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.
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.
How to Make a Weekly Menu Plan
The Benefits of Making A Weekly Menu Plan
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.
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 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. 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 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.
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
Rather than jumping into planning every meal for an entire week, get started with making a weekly menu plan by choosing one meal to focus on for the first week or two.
Step One: 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” in the menu and they’re less likely to complain when you serve something they’ve requested.
Step Two: Sort the recipes by protein. Even avid chicken fans get tired of eating it for dinner every night, so if your list of trusty recipes is all chicken-based, head back to your recipe file. 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. I alternate the proteins, so we aren’t eating the same one on two nights in a row.
Step Three: Make Your Lists. Once you know which seven 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.)
Step Four: 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 this week. 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 Five: Just do 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, perhaps you could make 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 Six: 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 Seven: 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 Eight: 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?
Advanced Menu-Planning Tips
When you’ve perfected two or more weeks of menu plans for all three meals you’re ready for advanced menu-planning tricks. It’s still a good idea to limit yourself to just one of these steps each week. Remember, when it comes to knowing how to make a weekly menu plan your focus is on keeping things simple. Taking on too much at once just leads back to the stress of impromptu cooking.
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!
Check sales flyers and cook extras. 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. That doesn’t mean you should toss your lists — you’ve put a lot of work into them! Store them in your household notebook or recipe file for next year, and create a new set of Master Lists for the new season. Do that four times in a row and, wow, you’ve got an entire year planned. Talk about saving a ton of time!
If all of this seems too challenging, don’t panic: my book, A Season of Easy Cooking, contains 12 weeks of menu plans, grocery lists, and over 100 recipes you can use any time of year. Once you’ve worked your way through the menu plans you’ll be so familiar with how this all functions that you’ll be able to do it yourself with ease.
Click HERE to get my book here in paperback or Kindle format.
Note: This post first appeared on Dec. 3, 2015. It has been revised and updated for republication.