Planning Monday: How to Start Meal Planning!

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Today is “Planning Monday”! If you’re unsure what the heck I’m talking about, then make sure to read this post. I talk more in detail about the importance of planning and why I’m starting this Monday planning challenge.

Anyway, today I want to discuss something I’m guessing lots of you may already do, Menu planning. When you’re living below your means menu planning helps tremendously! Not only does it save you time, but it also saves you money! The main reasons being–NO spur of the moment Pizza Hut call or fast food stop and not as much food going to waste! However, I’m not going to sit here and lie because honestly I’m not the best menu planner by any means… and well, ordering pizza does come to mind on a weekly basis! Again, though, that’s why I’m starting this planning challenge, to challenge not only all of you BUT me too!

Today we’re going to go through our pantries, fridges, freezers and wherever else food is stored! We’re going to write down everything we have on paper. You can also use these printable sheets here and/or here. I know this is going to seem very tedious, but trust me, when you see all that’s written down you’re going to think twice about heading to the grocery store anytime soon. This will help us see what the point of menu planning is — to use what you have on hand–to spend less and to waste less!

On top of the menu planning challenge this week, I want to challenge all of us to not only menu plan, but to menu plan with what we have on hand–meaning NO grocery store shopping allowed! If you are in desperate need of staples like milk and produce, then that’s fine. Let’s all just try not to buy any other unnecessary items!

Now back to our menu planning, so now you should have all these food items written down. What do you do with this strange list? Well, first just look at it. Go over everything and off the top of your head see if there are any meals you can come up with. When you come up with meals cross the items off your list. Remember to be creative and think outside of the box. For example, some nights I cook breakfast for dinner. My kiddos absolutely love having fresh fruit, eggs and bacon! We also do easy dinners of grilled cheese and tomato soup (that’s one of my favorites). Remember that these meals don’t have to be anything fancy.

If you’re struggling with meals to come up with, then I highly suggest checking out AllRecipes.com! This site is awesome! It has thousands and thousands of recipes available submitted from people like you and me. One of my favorite features on All Recipes is that readers can review and rate any recipe. The reviews are always so helpful to read too. The best part, especially for us menu planners, is their search feature. You can actually search recipes by the ingredients you have on hand! I love this feature and it really will help you come up with meals from your food list.

I also want to note that you don’t have to just come up with meals for this week. If you have enough food on hand, then you may want to come up with 2 weeks worth of meals. When you get all your meals figured out, then use one of these free printable meal planner pages to help keep your weekly meals organized!

Well, there it is for you, a summary of how to get started meal planning. Now I know there is so much more I could write about meal planning, but I thought I would stop here and ask for your help! What are some tips that you all have to simplify the meal planning process? How do you stay disciplined enough to plan new meals on a regular basis? And I’d also love to hear any other thoughts on this topic!

Join The Discussion

Comments 29

  1. Rhonda

    I’ve been menu planning for years. Nobody here likes fast food so it’s easy to avoid (we NEVER eat it…even if its free). We could eat our weekly pay at quirky, neighborhood ethnic restaurants so we shifted those excursions to be paid from our entertainment fund vs. grocery/food fund. So, menu planning pretty much is a necessity if we want to eat within our food budget…no other incentive needed!

  2. Sheri

    With a busy household, part-time job, & kids’ activities, I started meal-planning 2 yrs ago Aug. I do it on Sun. nights (or as close to as poss. if I’m busy). I start with the family calendar & look at each day to see what it holds. I use my freezer/pantry list to plan a meal for each night. I write out the entire meal–entree, side, salad, fruit/veg–& then from that plan my grocery list. Seeing the week as a whole, I’m able to balance bet. ckn/fish/pork/beef/pasta/eggs/etc. I also plan a variety of fruits & veg., salads, & sides for the week when I see it all that way–so no boredom & plenty of variety. If something will need defrosting, I write that in my calendar on the day that it needs to be pulled out of the freezer. Overall, this has definitely been a good plan that has worked for me & my family, and has limited extras (like take out/pizza/fast food), & I generally cook dinner then 6 nights/week. Sometimes it means that I am preparing that evening’s dinner at 7 in the morning or at 3 in the afternoon, but I do what I need to do get it done within the time I have. Hope that helps!

  3. Rhonda

    I also save all my menus in a simple word document (I currently have 18 months worth!). That way, I can look at month’s past to see what we ate, avoid repetition, and figure out where the last 5# came from:-) I also note which recipes/meals were time consuming or whether or not I want to switch up the spices next time. There have been times when I’ve borrowed an entire week’s worth of menus from a year or so ago. That makes for an easy week to plan!

  4. Mike

    I had a quick question about a past free item. First of all, I appreciate all you do. I was wondering if you know if something happened with the Snore enz freebie? Neither my daughter or I have ever received them them. Thanks

  5. Baker Tribe

    Can I just say…YOU ROCK!! Thank you so much for this posting!! I started to plan out my meals for the week last night and got …well…I strayed from it! lol…I need a push and this is it!! Thank you!!

  6. Melissa

    I do menu plan…. but sometimes deviate away from it LOL. I’m a full time student, full time mom and wife to a soldier. My time is crazy. This will really be a challenge for me! BUt I’m looking forward to doing it. Thank you!

  7. Aiming4Simple

    I was recently pleased to discover some more free websites to help me menu plan each week. Zero Cost Menu Planning is a review of four of the websites I found. I hope the info helps more people plan and save!

