
Tuesday – Oatmeal
Wednesday – French Toast
Thursday – Oatmeal
Friday – Eggs & Smoothies
Saturday – Pancakes
Sunday – Cereal

Lunches:

Monday: Sandwiches (Turkey or ham)
Tuesday: Mac & Cheese
Wednesday: Egg Salad Sandwiches
Thursday: Tomato Soup & Grilled cheese sandwiches
Friday:  Cheese, Summer Sausage, and Crackers
Saturdays: PBJ’s

Snacks:

Apples & Peanut butter
Cheese and crackers
Stretch Island Fruit leather
Brown Rice Cakes with Peanut butter
Fig Bars
Nourishing Protein Bars 

7. Search your cookbooks, favorite recipe websites, and find meals around your themes. 

I currently mainly use Real Simple Best Recipes cookbookAllrecipes.com, and my own recipe index for my meal inspirations. Another great healthy site is Nourishing Gourmet (edited by a long time friend of mine), Allrecipes.com is especially useful for specific ingredient searches and a wealth of reviews on each recipe. For example, I may have a chuck roast in the freezer, so I’ll search Allrecipes.com for recipes with that ingredient and get inspiration from the recipes that come up. This site is helpful because it provides a wealth of awesome reviews and ratings, and most of the recipes can be easily adapted to make them more nutritious (see my tips for making recipes more whole foods based here) according to our diet specifications. I also add the ideas that my hubby and kids offered, and whatever leftovers I discovered in my fridge/freezer.

Alongside our main dishes, I plan side dishes for several dinner meals (specifically those with a meat based meal) with in-season produce. I usually only make a side dish if the main dish isn’t a casserole combination of some kind for simplicity sake. Right now, we’re eating alot of fresh veggies – corn, green beans, brussel sprouts, and more!

All my ideas get written down on the master dry erase menu plan board.

8. Make your shopping list.

Once you have all your meals planned out on your sheet, lay your grocery shopping list next to your menu plan. Start at the beginning of the week and scan through the ingredients required for each meal. Add any necessary items to your running grocery shopping list. Work towards the end of the week or two week period as you have chosen. Remember any staple items that may have been consumed and need restocking. I scan through my dried herbs, pantry, and bulk grains to make sure I have sufficient stock on hand. If not, I add that to my grocery list too.

Finally, if I really have my act together I would clean out the fridge before departing to the grocery store to make room for new food and to clear out any past their prime items. This is my goal. ;)

With my master shopping list in hand, I pack up and depart for the grocery store. I always pack a little snack for the kiddos. In this season of my life, we limit it to ONE stop. It’s not worth it to me with limited time and energy to go to every sale in town. I find a store that I can get every item on my list at and go there. Currently, it’s usually Trader Joes or our local New Seasons Market. I may spend a bit more then if I couponed and hit all the sales, but I can get all my grocery shopping down for the next two week period in one hour flat. And then we can get home and spend more time relationally with my little ones and managing our household well.

Please note: this is a system that works for me but goes through its own tweaks and changes on a regular basis. You have the freedom to take ideas and adjust them to your preference! I know for sure this way might not work for everyone, and that’s okay! Find a system that works for you and go for it, sister! Please share your favorite menu planning tips!

About Lindsay

Lindsay Edmonds is first a lover of Jesus, wife, mother of three, homemaker, and writer. She is the editor of Passionate Homemaking since its beginning five years ago. She loves inspiring women around the world toward simple, natural, and intentional living for the glory of God.

35 Responses to Simple Menu Planning

  1. Paola Bush November 2, 2012 at 3:57 pm #

    I just found your website while searching for ideas on getting ready for childbirth, and have found such a wealth of resources and inspiration. Thank you for sharing your ideas! =)

  2. Maggie October 5, 2012 at 11:48 am #

    Random request, but would you mind sharing your egg salad recipe?

    I am incredibly blessed by your blog on a regular basis. Last night’s post really convicted me. Thank you for sharing your heart, your life, and your gifts with us!

    Blessings,
    Maggie

    • Lindsay October 6, 2012 at 6:47 am #

      I use this recipe without the onion powder (because I don’t keep it on hand). It’s really yummy.

      • Maggie October 7, 2012 at 8:04 am #

        Thank you!

  3. Jess October 2, 2012 at 9:43 am #

    This is a fantastic post, especially for those just thinking about meal planning! Loved it! I try to do monthly menus, which I can start up again since our schedule has slowed down finally.

  4. Lindsey North October 1, 2012 at 9:37 pm #

    Great ideas! I always, always scan not only my freezer first, but my pantry. There are always things hiding that need to get used.

  5. Tara September 30, 2012 at 4:34 pm #

    I did something similar for Summer http://simplymadehome.blogspot.com/2012/06/how-i-meal-plan.html and I am working on my winter one. I have pinned a few new recipes that I am trying this month to see if our family can add them to the rotation!

