Menu Plans

Top 10 Menu Planning Tips

So, I used to post once a month on a blog called Today’s Housewife. During fall 2012, the group decided together to stop posting due the busyness of life and families and such. Though sad, I enjoyed being part of the group. As of early January, the blog was officially taken down. But I don’t want to lose my recipes, so periodically I will be reposting them on here. Enjoy!


from January 20, 2011

In lieu of a recipe, I wanted to share today about why I plan our weekly menus… and provide some tips to help you. My weekly Menu Plan published on my blog is easily the shortest and easiest post to write, however it is one of the most helpful because it gives me direction for our meals for the week. There’s nothing worse than getting home at 5 o’clock [or having your husband arrive home] and having the dreaded “what’s for dinner?” question echoing throughout the house. Sometimes that situation isn’t so bleak–when the pantry, fridge and/or freezer are full and a craving or idea hits full-force. However, other times, it is–and I just want to lay down on the kitchen floor until a solution magically appears (hint: it usually doesn’t). I’ve been menu planning since we got married, and it has saved me so much time, money, and sanity. There is a lot out there on menu planning, but the following are the top 10 things that have helped me with the menu planning process.

Menu Plan | The Pajama Chef

  1. Determine what meals and time frame you are going to plan. I formally only plan dinners for a week. However, I do consider breakfast and lunch and come up with ideas for those meals, but do not follow the rest of the process very thoroughly for those meals.
  2. Inventory your pantry, fridge, and freezer. Use what you have on hand as the starting point for your weekly menu. Websites like Supercook are helpful because you can plug in ingredients you have–or don’t have–to find recipe ideas.
  3. Peruse store sale ads. I receive these in the mail every week, and they are also available online. I do not purchase a lot of packaged foods, but I do watch sales for produce, meats, yogurt, pasta, canned beans and tomatoes, frozen veggies, bread, etc. All these items can be used in my menu plans–if not for this week, for the weeks to come. I try to always have a surplus of meat in our freezer so that I am not “stuck” buying chicken at $3/pound instead of the $1.88/pound sale price.
  4. Consider various categories for each day of your menu plan for variety. I am not the sort of planner who is satisfied having Mexican every Tuesday or chicken on Fridays. However, I do have a list of different types of meals that we enjoy eating and refer to that list as inspiration. For more tips and examples of categories, see The Empty Kitchen’s post on categorical menu planning.
  5. Schedule a leftovers day [or two] depending on your family’s needs/schedule. Growing up, we usually had leftovers on the weekends for lunch and maybe a night or two a week. No one really ate the leftovers for lunch. Now, my husband takes most of our leftovers for lunch but we do save some for dinner one night a week–usually Thursday, since we have our small group that night.
  6. Look at only 2-3 of the following recipe sources: cookbooks, folders of torn out recipes, your recipe box/binder, Google Reader, or food blogs for inspiration. Any more than this and you will be overwhelmed. Trust me. (Instead of falling to the kitchen floor you’ll just fall to the living room floor in panic.)
  7. Consider if there is a day where your husband or children need to be more invested in meal preparation. If this is the case, involve them in the decision making for dinner that night. Since I am a grad student, sometimes I have night class or get home later than Ben–those nights he either makes his own dinner or he makes dinner for us. I always want to consider his preferences and abilities (he is very capable in the kitchen though!) when planning a meal for those nights.
  8. Write out your planned meals on your blog, planner, calendar, or list. Money Saving Mom has some great printable tools. It really doesn’t matter where you write out your menu plan–just write it out and keep it in a place that is easy for you to reference!
  9. Make your grocery list, and try to get to the store early in the week. I try to go to the grocery store just once a week. This cuts down on impulse buys and extra spending. Making a list really helps!
  10. Give yourself grace! Dinners can be switched around when you just need tacos on Tuesday instead of Friday and that is not the end of the world as we know it. Some nights just go haywire. Some weeks are busy. Having a menu planned for the week does not mean everything in the kitchen will be perfect, or that you are a failure as a wife, a mom, or a woman when things aren’t. Life happens. A menu plan tries to help make things go smoothly. Your worth isn’t determined by performance. A menu plan is just that–a plan. If all does not go as planned, then make the meal the following week. No big deal. Just do what works for you in the moment. A menu plan can only help!

Question of the Day: What are your menu planning tips? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments!


4 thoughts on “Top 10 Menu Planning Tips”

  1. Dear Pajama Chef: This is excellent writing and thinking. I didn’t realize I taught you all of this (ha! ha!) Keep up the great menu planning and blogging. Love, Dad


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