How to Plan a Weekly Menu

How To Make A Weekly Menu Plan

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Planning and cooking meals can feel stressful, especially when you’ve already got a busy schedule. But I can’t even wing eyeliner, so trying to decide at the last minute what we’re going to eat? That’s a recipe for all sorts of problems.

So, no matter how busy the week, I take time on Sunday morning to sit down and plan our upcoming weekly menu. Here’s why it’s worth it.

  • Save money. Making just one trip to the store saves money on groceries by helping me avoid impulse purchases, like the cookies that somehow jump in the cart.
  • Reduce stress. If I don’t have a menu planned, my family will have anywhere from 7 to 21 arguments over what sounds good to eat.
  • Save time. With a menu, I can plan to cook once and eat twice by turning things like leftover pot roast into an entire new creation.
  • Healthier eating. No more ordering in, no more takeout. Though I’m kind of surprised the pizza delivery guy hasn’t stopped by to check on us.

Step 1. Create a list of trusted recipes.

Your first attempt at planning a weekly menu isn’t the time to test a bunch of new recipes. You’ll. just wind up with a bunch of spoiled leftovers they won’t eat or ingredients you’re too tired to cook.

I started by asking my family what they liked and planning my menu around that. Since they felt like they had a stake in the menu on one or more nights, they didn’t complain about the other nights when I served something they didn’t like as much.

Step 2. Sort by proteins.

Even people who love chicken tire 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! 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. Then tally up how much of each ingredient you need. For example, instead of having 1 cup of brown rice three times on your grocery list, you’ll have “brown rice: 3 cups.”

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 look forward to specific meals.

Step 6. Stick to it.

Get your shopping done and start serving meals based on your weekly menu plan. Grab your Main List and make notes about things that didn’t work and what did. For instance, I learned that baking a quiche on a school day was not my brightest idea. So, we started having chocolate granola and I began making extra large batches just for that reason.

Step 7. Repeat.

So, you had a successful week. Now, do it again and create a second menu. Do that a third and fourth week. But—and this trick saves me so much time!—save all of your menus and repeat them. Just not back to back.

Step 8. Rotate them.

After a month of successful menus, you’ve got at least 30 dinners your family likes. Honestly, does anyone need more than that? Rather than reinvent the wheel, rotate your menus. Wait, before you start thinking your family will never put up with that, tell me what you had for breakfast last Tuesday and dinner three weeks ago on Friday? See. Take the stress off your shoulders.

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 Main List, then repeat steps 1 through 7. Now you’ve created a third 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 Main 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!

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13 Comments

  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! 🙂

    1. Katie Berry says:

      Happy New Year to you, too, Joy! Thank you for the feature. 🙂

  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! 😉

    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!

  6. When and how often do you go grocery shopping? I’m trying to adjust my shopping schedule. I go once a week on Monday mornings and shop for the whole week.

    1. Katie Berry says:

      I shop on Mondays for the week, too. Although in Spring and Summer, I often visit a local produce market later in the week, usually Thursdays, to fill in with fresh-picked stuff.

  7. Thank you for these tips. I am 87 years of age and I am not well organized in planning our meals. I am looking forward to implementing your ideas so I am not so stressed when it comes to meal preparation time.

    .

    1. Katie Berry says:

      I hope you find them helpful, Judy!

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