  6. Kim Howes September 30, 2012 at 6:55 am #

    I try to do meal planning each week. Not only does it save time and $ but also takes the pressure off of the daily question of what you are going to eat for dinner. I LOVE the idea of laminating a sheet to help with the planning. I’ll be putting this simple, yet brilliant, idea into action this week! Thanks for sharing this with us.

  7. Hannah September 29, 2012 at 7:27 am #

    Love these ideas – Thank you!

  8. Katy@KdBuggie Boutique September 27, 2012 at 11:32 am #

    What a great post! Thanks for sharing my grocery list printable with your readers. I hope it will be of some help! I still use it every time I shop!

  9. Cath September 27, 2012 at 8:49 am #

    I find it helpful to put all my recipes for the month into plastic wallets in a small file. I put them in the file in date order. Then when I need a recipe I only have to go through one small file rather than searching through my cookery books

    This is a huge time saver for me.

  10. Mary Beth September 26, 2012 at 5:43 pm #

    Great ideas. Thanks!

  11. Mary Beth September 26, 2012 at 5:42 pm #

    I love the idea of nightly themes! I’ve done menu planning for a long time, but picking a theme for each night would really take a lot of the stress out of it. Thanks for posting!

  12. Amanda September 26, 2012 at 5:16 pm #

    Love this! Thank you for sharing…Ill have to reread it again because its loaded with lots of good information. It will give my meal planning a boost from my weekly planning. Ive been on top of dinners, but shoot by the hip when it comes to snacks and lunches.
    Amanda.

  13. Amanda September 26, 2012 at 5:14 pm #

    Thanks for sharing Lindasy!
    Ill have to reread this again because it’s loaded with lots of good stuff. I normally grocery shop once a week, and have themed days…but sometimes I havent been as on top of our snacks and lunches. Hopefully going every two weeks will save some time and money.
    Amanda.

  14. Mandy September 26, 2012 at 2:57 pm #

    Thanks for sharing your method. I do something similar, so it is interesting to see how someone else does it.
    One of the resources I like to use is Taste of Home magazines. I subscribe to Healthy Cooking and keep my magazines in magazine holders organized by season. So when I’m looking for inspiration I pull out say all the August/September issues and look through them. This helps because I have recipes for things that are in season. Then when I write them down on my menu I always make a note of issue and page number so I’m not searching for the recipe for 20 minutes a few days later.
    I am curious how the twice a month shopping works for you with perishable items. It seems like we are always needing an extra run to the store for milk or bread and fresh fruit doesn’t always last very long for us either.
    On another note, do you have any tips for when you hit a planning slump? Right now I could probably plan out meals for the next 3 months, but there are times I really struggle to plan out the week because nothing sounds good to me (or my husband, he usually doesn’t give me many suggestions).

  15. Jen September 26, 2012 at 1:22 pm #

    Great ideas! I love Allrecipes, and get most of ideas from there. Now, if I would only get my act together with meal planning! I tend to always keep a wide variety of ingredients on hand, and decide what I’m going to make for dinner the evening before, or day of. Of course, the problem is that it’s a recipe for eating take out a little more than I’d like! And though very little goes to waste around here, I could better regulate my use of more expensive ingredients, like grass fed cheese and Kerrygold butter if I planned better. I feel like I could really save money with meal planning.

  16. Cath September 26, 2012 at 12:01 pm #

    I find that a monthly plan works best when the children are at school, however when we are all at home during holidays we tend to make the things we don’t have time to make term time and will plan two/three days at a time. This gives me a break from “routine” too which I need from time to time.

    I do a monthly shop for the dried/frozen/tinned foods that we will need based on my monthly meal plan, freezing meat, bread etc

    Then once a week I do a fruit and veg/egg shop at our local farm shop which is more a pleasure than a chore and go to the dairy to pick up milk. Again I am blessed to be able to give the Jersey calves a pat on the head as I leave :-) .

    Making packed lunches the night before and utilizing the slow cooker on busy days are my life saving tips. Have a lunch box stand by (mine are pizza scrolls and cheese muffins) in the freezer for nights when you just need to sit down :-) Also don’t feel guilty at buying the odd snack/lunch box filler etc.

  17. Pam September 26, 2012 at 10:16 am #

    How do you make produce last two weeks (bananas, lettuce, other perishables)? Do you eat a lot of frozen or canned produce? Dairy I can see squeezing by for two weeks, but I couldn’t do it with fruits and veggies.

