How To Make A Weekly Menu Plan

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Once you know how to make a weekly menu plan, you’ll be amazed at how it eliminates stress, speeds up meal preparation, and saves you money.

Older woman looking at a cookbook on a kitchen counter as she tries to figure out how to make a weekly menu plan

The Benefits of Making A Weekly Menu Plan

Rather than rummaging through the refrigerator then rushing to the store (or nearest fast-food place) because you can’t decide what to make, a weekly meal plan makes things predictable and hassle-free.

You will save money.

When you make a menu plan, you also make a grocery list for the week. Going to the store once results in fewer temptations and impulse purchases. As you grow more confident, you’ll be able to plan your menu around the store’s sales, too. (Related: How to Grocery Shop Without Getting Sick.)

You will reduce stress.

If your family eats three meals a day, seven days a week, you have to come up with meal ideas twenty-one times a week. If your family is as picky as mine, that means you also have twenty-one small arguments. A weekly menu plan lets you schedule meals everyone will happily eat.

You’ll save time and decision-making

Making just one trip to the store is just the beginning. By properly planning your weekly menu, you’ll be able to turn leftovers into entirely new creations, saving you an enormous amount of time. You’ll also spare yourself the anxiety and annoyance of trying to decide every single night what to make. You’ll already know.

You’ll eat better.

Once you’re not making decisions at the last minute, you’ll be able to think about whether your family is eating an appropriately varied diet. Are they getting fruits and vegetables with each meal? What about whole grains? Making these part of your weekly menu plan improves nutrition, too.

Don’t Try to Be Julia Childs

The most challenging part of creating a weekly menu plan is simply deciding to make one and then sticking to it. It’s tempting to view this as a chance to try out a dozen different recipes or cooking techniques. That’s a sure way to burn out quickly once you realize you’ve made too much work for yourself.

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There’s also a temptation to use this as a way to expand your family’s culinary horizons. When that happens, you might find yourself with a refrigerator and pantry full of ingredients for meals they’re not interested in eating. Solve both of these problems by following the steps below.

How to Make a Weekly Menu Plan - Wood recipe box

How to Make a Weekly Menu Plan

Rather than jumping into planning every meal for an entire week, start by choosing one meal to focus on for the first week or two. Does your family eat breakfast together in the morning? Start by planning a week of breakfasts they’ll love? Is dinner more your thing? Make the other two meals each day grab-and-go things, and put your effort into crafting a dinner menu for the week.

Step 1: Create a list of trusted recipes.

Now isn’t the time to test a bunch of new recipes you saw on Pinterest. Sit down with your tried-and-true family recipes and come up with seven you know your family already loves. It’s a good idea to ask for their input, too. Doing so gives them ownership of the menu and they’re less likely to complain when you serve something they’ve requested.

Step 2: Sort the list by proteins.

Even avid chicken fans get tired of eating it for dinner every night. If your list of trusty recipes is all chicken-based, head back to your recipe file and mix things up! For my family, I try to serve two chicken meals, 2 meatless meals, 2 fish meals, and one beef meal per week. Then I alternate the proteins, so we aren’t eating the same one on two nights in a row.

Step 3: Make two lists.

Once you know which meals you’ll be serving, write them down on one side of a sheet of paper. On the other side, make a list of all the ingredients required. Don’t forget to list the spices and condiments, too. Consolidate as you work, so instead of having “1 cup brown rice” on your list three different times you wind up with “brown rice: 3 cups.” This is your Master List for the week. (More on how to use that in a bit.)

How to Make a Weekly Menu Plan - Blank notebook and pencil on wood desk

Step 4: Figure out what you already have.

Look through your cupboards, refrigerator, freezer, and pantry to find out what ingredients you don’t need to buy. If you’re short on something or don’t have it at all, put it on your grocery list. Don’t be afraid to make substitutions, either. For example, if a recipe for 1 lb. ground beef, but you’ve got 1 lb. ground turkey in the freezer, go with what you have!

Step 5: Post it.

Hang your weekly menu plan where family members can see it. Next time they ask what’s for dinner you can point to the list. This isn’t just about saving your voice: once they see you’ve got the week’s meals planned, and that none of them include the drive-through, they’ll stop asking for it as often. You might even find they start looking forward to Meatloaf on Friday or Pad Thai on Tuesday.

Step 6: Stick to it.

Get your shopping done and start serving meals based on your weekly menu plan. Make notes as needed about things that didn’t work well and what did. Maybe baking a quiche for breakfast on a school day wasn’t such a great idea, but your family loved the French Toast you served Saturday morning. Next time, consider a double batch of French Toast and freeze the extras to reheat for school mornings? Or make the quiche over the weekend to heat-and-serve on weekdays?

