Four Menu Planning Tips...

As with so many other American families, we lead busy lives that sometimes mean we are out of the house during meal times.  I strive to have all of us home at dinner time each day but as LM gets older and we all get busier sometimes it doesn't work out that way.  When we are home (4-5 nights per week, usually) I like to know what I am preparing for dinner.  That's where the menu planning comes in.  Here's what I do:

  • Make a monthly plan.  I used to make a weekly plan and I never quite got that right or really enjoyed it.  Once I switched to a monthly plan I saw more success and enjoyed the process much more.  Of course, we have changes here and there but it's a pretty good system.
  • Write it down.  I use a calendar I print out from Printfree.  There are probably a million ways you could write down your menus but this works for me.  I print out the month I need and put them in a 3-prong folder (now's the time to get one, with all the back to school sales).  I have a pocket folder which is great for holding coupons or new recipes I want to try.  The first thing I do is figure out what, if any, dates we will be away from home, out of town, etc. so I don't meal plan for those nights.  Then I write each night's meal in pencil which makes it easy to make any changes.
  • Be creative. I try to add in a few new recipes each month.  Sometimes they are hits; sometimes they're misses.  I make notes of any hits so I can use those recipes again. And I put a big X through the misses.
  • Shop the pantry.  Before I start writing each month I check the pantry for things I already have.  This is another way to get creative. 
I don't write down our menu plan for breakfasts or lunches since we usually eat pretty much the same things for those meals & I make school lunch for LM (usually a sandwich).  

I love having all my menu planning in one notebook and being able to look back on prior months to see what I am able to make again.

Another benefit to menu planning:  it saves money. And you know I love that.  I am sure you do, too.  A monthly (or even weekly, if that works better for you) written menu lets you know what you need before you need it.  I scan the menu before each week begins for any perishables I need for the week.  Non-perishables I need are jotted down on a monthly shopping list.  This saves me last minute trips to the store where:

  1. I may will overspend if the needed item is not on sale and/or I am in a hurry.
  2. I may will overspend when I run to the store for 1 item and come out with 5.
I also find it easier to take advantage of sales when I plan ahead.

The first week of September looks like this:
  • Hamburgers on the grill with cheese, onions & tomatoes.  Raw veggie platter.  Cinnamon Apples.
  • Chicken Alfredo with salad and garlic bread.
  • Bratwurst with home made mac 'n cheese & grilled veggies.
  • Taco salad with ground chuck. 
Do you plan your meals for each night or fly by the seat of your pants?

I'm linking up to Frugal Friday over at Life as Mom.  


Laurie Anne said…
I have the most success when I "shop my pantry" the more "grab and go" staples I have the better. Whenever I menu plan the "diner of the night" never sounds good so we usually end up eating something else. Having a few go to standbys at the ready give us the flexibility we seem to need :0)
The Mrs. said…
Monthly actually does sound better to me.

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