Menu Planning 101

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It’s time to report back about my Budget Bootcamp Challenge #1 – Make a Menu & Stick to It!

I’m Budget Boot Camp Challenger!

Beth at In Good Cents said, “Okay, this may sound too easy, but you wouldn’t believe how many people struggle with menu planning and sticking to it.  Why a menu plan?  If you have a plan, you’re less likely to make mid-week trips back to the grocery store to pick up one or two ingredients (which can bust your budget), or even worse, head to a restaurant when you can figure out what to make.  And many run out of ideas quickly on what to make and get burnt out!”

Me? I love menu planning. Or should I say I love having a menu. I can’t stand deciding what to cook every night for dinner, and often don’t make that decision until 5:30 pm. When I spend 30 minutes at the beginning of every week and plan out a menu (actually, I prefer doing it every 2 weeks) then it alleviates multiples nights of headaches. I really hate the “what’s for dinner?” question when I don’t know the answer. For some reason, though, I have not been consistent with sticking with a menu plan. I’m not sure why, and I’m not sure yet what to do to convince myself to make it a better habit.

Just so I don’t forget, here are a few reasons why I (and YOU) should plan meals in advance:

  1. I know exactly what I need to buy at the grocery store, so I avoid buying unnecessary items.
  2. When I buy only what I need, I spend less.
  3. When the menu is planned I always know the answer to the question, “What’s for dinner?”
  4. No more 5:30 headaches trying to figure out what I’m in the mood to prepare.
  5. Fewer trips to the grocery store.
  6. Fewer wasted ingredients bought and never used.
  7. I’m less likely to eat out when meals have been planned ahead.
  8. Meals tend to be more healthy and well balanced when planned ahead.
  9. I am way more likely to leave out the veggies when I haven’t planned ahead.
  10. Cooking is more enjoyable when there’s less stress!

I love Beth’s suggestions for starting a monthly meal plan. The 3 basic approaches are:

– – The Themed Approach – –

For beginners, this is the easiest way to start out.  Make yourself a weekly or monthly theme. Ie: every Monday, you have cereal for breakfast, a hot lunch (soup, mac and cheese, etc), and an Italian/pasta meal for dinner. On Tuesdays, you go for pancakes for breakfast, sandwiches for lunch, and a crock pot meal for dinner.

– – The Scheduled Approach – –

If you like more variety, a scheduled approach might work better for you.  It’s similar to the above approach, yet instead of picking a “theme” for each day to help you plan, you can pick anything you’d like.  Still you pick a meal for breakfast, lunch, and dinner for each day throughout the month or the week.  This is a bit of flexibility, but still scheduled enough to save you time and money!

– – The Flexible Approach – –

If you find yourself throwing out your plan for the day because you’re in the mood for something different, then you might want to consider a flexible approach to meal planning.  Make sure you have 7 breakfasts, 7 lunches, and 7 dinners, so you can make it through the week without extra grocery trips.

– – My Approach – –

When I plan my meals, I tend to be somewhere in between the scheduled and the flexible approach. I like to pick a number of meals that I would like to make in a two week period, and I either keep a list of all of the meals I’m prepared for and cross them off the list when I’ve cooked them, or I plot the meals on the calendar but allow for some moving around if I’m in the mood for something different. Oh, and I only plan dinners for my family. Lunches when we’re all home are left-overs or sandwiches, period. Breakfast is cereal, pancakes, or eggs (ie–everyone fends for themselves).

When I was at the Casual Blogger Conference last month, I received a really cool meal planning system from Pocket Full of Posies that I’ve been itching to use, and so this week, that’s what I’ll be doing. I’ve hung my pocket plan on my fridge with a few of their recipes and a few of my old stand-bys. Here’s our basic meal plan for the next two weeks:

  1. Corn Tortilla Chicken Lasagna
  2. Taco Salad
  3. Caesar salad wraps
  4. Parmesan-Garlic Chicken
  5. Ham and Brocoli Quiche
  6. Sour Cream Chicken Enchiladas
  7. Hot dogs and hamburgers on the grill
  8. Teriyaki Stir Fry
  9. Fettucini Alfredo with spinach salad
  10. Roast Turkey breast with mashed potatoes
  11. Tuscan bean soup
  12. Crock pot chili with baked potatoes

With my menu planned out for the next two weeks and my pocket full of recipes up on my fridge, I am set. I am feeling good. I want to stick with this! Have you ever planned meals ahead? What has worked for you to keep it a steady, consistent habit? I’d love to hear what works for you and what hasn’t worked.

Helpful Links:

1.    How to make a menu:
2.    Menu Planner Template:
3.    Beth’s Recipes:
4.    Clair’s Recipes:
5.    Lolli’s recipes:
6.    Pocket Full of Posies menu planning system:

© 2010, Lolli. All rights reserved.

About Lolli

Lolli has written 3129 posts on this blog.

I became a mom in 1996, and in 2005 I had my fifth. Yes, 5 kids. In 2007, this blog was born (my 6th baby that will never grow up) and I've been sharing recipes, photography tricks, parenting tips, and everything in between.

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  1. Your menu looks super yummy Lolli! You’ve been “stumbled”. :)
    .-= Kara´s last blog ..Banana Zucchini Muffins =-.


  2. I found this so practical and something I really want to try. I have never been really successful at this for the long haul. But, I find myself at 5pm with the “What do I do tonight” question so often. Thanks for sharing!


  3. Great post, and helpful links!!
    .-= Crafty Mama´s last blog ..Meal Planning Challenge – We Like to Freeze- =-.


  4. Wow! Good job. Even I struggle with meal planning, but you sound like you have it down. I’m too much a “go with my gut” person, so if I feel like Mexican, I have to make Mexican no matter what my plan says :) That’s why I often tend to mix things up. But, since I have extra meals on hand from stockpiling, I still don’t blow my budget. If I don’t have it, I don’t make it :)
    .-= Beth @ In Good Cents´s last blog ..HOT 050-1 Pepperidge Farm Goldfish =-.


  5. I really want to get a meal planning. I need to try it.


  6. Corn Tortilla Chicken Lasagna? That sounds so good.
    .-= Allison´s last blog ..Top Ten for June =-.


  7. Sounds like you’re off to a good start! I like to plan meals so that I know I’ll have left overs and can use them in something different the next day. For example, I’ll buy and cook extra chicken and then the next day I chop it up for chicken salad. That usually lasts a few days for sandwiches!

    Good luck sticking to your plan…that’s the hardest part!


  8. I sound alot like you. Somewhere in the middle. I need to get more committed to that again. Thanks for the incentive.
    .-= alicia´s last blog ..Week 26 365 Holiday Highlights and iTunes Winner =-.


  9. I like making menu plans but I find it more difficult to do in the summer because our weekend are full of family get togethers that I have to run to the store to get food for those things so it seems like I am always going to the store.
    .-= Jen´s last blog ..It’s Nice to Know I am Not the Only One =-.



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