Menu planning 101



By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail

Oh Benjamin Franklin, you are a man after my own heart.

I like things to run smoothly. The more streamlined and efficient I can make my life, the better. I want to know what’s coming at me so I can prepare and respond in the best way possible.

I was the kid who set out her clothes the night before and I’m the adult who plans meals a month in advance.

Meal planning is the best home management tool I use to keep our days flowing along and me not panicking. I’ve been doing it for about a year and half and while it most importantly saves my sanity, it also saves time, effort and money. By planning all three meals for every day up to a month in advance, I am able to use what is in the cupboards, buy ingredients when they’re on sale, prep meals when it’s convenient for me and never have to answer the question, “What’s for dinner?”. 

Ready to give it a try? Here’s how I do it:

Grab a pencil, a blank one month calendar, recipes and the weekly ads.

A pencil is absolutely necessary. You never know when you’ll run out of leftovers before ‘leftovers night’ is on the menu or when out-of-town guests are going to show up for lunch. I print a blank calendar from Google Images so it’s nothing fancy but it works. Just make sure there’s enough room to write in each day. I write in B/L/D in pen. You can also plan a snack.

Start planning!

I start by choosing meals I can make with what I have on hand. Then I put down what Ryan or I specifically want to have. If I want roasted chicken I’ll put it later in the month so I have time for it to go on sale. Next I look at what’s on sale that week and fill in at least the rest of the week while making a shopping list, making sure I have everything the recipes call for. Two tasks done at once! Depending on how good the sale selection is, I might be able to plan most of the month or I might really only get that week done. I always leave holes in the second half so I can fill them in with what’s on sale later on. I do like to plan all three meals because I never have to think about what we’re having. Even when we’re having something as simple as cereal, I don’t need to make a decision. It’s also helps me to be intentional about what I make. So rather than just reaching for cold cereal every morning, I mix it up with oatmeal, pancakes and eggs. We don’t get in a rut and we have healthier meals because I’m not choosing what we’re going to eat when I’m hungry and pressed for time. If we’re going to have quinoa salad for lunch, I start the quinoa when I’m cleaning up breakfast dishes and chop vegetables when I have a few minutes throughout the morning. I’m not reaching for boxed mac and cheese because we need something now (full discolsure: that still totally happens sometimes).

Post it.

I keep the menu on the inside of a cupboard I frequently use so it’s always right there. Ryan can check it to see what we’re having and if it’s something like ‘leftovers’ for lunch, he gets it for himself without having to ask me. When the kiddos are older and reading, I’ll post it somewhere they can see it, too. I also keep a pencil close by so I can alter the menu as needed.

While planning every meal for a month is a lot of work up front, I find it’s worth it. One big planning haul and I’m mostly done. But planning a week at a time is also highly valuable, as is just planning dinners. I’m not a fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants kind of girl (except when it comes to major life decisions) so I like to see the whole month laid out before me. However, to whatever extent you choose to plan, you will benefit. And when you aren’t worried about what to put on the table it allows you to spend more time with your family, which is the purpose of any home management tool.

Do you menu plan? Want to give it a try? Or are you a rock star at putting meals together as you go?


11 thoughts on “Menu planning 101

  1. Meal planning is definitely a sanity-saver! I’ve gotten a little out of the habit over the lately (way too many changes in plans in the summer), but now that fall is here I’ll go back into it. I have a hard time in that I like to make what I feel like eating that night, so I plan five meals for the next week and shop for them and make them in whatever order I choose, with a couple nights for leftovers or throw-together meals, etc.

    • There definitely are times where menu planning is more challenging. That’s a great idea to have meals planned but not days. It does give you freedom and flexibility. There are nights where I’m like, ‘I want pizza!’ so we have pizza and not what’s on the menu.

      Thanks for your comment!

  2. My sister and I were just talking about this recently! I’d love to give it a try because planning dinner always feels so stressful especially when I work all afternoon. I feel like breakfast and lunch would be handy too once I have kids. Thanks for the idea!

  3. I have failed miserably at meal planning for the past couple of months, but I am certainly going to pick it up again now that fall has arrived (and now that I will be temporarily living with another couple). Putting things together at the last minute is a big NO for me; I can’t handle the pressure!

    • When living in someone else’s space, you definitely need to be on top of your game. I have watched in absolute amazement as my mom and mother-in-law throw great meals together with zero planning and all I can think is, “How do they do it?!?!”. Last minute is a big NO for me as well!

  4. Thanks for your post Erin. I have read your blog a few times and really have been enjoying it, you are a wonderful writer. 🙂
    Trista and I were together for a visit and we did some meal planning after being re-inspired by your blog post. So far it’s going well and I am loving it. 🙂

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