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8 Menu Planning Tips

I was going to title this, “How to plan a menu”, but there are probably a bazillion equally valid ways to go about this.

So, this is just a list of 8 tips that help me with my menu planning.

If my method helps you out, great, but if something else works better for you, that’s great too. Chew up the meat, spit out the bones, as they say!

1. Don’t plan breakfast or lunch meals

This is not going to work for everyone, of course, but this tip sure does make my life easier.

We generally have fend for yourself breakfasts, which require no planning (cereal, oatmeal, bagel, fruit, yogurt, leftover pancakes, etc.)

For lunch, my husband takes leftovers to work, and the kids and I eat leftovers (if necessary) and also bread and yogurt and fruit.

And sometimes I make veggie/egg skillet meals for myself.

(Here’s how I make skillet meals.)

So, all I have to plan are our dinners, since the rest of our meals are pretty darn predictable.

2. Plan ahead to give yourself some lead time

I plan my menu on Wednesdays, and my weekly plan runs from Saturday-Friday. This means that I’m always planning a new menu several days before I actually need to.

This is handy because then if I’m a day or two late with getting it done, it’s no big deal, and, well, I just like being ahead of things.

3. Use store sales for inspiration

Sometimes if I’m stuck for ideas, I take a quick peek at the front page of the non-Aldi grocery store ads.

The best deals are almost always on the front page, and sometimes something there will give me a good meal idea at a good price.

4. Look at your fridge/freezer contents

Using up the food I have is almost always the cheapest option, so I try to take a quick inventory to see what needs to be incorporated into the menu plan.

5. Use cooking magazines and cookbooks for ideas

I’m currently in a pretty heavy try-new-recipes stage, because we discovered rather recently that Sonia doesn’t tolerate dairy very well, on top of all her other allergies.

So, I’m in the midst of searching for new meals to add to my repertoire.

cooks country recipe cards

One of my favorite cooking magazines is Cook’s Country, and one of my favorite cookbooks is Dinner Illustrated.

If you are in a less new-recipe-heavy stage of life, I recommend the next idea, which is:

6. Make a master list of main dish ideas

I need to make a new one for myself, since a bunch of my dairy-heavy standbys are off limits now.

But when I had one, I’d made a word document that divided my main dish recipes into categories, like Soup, Salad, Chicken, Ground Beef, and so on.

That way, if ground beef was on sale, or if I knew that I’ve got ground beef in the freezer, I could easily come up with some meals using that kind of meat.

This makes it easy to pick meals based on what’s on sale and what you have in the fridge/freezer.

And this way, you’re never in a position where you’ve planned a week full of chicken only to find pork is all that’s on sale!

7. Use whatever planner page works for you.

I usually just write my meal ideas on my regular calendar pages in my planner, but there are plenty of printable menu planner pages available online.

A list of meals on a plain sheet of paper works just fine too.

It does not need to be fancy; done is better than perfect.

8. Look at your calendar and the weather forecast

That way you can plan an easy meal for a night when there’s a sports practice.

And you can put a grilled dish on the day when it’s not going to rain.

(though I have a terrible knack for grilling when it’s raining!)

Looking at your calendar and the weather will help you avoid roadblocks which could send you down the takeout road.

Related: 7 Reasons You Are Eating Out So Much

9. Main dish, then side dishes, then make a grocery list

I pick main dishes for all the days first, and then I choose side dishes, based on the produce that’s in my fridge or is on sale.

Related: 6 Ways to Save on Produce

Once I’ve got everything picked out, I flip through the recipes and make a grocery list based on the ingredient lists (of course, taking into account what’s already in my fridge/freezer).

That way, when I go to the store, I know I’m getting everything I need for a week of meals.

Wait, how long does this take?

Depending on how inspired I’m feeling and how much time I spend looking for new recipes, this process can take anywhere from 15 minutes to an hour.

When it takes me an hour, the time is still well worth it because it saves me way more time than that over the course of a week.

Then there are the financial benefits.

If I plan a menu:

  • I don’t buy unnecessary food at the grocery store (less money spent, less food wasted)
  • I spend less on groceries because I plan to cook what’s on sale
  • I’m way more likely to cook instead of ordering out

Since even one night of fast food usually costs us $30-$35, the time I spend planning a menu is very financially worth it, even on the weeks when it takes an hour.

For more on this, see my post, 7 Reasons I Plan My Menu.

What menu planning tips would you add to mine?

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Tuesday 31st of March 2020

I will make a list of menu options and make sure I have all the ingredients for it and then stick the list on the fridge. Then I can go with "what I feel like" each morning--I can't do a set menu for the week! :) I usually go two weeks out so I have options. So for those who can't stand the idea of a rigid schedule, look at it as more "Options We Can Do"...I love having it, it cuts down on so much stress. I have 4 boys so I usually get asked about 10 times a day "What's for supper?" The days I already know its so much easier! If I don't know, I get frustrated at them (for my lack of planning--how rude is that? BUT they always seem to ask when I'm busy). Now I just get frustrated because "You already asked, remember what I said?" ;-)


Friday 27th of March 2020

I would save a lot of time and frustration if I planned. Before I leave for work I think of things then when I get home I’m too tired to cook. Then I just make what is easiest. I don’t waste much food though. If I cook I take leftovers for lunch.


Friday 27th of March 2020

I like to "cook once, eat twice" meaning I can stretch a recipe into two meals, freezing one. I also love the ease of using a crockpot which has the added bonus of making the house smell cozy and wonderful - greatly needed in these times. And when it is just Hubby and me, I like to make a super simple dinner. Grilled chicken and a veg, with veg taking up most of the plate's real estate. And lastly, I was just saying to Hubby that we really need to help the smaller restaurant businesses out as much as we can - maybe eating out once per week. There are also some good deals to be had with free delivery and such at the larger ones, too.


Friday 27th of March 2020

I am not a good menu planner, but am learning.

Momma L

Friday 27th of March 2020

I start by looking at my freezer and pantry, then looking at the sale ads. I write out 5 meals, thinking we'll eat leftovers. The weather is also a factor for me, soup on cold nights, grilling or salads on hot days. is a great site, you enter the ingredients you have an menus pop up. I work so this helps me a great deal.

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