Tuesday, June 7, 2011

5 Tips for Successful Menu Planning

For me, there’s nothing worse than coming home to an emaciated husband and child searching for dinner, only to find that there’s nothing thawed out and the food that we have in our house won’t make a complete meal.  Then there’s the grueling follow-up questions of: “What should we do?” and “Where should we go to get something to eat”.  I admit, my men are spoiled, but they depend on me for nourishment, and I don’t mind that because I know how to cook a balanced meal at the cheapest price, and they on the other hand have a long way to go in learning how to do that.  Everyone is drained of energy and time zapped these days.  Between an hour commute to work, overtime, soccer games, and dance practice, that leaves dinner some where between a McDonald’s drive thru and Hamburger Helper.  Which, I’m not bashing either option, but obviously you can’t live healthily on those choices alone.

Menu planning has helped me to save an average of $280/ month, I don’t throw as much food away, my family definitely eats better and we stay within a reasonable daily calorie count, and I have more time to do the things that I want to do, like exercise.

Here are five tips to help you get started.

1.  Plan ahead in reasonable increments.  For instance, I menu plan for two weeks at a time, because I do my household budget in two week increments, and I know I probably won’t make it to the store any more frequent than that.

2.  Choose your meals wisely and give yourself grace.  So, you saw a stuffed porkchop with pear sauce and asparagus and garlic mashed potato recipe that you’d like to try, but you’ve never made it.  It’s always great to try new things, however, don’t plan to make this meal on the day you have Zumba class at 6:30 pm, you get off work at 5 pm, and have to get your kids from daycare at 5:30 pm.  That is not a realistic goal, and you will only discourage yourself.  Plan to make a meal like this when you have more time, possibly a Sunday dinner.

 3.  Build your plan with insurance.   Build in leftover days, date nights, and “fun” food nights.  I enjoy cooking, however, the meals that I prepare can be time consuming.  Therefore, I build my men-plan to accommodate 3-4 cooking days and 3-4 leftover days, which works beautifully for my schedule.  Depending on my evening commitments during any given season, I tend to cook Friday thru Monday and have leftovers Tuesday thru Thursday.  Also, if you know you only have a small window of time to prepare dinner, then make sure you schedule that day as a leftover day, eating out day, or even better…frozen food day.  I really enjoy Stouffer’s Lasagna’s and Bertolli pasta.  These meals are quick , not too bad for you, and don’t require much prep work or clean up.  Although, if you have a large family, these options may not work for you.

4.  Build your plan with sales, holidays, and parties in mind.  If you know you’re having a huge family Thanksgiving dinner party and there will be a ton of leftovers, make sure to have as many leftover days as your family can stand, then freeze the rest, and bring it back out in a month or so.  We all know that it costs to put on a dinner party, and let’s not mention all the prep work; capitalize on all the time and money spent by giving yourself a break through leftover days.  Also, if you are an avid couponer or really search through the sale ads, then plan your meals around the reduced cost items that you find.  For instance, leading up to Memorial Day you can find meats, corn on the cob, barbeque sauce, and paper towels for a lot cheaper than they normally are, and that is the time to stock up on those items and put them into your plan

5.  If you fall off the wagon…GET BACK ON AGAIN!!!

Here is my menu plan from January of this year.  Please notice the scratch outs and write-overs; that’s called…GRACE!  If something happens and your plan changes, don’t be so rigid that you can’t modify the plan.  Wow…pizza 3 NIGHTS in a row!!!  I can’t remember, but I must’ve been VERY busy at that time.  Also, notice how there’s plenty of leftover days, and we also planned to have a meal out on certain days.  This schedule is posted on my refrigerator for all to see; so it takes a lot of the uncertainty away for the hubsters and TrentMan. 

 Do you menu plan?  What tips could you share that would be helpful in regards to menu-planning?


  1. Something that helps me not blow my budget and stick to my menu plan when I'd like to veer off is knowing about inexpensive ways to eat out. For example, we have several pizza places that have Monday specials or restaurants that offer free/super reduced kids meals on certain nights. I plug a couple of those in and it makes the rest of the days doable. Good stuff, Ti!

  2. Yep! Halfway through my day, I thought about discounted/free restaurant days. That's a whole other posts right there. Thanks for adding that!


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