    • Jen September 26, 2012 at 12:57 pm #

      I find that my produce lasts up to two weeks in the fridge if i clean it, let it air dry, wrap it in a few paper towels, and place in ziplock bags. I do this with lettuce, peppers, cucumbers, carrots, celery, green onions, fresh herbs, grapes, etc. The paper towels help absorb condensation so it doesn’t rot the produce as quickly, and also keeps it moist.

      We buy bananas in varying states of ripeness, if possible, and store less ripe ones in a brown paper bag in the pantry until we’re ready to eat them. If any get overripe, there’s always bananna bread. :) I don’t pre-wash berries, though. They last longer if you rinse and prep when you need them. I check my produce drawer every week to make sure I use anything that looks like it will go bad soon. I do lose something every once in a while, but not much, and usually because I’ve been lazy in using what I have on hand, and it’s been in the fridge longer than a few weeks. Hope that helps.

      • Heather September 26, 2012 at 11:46 pm #

        That’s the way I store my veggies and fruit too, Jen! It really does work to rinse, dry, and store in ziplocks with paper towels.

        • Robyn September 27, 2012 at 7:45 am #

          I would always get frustrated because my berries (especially raspberries!) would turn moldy faster than we could eat them. Then I learned this tip: Rinse them and let them sit in a bowl with about 10% vinegar/90% water solution, just for a few minutes. (Swish them around a bit.) This kills any mold spores that are on the berries. Drain (you don’t even have to rinse again if you don’t want – the vinegar is so dilute you won’t taste it) and store in fridge! The berries last so much longer!

  18. Rebecca September 26, 2012 at 10:03 am #

    I love your common sense, uncomplicated approach to menu planning and shopping! That’s actually pretty much what I do also. I just make my menu list on a piece of paper. I ask hubby (but he usually says “whatever you pick is fine, Honey :) ) and then I go through my recipe box or use Allrecipes.com or other recipes online. As I write down meals, I scribble down what I need on another piece of paper. Then after the meals are done, I go through my cupboards and closets to figure out what else we need. Lastly, I organize everything according to store on a fresh sheet of paper.

    I shop every two weeks and usually hit 2 stores (right across from one another). Little toddler boy does great now that’s he’s getting older, but maybe when #2 comes next spring, I’ll have to get Grammie to help out :)

  19. Candice September 26, 2012 at 8:35 am #

    I’m a dry erase board planner too. If I left it up to software, it would never get done! I’ve been doing a little shopping on amazon, too, thanks to your recommendation, and it helps a lot with pantry essentials. Thanks for the info.

  20. Mystie @ Simple Pantry Cooking September 26, 2012 at 8:05 am #

    I make my menu plan in Google Calendar, which makes it handy for repeating meals (like breakfasts and homemade pizza on Saturdays) and also for easily moving meals around if plans change. For example, I just got a beef roast in the crockpot and realized we’d probably have leftovers with which I can make shredded beef burritos tomorrow. So I dragged the frittata I had planned for tomorrow into next week and added that to the menu.

    Plus, I share the calendar with my husband, who uses Google Calendar at work, so he gets to see what he’s looking forward to when he gets home. :)

  21. Sarah September 26, 2012 at 6:13 am #

    It really does greatly reduce stress to have a plan. My plan/system is sort of like yours. I love it – amazing how much easier it makes things for me! I have two babies and not a lot of time or sanity for haphazard days. :-P

  22. Laura Green September 26, 2012 at 6:12 am #

    I really appreciate your blog and Nourishing Gourmet and Keeper of the Home, however I work part time outside the home and it’s difficult for me to stay on top of the house and meal planning. Would you have any recommendations for those of us who work in order to still be able to live a healthy lifestyle? Thanks.

    • Lindsay September 26, 2012 at 6:24 am #

      My best recommendation is to do a two week or monthly menu plan so as to limit your planning and shopping periods. This saves a lot of time! weekly planning/shopping is far more time consuming. I also recommend Real Simple as the recipes are usually pretty simple and quick but also from scratch, making it easy to make healthy meals in 30 minutes or so. I always stick with quick recipes so as to preserve my energy since its rather low with my health issues. Preparing lunches the night before can also help if you’re busy the next day with work. Get some quality bread and meats and you have an excellent healthy meal! Or if you double your dinners you can have easy leftovers for the next day! Remember that it’s okay to adjust as needed. It’s not necessary for everything to be organic in order to be healthy. Simple homemade meals from scratch goes a long way! Hope that helps!

    • Jen September 26, 2012 at 1:12 pm #

      I stay home now, but when I was working, a few hours spent on the weekend doing some prep for the coming week made a HUGE difference! Here are some examples of what I would make:

      *A big pot of homemade soup for easy lunches or dinners through the week
      *Cleaning and cutting veggies for easy salads and snacks
      *Some type of dip (guacamole, ranch, hummus, etc.)
      *A big bowl of fruit salad for easy lunches and snacks
      *Roast a chicken or make a beef roast for dinner and use the leftovers for easy meals
      during the week
      *Mix up a batch or chicken, egg, or tuna salad

      I didn’t do all of this every weekend, but I did what I could, and usually made or prepped at least 3 things that made my working weeks much easier.

