Menu Banner

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Meal Planning 101

Every once in a while I just feel like talking about meal planning with you. After all, it IS the crux of this blog, right? Today we’re going to discuss why it’s so EASY. I’m also going to share a few strategies you might find helpful. This is a long post – SORRY! I promise there’s some good stuff in here, so keep reading!

Let me preface this post by saying, I’m a slacker at heart. Before this blog, most days you would find me around 4:30 pm each day lamenting the fact I had to cook dinner, with no idea what that dinner was going to be. For some reason I thought planning a weekly menu was annoying. Then I started this blog (if you want the story behind THAT, click here!) and everything changed.

PLANNING MEALS IS EASY! Yes, people, it is. I know many of you who visit this site do so because you ARE planners. In fact you are probably way more organized than I am. But I also know many of you out there are not planners and don’t plan weekly menus. I know what you’re thinking: “Oh, she’s just organized. I’m not like that.” If you know me at all, you’ll know that I am not an organized person. If I can do it, so can you!

WHY should you plan a weekly menu? Honestly, it makes cooking dinner so much less stressful every day. Grocery shopping is SO much easier. And you spend less money. It’s awesome. Trust me, 10 minutes of planning will save you bucket loads of grief for the rest of the week!

Okay, off the soapbox. Time to share some cool menu planning strategies. And these strategies are not mine…my strategy is pretty much sit down on Sunday, browse through the blog for ideas, randomly select meals. That’s not so helpful or interesting…Ruth and Elizabeth have much better things to share…

My good friend Ruth does the following, with an 8-week rotation of tried & true meals that she uses for each slot:
Monday: Mexican
Tuesday: Italian
Wednesday: With Rice (Indian, Stir-fry, Red beans & rice, Pad Thai, etc)
Thursday: Try new things or Leftovers
Friday: Fast food (homemade fast food items: hamburgers, grilled cheese, pizza, baked potatoes, etc.)
Saturday: Fancy Meals (salmon, coq au vin, stuffed shells, etc.) or Eat Out
Sunday: Soup & Salad

One of Ruth’s daughter’s friends comes over regularly on Tuesdays. One day she said, “You guys eat pasta a lot!” Pretty funny…little does she know how amazing a cook Ruth is!

Elizabeth Harris wrote a post a few months back about her quest to plan meals and “reclaim” dinner. You should definitely click over to her post…she writes some great things about the importance of family dinners. Here is Elizabeth’s weekly strategy in a nutshell:
– One crock pot meal (for the busiest day of the week)
– One night for leftovers
– Tuesday nights are usually quick and easy (like breakfast for dinner) because of late meetings
– One new recipe each week

There are of course many meal planning websites out there. I’ve gotta tell you, though, I think it just boils down to making a list of things you like and are willing to cook, then developing your meal plans from there. And if you are not planning, hop to it! You’ll thank me later. 🙂

Time for all of you to share your strategies! How do you go about planning meals? What motivates you?

You may be wondering what the white trash dinner pictures are up here for? To take the pressure off those of you who think your meals aren’t FANCY enough to post each week. This is honestly what we ate on Friday for dinner. I’m not kidding when I say I love reading your menus, fancy or not! All of your ideas are super! 🙂 Meal planning does not equal fancy food. Especially in my house…


  1. 1

    I don’t have a strategy! I love this post though! Ruth’s idea is great. I definitely think I may try that and see how it works. I always worry about repetition with meals and making the same thing or same style too often!

    Great job on this one!!

  2. 2

    I usually start with the weekly ad from the grocery store and see what produce is on sale, then base my menu around that. We mostly eat vegetarian, so I try to follow a pattern so we don’t end up eating beans three days in a row, especially since we have leftovers for lunch the next day.

  3. 3
    Private Chef

    Hi There

    I just stumbled upon your blog and think it is an excellent read for foodies and especially like the photos and design of the blog.I started off as a blogger myself and realise the importance of a good clean design like you have here. I have now bookmarked it for myself to read and have added you to our new list of “all the food blogs in the world” on which we have been compiling for the last month! Hopefully it will send you some traffic in the long run. Looking forward to reading your thoughts on food so keep up the good work and talk soon. Cheers

  4. 4

    My strategy is to sit down Sunday night and think of 3 things that I want to eat that week–It definately makes my shopping trips more efficient. I usually have a rough schedule in mind, but have the flexibility to eat it on a different night if I want & can make space for leftovers if needed, etc. Its just nice to have ingredients to make several different things at any given time.

    I completely believe in the importance of family meals together as often as possible & even really basic meal planning helps.

  5. 5

    I don’t particularly meal plan at a specific time. If I have a slow week night I might get it out of the way, but a lot of time it is Saturday or Sunday morning over coffee.

    I try to make 2 new recipes a week, to keep my blog updated, although lately I’ve been slacking. I plan meals for Monday-Thursday, two veggie meals, and two meat meals is my general rule of thumb. And then I just try to keep it balanced- one veg meal might be pasta based so the other might be bean or rice based. If we have a particularly indulgent weekend, then maybe we’ll do 3 veg meals to help balance. Or if I’m feeling really carnivorous, we might go heavy with the meat.

    I typically assign each day a meal, and alternate meat/veg, but things frequently get shuffled if I forgot to thaw something, my schedule changes, etc.

