Do you know how to menu plan? For me, learning how to menu plan was one of the most effective ways to help me stick to a real food diet (and my budget!). I remember the days before I started meal planning: Around 4 o’clock I’d start to freak out about what to have for dinner. I’d stare blankly in my fridge thinking there was nothing to eat. Often we’d go out. Often we’d settle for some bland pre-made frozen dinner. Almost always I wasted time, food, and money. No good.
Learn How to Menu Plan: The benefits are plenty
Once you know how to menu plan, and stick with it, you’ll see there are lots of benefits:
- You spend less time at the grocery store because you have a shopping list ready to go
- You spend less money because you only buy what you need
- You eat less junk because you stick to your plan
- You waste less time worrying about each meal
- You enjoy a variety of dishes each week
- You are armed with a game plan to get real food to your table
Keep in mind that this doesn’t work for everyone. Some people love the openness and creativity of making dishes with whatever they have on hand. But in my experience, these are also the people who are really familiar and comfortable with real food, cooking, and their kitchen. If menu planning doesn’t appeal to you, by all means, don’t stress about it. But if you’ve never tried it you may be surprised by how much it helps you stay on top of the food in your home. (There are also great menu plan subscriptions to make your job even easier! This is one I love.)
How to Menu Plan:
Set aside a regular time each week to do the following:
1. Grab a pen, the “How to Menu Plan” outline (download for free here), and any cookbooks you love (I like to do mine by the computer and access any recipes I’ve pinned that week – Check out my Pinterest Boards for lots of real food recipes here).
2. Fill in any special events, circumstances, or other notes that may affect your day in the “Notes” section for each day.
3. Decide what to prepare. It might be helpful to build in some routine as you first get started. Maybe Tuesday night is always fish night. Fridays you always go out to eat. Saturday is pizza night. You get the point. This helps makes the whole process feel a little less daunting.
4. Next to each meal write down where the recipe is located (if using one) including cookbook/page number or website url.
5. Look at the ingredient list of each recipe. Write down any “pantry staple” items in the appropriate box. These are the items you should already have on hand. Write down any other ingredients that you don’t have on hand into the shopping list box.
6. Consolidate all of your shopping list boxes into one list to take with you to the store. Before heading out, double check all your pantry staples to make sure you have enough for the week.
Note: Consider what specialty items or bulk items you could buy online to save even more time and money. Here’s where I love to get some of my favorite real food products.
How to Menu Plan: Useful tips
- Think in terms of categories: Type of cuisine, soup or salad, quick and easy, casserole, etc.
- Think in terms of styles/techniques: Grilling, roasting, baking, stir-fry, etc.
- Be adventurous and choose at least one new meal a week. This is a sure-fire way to add more flavors to your menu and you never know what your next favorite meal will be.
- If you are busy, plan at least one or two meals to extend over into leftovers. Double the batch if needed and refrigerate or freeze for an easy lunch the next day or meal the next week.
- Keep an eye open for any meals that can extend into another. For example, whenever I make a roast chicken I know there will be plenty of leftover chicken for tacos the following day. Remember: You don’t have to do everything “from scratch” each day. Plan ahead.
That’s it! Learning how to menu plan is actually pretty simple, but it will only work if you do it.
Tell me: Do you menu plan?