Tired of trying to decide what to make for dinner? Simplify grocery shopping and cooking meals by making a weekly menu plan. You’ll save money on groceries, too.
Why Plan Your Weekly Menu
Planning and cooking meals can feel stressful, especially when you’ve already got a busy schedule. Setting aside time to make a weekly menu can solve a variety of problems.
You will save money.
When you make a weekly meal plan, you also make a shopping list for the week. Going to the grocery 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.
You’ll 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, 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.
How to Make a Weekly Menu Plan
Rather than jumping into planning every meal for the 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? 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 or to try expanding your family’s tastes. Those approaches lead to a refrigerator of spoiled leftovers they won’t eat or ingredients you’re too tired to cook. Ask your family what they like, and plan your menu around that. 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 by proteins
Even people who love chicken 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
Take a piece of paper and draw a line from top to bottom. List the meals you plan to serve on one half. On the other, list the ingredients required for each. 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 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.)
Step 4. Figure out what you already have
Look through your cupboards, refrigerator, freezer, and pantry to find what ingredients you don’t need to buy. If you’re short on something or don’t have it, put it on your grocery list. Don’t be afraid to substitute ingredients. For example, if you have a recipe that calls for ground beef but you’ve got ground turkey in the freezer, use 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. Displaying your menu plan isn’t just about saving your voice: once they see you’ve got the week’s meals planned, and that none include the drive-through, they’ll stop asking for it as often. You might even find they start looking forward to Meatloaf or Pad Thai nights.
Step 6. Stick to it
Get your shopping done and start serving meals based on your weekly menu plan. Grab your Master List and make notes about things that didn’t work and what did. Perhaps baking an omelet for breakfast on a school day wasn’t such a great idea, but your family loved the chocolate granola you served Saturday morning. Next time, consider a double batch of granola for school mornings and make the omelet over the weekend.
Step 7. Repeat
Put your Master List for Week One away. Now, go through Steps 1-6 for Week Two, taking just as much care to create a Master List and adding notes about your trials and successes.
Step 8. Rotate
Once you have two Master Lists of meals and ingredients, rotate them. Your kids won’t remember they had oatmeal precisely 14 days ago, so why go through the effort of coming up with all-new menu plans every week? And if they do remember, suggest they plan the weekly menu and do the cooking — that usually stops any complaints. That’s how you know they didn’t mind having things repeated. They just wanted to treat your kitchen like a restaurant.
Advanced Menu-Planning Tips
You’re ready for advanced planning when you’ve perfected two or more weeks of menus.
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 7. Now you’ve created a third Master List. Sweet!
Feed your freezer
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
Prepare and even cook ingredients in advance whenever you can. For example, you can roast a chicken for dinner one night and then use what’s left to make chicken noodle soup. Or 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 habit is a fantastic way to save time.
Switch menus with 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. 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!