    • Leah September 26, 2012 at 8:28 pm #

      Laura,

      I feel your pain! I work full-time outside of the home (no kiddos yet so that keeps things simpler). Things I do that make a big difference:

      1. Cook in big batches. It is just hubby and me, so I double or triple a lot of recipes so I have enough for that night, enough for lunch leftovers, AND enough to freeze for later. I do this with casseroles, soups, beans, spaghetti sauce, roasted chicken, etc. It is so nice to be able to relax and pull a home cooked meal out of the freezer some nights, and when you double or triple a batch, it is hardly any extra work at all. It also helps me get more variety into our diet because I am freezing a lot of our leftovers for later rather than eating the same thing 3 or 4 times in a row until it’s gone.

      2. Only try to cook about 3-4 time-intensive (30 minutes or longer) meals per week. Invariably, I have a church function or get stuck at work late or come home completely exhausted, so if I don’t bite off more than I can chew from the get-go, I do a lot better. The other nights can be eggs and toast, bean tostados, quesadillas, BLTs, leftovers, or some other quick and easy meal that I can get together in 10 minutes or less with minimal clean up.

      3. Use your Crockpot! And bread machine if you have one! And rice cooker! And dish washer (run it often, even if it’s not completely full every time). These are lifesavers! I often try to get most of the prep for the Crockpot done the evening before (plan an easy dinner for that night). Then, in the morning before work, I just dump everything in and turn it on.

      4. Outsource and delegate where you can. Is there a chore your hubby can take off your plate to free up more time for you to devote to the kitchen? Can you trim your budget and free up some funds for a house cleaner? A couple years ago, we decided to hire a family friend to come for 3 hours every 2 weeks to clean the house. She sweeps, mops, vacuums, dusts, and cleans all the bathrooms. These are tasks I have always had a hard time keeping up with by the time the house is tidied, laundry is done, dishes are washed, and meals are prepared. By having her come, I am much less frazzled keeping up with daily life around here. I still do deep cleaning tasks when I get time, but at least I know that some basic cleaning will happen at regular intervals no matter how hectic life gets. Her 3 hours probably save me 5 or 6 because she stays focused and doesn’t get interrupted or side-tracked like I do, either!

      5. Simplify your house and your life. I recently did a major “purge” of all our clutter and have found it is so much easier to keep our house tidy and running smoothly. Realize you first priority after the Lord is to your home and your husband. I attend a church where I could easily be out of the house at various church functions 4 -5 nights per week. I also get pressure sometimes to do volunteer work in my capacity as a professional. I have had to make choices, prioritize, and scale back where necessary to keep things balanced. Maybe someday things will be different, but for this season, life runs smoothly and I am able to care for my home and hubby best when I learn to say “no” to a lot of otherwise good things.

      6. Live by the “80/20″ rule. So you messed up and have had eggs and toast 2 nights in a row and your hubby is tired of the same old same old. Order a pizza and don’t worry about it. Don’t feel bad buying a few store-bought foods, even if they are not ideal, if it saves you time and makes life easier. I buy sprouted tortillas and organic lunch meats that are not as good as a homemade option but they help fill in the gaps in my time. And don’t feel bad going out to dinner with friends once in a while! Eat good 80% of the time (or, some weeks, maybe it’s only 60%!), and don’t sweat the rest.

      Fortunately, women have a lot more career opportunities today than they used to. However, it has come at a price. There is so much pressure on us to perform well at work and still keep up our homes, especially if you are not okay with frozen/boxed dinners and drive-thru every night of the week. A lot of times I feel like I am trying to be a full-time homemaker AND a full-time employee. My two “worlds” constantly collide. It can be exhausting, but I just do the best I can and let God’s grace cover the rest! Sorry this got so long, but my heart goes out to you as I read a lot of the same homemaking blogs you mentioned and can feel so overwhelmed by everything I can’t do at times and like no one else working outside the home even bothers to try doing the things I do. You are not alone, sis!

  23. Amey September 26, 2012 at 5:09 am #

    Do you still order groceries online also?

    • Lindsay September 26, 2012 at 6:16 am #

      Yes! I do still buy several items from Amazon with their subscribe & save, including maple syrup, some of the snacks I mentioned above, dish soap, wipes, summer sausage, etc.

  24. Kristin September 26, 2012 at 3:33 am #

    Are we going to see you Fall/Winter Menu Plan? I know you usually change your menu plan around October. I’d love to see it!

    • Lindsay September 26, 2012 at 6:16 am #

      If I can get it together! ;)