Step 7: Do it again next week. 

Put your Master List for Week One away. Now, go through Steps 1-5 for Week Two, taking just as much care to create a Master List and adding notes about your trials and successes.

Step 8: Rotate them.

Once you have two Master Lists of meals and ingredients, rotate them! Your kids won’t remember they had oatmeal with raisins and dried cranberries precisely 14 days ago, so why go through the effort of coming up with all-new, unique menu plans week after week?

How to Make a Weekly Menu Plan - Ceramic chef statue holding a blank menu board

Advanced Menu-Planning Tips

When you’ve perfected two or more weeks of menus, you’re ready for advanced planning.

Swap in ONE new recipe per week. Found a great soup on Pinterest you’d like to try? Swap it for one of the trusty meals on a Master List, then repeat steps 1 through 6. Now you’ve created a third Master List. Sweet!

Double up. Are chicken breasts on sale this week? Buy extras and double your recipes throughout the week. Stash the second batch in the freezer. Next time you rotate through that week’s menu you’ll be able to defrost, reheat, and serve.

Cook once, eat twice. Speed up dinner prep by cooking things you can use in two separate dinners. Roast a chicken for dinner one night, for instance, then use what’s left to make chicken noodle soup. Make a large batch of quinoa to serve as a side dish one evening, then add chopped cucumbers, tomatoes, olive oil, and red wine vinegar to turn it into a salad. This is a fantastic way to save time.

Shop the seasons. Buying what’s in season is a great way to get the most out of your grocery dollars. Once you’ve made and used your Master Lists for a few months, you’ll probably find yourself ready to move on to other meals, anyway. Store your lists in your household notebook or recipe file for next year, and create a new set for the new season. Do that four times in a row and you’ve got an entire year of menus planned. Talk about saving a ton of time!

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  1. Isobel Morrell (@Coldhamcalling) says:

    Good post – and I do hope lots of folks read, mark and inwardly digest (pun intended) it. I’ve been planning and shopping to a list since the mid 1970’s when my husband succumbed to a lot of allergies, and meal planning became a medical necessity. One thing that I was told to do by the “experts” was to try not to repeat an ingredient more than once every five days in a week. So if one had a dish with beef as a main component, you didn’t have that for at least 5 days. Mix in vegetarian dishes – increases the 5 a day component. I used to try beef, chicken, vegetarian, lamb, salad/pasta base, and fish for Monday to Friday menus, a bought in meal perhaps twice a month and so on. It became a habit in the end, and both my daughters too adopted the habit – 30 years on! I’d recommend it to your Followers!

    1. Katie Berry says:

      Oh yes, allergies do make menu planning much more difficult! I hadn’t heard about not repeating an ingredient more often than once every five days. So if one served something with potatoes on Monday, for instance, they’re not to be served again for five days? You have my admiration, because I think that would prove more of a challenge than I’m up to!

  2. Mother of 3 says:

    We used to do this and it worked beautifully and then we somehow got out of the habit. Each person picked two meals a week; decided what they wanted to make and we made a master list together…. I really need to get back to doing that. I find lately we’re stopping for “extra” supplies one or two nights a week because I have stopped planning ahead and I hate that.

    1. Katie Berry says:

      I hate the mid-week fill in trips, too. Love the idea of everyone in the family taking a couple of nights to be in charge of cooking!

  3. Create With Joy says:

    Dear Katie,

    Thank you so much for your very useful tips! While the execution of a weekly menu plan sounds like an easy task on the surface, for many of us it is in actuality very challenging (ahem!)

    I’m going to try to use this as a tool in helping myself achieve some of my personal health goals this year.

    Thanks for sharing this with us at Inspire Me Monday at Create With Joy. I think this can help others as well so congratulations – you are one of our Featured Guests this week!

    Happy New Year to you! πŸ™‚

    1. Katie Berry says:

      Happy New Year to you, too, Joy! Thank you for the feature. πŸ™‚

  4. LuAnn Braley says:

    Visiting from Inspire Me Monday at Create With Joy.

    I am totally terrible at meal planning, so I really appreciate this post! It seems well thought-out and easy for the domestically challenged like myself! πŸ˜‰

    1. Katie Berry says:

      Hi LuAnn, I hope you find it helpful!

  5. ohhhh I needed to read this post today–we’re on Whole30 and I NEED to get a better plan in place–so many good tips!

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