    On top of that we’re trying to eat out less, but after cooking through the week I am frequently burned out and lazy by the time the weekend comes. In place of our frequent meals out I am keeping us stocked with a few things- frozen southwestern veg/tortillas/cheese for fast quesadillas, mac & cheese (yep, the blue box kind), pizza dough/sauce/pepperoni/olives, and hot dogs. I buy Nathan’s hot dogs and since we’d never eat them fast enough between the two of us I separate them into pairs, wrap em up and pop them into freezer bags. These few things are easy to make and can even be done by my husband, so they are an easy substitute for running to the drive thru.

  6. 6

    Oh boy. I really didn’t meant that to be so long. Sorry! *Blushes*

  7. 7

    I try and plan meals for two weeks and go shopping every two weeks, leaving a day or so a week blank for when plans change or whatever, so we don’t have tons of food going to waste.

    Each week we typically have Soup/Crockpot night, breakfast for dinner, leftovers, and then I will ask the kids or my husband if there’s anything they want for dinner on the other nights if I don’t have stuff in mind or have new recipes to try. (but typically I just try several new recipes a week and it drives the kids crazy)

  8. 8

    OH! And then I have this big post it notes that I stick on the cover of my cookbooks with page numbers/ names of recipes I want to try, so if I need ideas I grab a cookbook and look at the cover.

  9. 9

    Also, all summer long we have picnic day/grill day on Fridays that my husband is in charge of.

    And I’m for real done commenting now.

  10. 10
    Mitchell Family

    I completely agree that the key to good meal planning is having a list of meals you like and choosing from it. My day of the week format is really the same thing. Obviously I shift the days around as needed. It works for us but it has it’s downside. I sometimes get cornered by my own routine. Last night we had Mexican Lasagna and my kids protested. “Why are we eating this? It’s not Monday.”

  11. 11
    Motherhood and Potatoes

    I came across your site, and Meal Planning 101 is just what I need. I don’t have any strategies to offer, but seeing your site and the comments will help me get better organized in my weekly meal planning. My husband currently does this, and I’ll be taking this over from him 🙂

  12. 12
    Jane Maynard

    love all your comments! keep them coming!

    motherhood&potatoes…good luck! glad you found the site! 🙂

  13. 13

    The last two weeks have been super-busy for me, so I haven’t been doing my regular meal planning. Let me tell you, not planning is not good! I’ve been feeling very frazzled at dinnertime lately. The disorganization is enough to make me plan my meals out again!

    Usually, I go grocery shopping on Saturday mornings, so I’ll plan out my meals either Friday or right before I go to the store. I look at my calendar for the week and determine what nights I am busy (or my boyfriend is busy). If I know I have my book club on Wednesday, I won’t plan on making a big meal. I’ll try to do something quick and easy (like frozen pizza or sub sandwiches).

    Then, I go through my stack of “recipes to try.” These recipes are ones I’ve pulled out of magazines or newspapers or have been given by a friend. I try to make one new recipe a week (just to keep things lively). If I’ve made the recipe and I like it, I’ll photocopy it and put it in my 3-ring binder full of other recipes that I like. If the recipe is no good, it goes in the trash! Bad food is not worth it!

    After I’ve marked down the “quick and easy nights” and the “new recipe” night, I’ll fill out the rest of the week with complimentary meals. I try to make different types of food/cuisines. I don’t want to end up eating pasta and chicken every night. If we’re having a heavy meal one night, I’ll try to make the next night vegetarian or a lighter meal.

    I try to make dinner Sunday through Friday, leaving Saturday for eating out and one day a week for leftovers. I also like to keep some basics on hand (i.e. canned tomatoes, beans, rice, shrimp, chicken, pasta, artichoke hearts) that can be thrown together last minute.

    Whew. Okay, I’ve typed my little heart out here. Sorry for the long post, but I found the other posts helpful. Maybe someone will find mine useful.

  14. 14

    I am so happy to be a small part of TWFD! Thanks for the reminder to do my own plan too 🙂 Tonight we are having my new favorite crockpot recipe… Korean Short Ribs. mmmm.

  15. 15


    I’ve seen your blog listed on the links list of many other blogs and finally decided to come and visit.

    I am TERRIBLE at meal planning and I am still at the stage where I am thinking about dinner usually while eating lunch. I do have run to the store very often. I am not sure if I am ready to be organized, though you do make a great case for it! I am a really unorganized person, but sometimes it just works for me. We’ll see…

    I do however, love to cook. I have a little blog I post my recipes on so if you want to get some ideas from there, you are more than welcome.

    It is


  16. 16

    I usually plan my meals weekly based on what my Thursday delivery from Be Wise Ranch will be as well as the Henry’s ads. I typically have a meat/steamed veggie/baked potato meal, a chicken with salad greens meal, a bean soup meal, every week. I have a list of my meals by meat (Turkey, chicken, beef, vegetarian). I also only cook every other day, so I make a double portion of everything, and plan on doing the cooking on my “slower” days.

  17. 17

    I found your blog – just trying to find some fast yummy recipes for my newlywed daughter. I have been planning menus for 32 years, just after I married and did not like the 5 pm “what will I cook?” dilemma! Menu planning saves your sanity, helps every one know what to expect and the children were even assigned simple meals as part of the plan. Saves money too as you shop from a list.

  18. 18
    emily moore

    I have begun making my list of recipes I love. I am just beginning the process and loving it. I’ll keep coming back for inspiration.

  19. Hi!

    No REAL strategy. EVERY Tuesday is Pizza/game night though. I like to try NEW stuff so I try to do that at least once a month (used to be week) … and we do Beans at least every other week because they are soo good for you, cheap and convert into an entirely new meal easily.

Leave a comment

1 Trackback