  8. Shelly

    I always plan enough meals to get us through 2 weeks. I check our calendar to see if we have any events (BBQ’s, get-togethers, etc) that I won’t have to plan a meal for. I subtract those days and then I know how many meals I have to plan. Planning has saved us SO much money and hassle. I have a list of 30-40 meals that my family will actually eat (not something that I have to shove down their throats) and then choose from that what my meals will be. I haven’t become super talented yet to plan my meals around what’s on sale. I just buy what I need (again looking at what I have first is very helpful) and use coupons and price match everything.

  9. Shelly

    One other thing…I think having the meals planned helps but not having them on a specific day. You may not feel like eating chicken one night so you just plan something else. That way it’s flexible and you don’t go out to eat as much.

  10. slugmama

    Something that helps me….when planning meals, plan to cook enough for TWO meals. Make a double batch and either still half in the freezer for an easy reheatable meal for a night when you are busy OR cook it all and plan on serving half the meal the night it’s cooked and the other half the following week(if it’s a dish that’s good as a leftover). By doing this you save yourself time(making 2 meals at once)and it gives you a jump on having meals on hand for the following week or beyond. I also keep a paper on the freezer of what reheatable meals(as well as raw foods)are in there. A freezer inventory list helps you stay organized a bit more….it helps to just look at the list to see what you are low on or out of.

    Stockpiling and meal planning are among the 2 best ways to save you money.

  11. The Wagner Fam

    we have a long list of meals that we love, so we try to rotate. my husband is gone a lot, and i have 2 small children, so making a big meal seems like too much work (esp if the kids will only take a few bites). that is probably one of my biggest problems. my other recent problem is my husband’s new diet. it does not work well with the rest of the family’s food choices. ๐Ÿ™‚ there is also a website that i have highly considered using. it costs $5/month ($60/year) but could really pay off in the long run. i tend to overbuy (esp because i want to use my coupons). the site is http://www.e-mealz.com/. it plans out your meals for you (simple, yummy meals) and then gives you the grocery list as well. you can choose a specific store like aldi or walmart to shop at, and it will give you the shopping list specific to that store. could save a lot of time, thought, and energy (and MONEY)!

  12. Anonymous

    I just wanted to let everyone know that Sandra Lee has a new show on the Food Network called Money Saving Meals and she tells you how much each meal will cost per serving or person. It is an awesome show, I love it. She also does the two recipes, one for now and saves ingredients for another recipe. Hope you can check it out!!

  13. Maven of Savin'

    THANKS for the kick in the butt!! I have been trying to start this myself and was going to feature on my blog, but wanted to be firm in it myself first. I am going top lan this week NOW!! My kids are very picky so that is where I have trouble, but I have seen some cheap eats in $5 Dinners!!

  14. kansascouponcutter

    I saw Sandra’s show on Food Network. I kept thinking I have that item for free. I could get that cheaper. LOL!! I think she is using things without coupons. Jeez, how does anyone do that? (pay full price).

  15. Anonymous

    I have been meal planning for about 2 years now. Its the only way I can cut down my grocery bills. I make my meal list, and then make a grocery list of the things I still need. I will not lie to you, it seems easy in the beginning, but like with most things.. you can easily end up splurging like crazy. This is why you have to be honest with yourself. I know that there are a couple nights a week that I am just not going to want to cook. So, I usually buy a couple frozen pizzas (with coupons of course!) or any other easy “throw it in the oven meals”. Then there is eating out. We don’t do it much, but we allow a certain amount of money every month to eat out. It makes you think twice about just calling the delivery guy, but makes it ok to do it. Everyone needs to allow themselves to splurge in a conservative manner, or disaster could happen. lol. The other idea is every time you make a casserole, make two. Freeze the other one, and then you will have your easy throw it in the oven meals. On another note of grocery lists be honest with yourself. You are going to want to buy that great deal on snacks and cookies. Allow yourself room to do so. I put aside a budget of about $25 each visit (every 2 weeks) to be used on these items. But in the end it is whatever works for you! I personally have a hard time sticking to a month long list of what to cook every particular night. You may not know what mood you will be in. This is why I have my easy/eat out “filler” meals.

  16. Denise

    Is anyone else having trouble printing the meal planner pages?

  17. Rhianna Garber

    I get a monthly magazine called Simple and Delicious. I look through it each month, tab the pages I like and make a menu list from that. I then look at each recipie I tagged and make a grocery list for the things I need. I put a list of the recipies on a post it note on the front of the magazine with the page number and look at it each night to see what I’m in the mood to make. This has worked for me for the past 2 years!!!

  18. Frugal Friend

    I post my dinner menu on Organizing Junkie’s Monday Menu Plan. It helps me stay accoutable. I always have a leftovers day and an easy dinner (like store Pizza). Lunches are leftovers or very simple meals from ingredients in the freezer and breakfast is wholesome cereal or oatmeal. Or whatever is in the stockpile.

    Although I would love the challenge of no grocery shopping this week, I can’t we are out of so many little staples, I already spent $54 of my $100 weekly budget yesterday! So I’ll join in the next few weeks.

  19. Cara

    Thank you for doing this. I just did my pantry, even took after pictures for my blog. Took inventory. Lots o’ pasta and rice! Don’t have time for freezer today but I am need of cleaning and organizing the fridge and freezers anyway so I will get on that this week. I try to meal plan but just haven’t really gotten into a groove. Hope to though. I have heard of doing certain kinds of meals on certain nights. Something like Pasta Mondays, Taco Tuesdays, Asian Wednesdays, Grilling Thursdays, Pizza Fridays, Salad Saturdays, Wild Sundays. That is my goal. So that it makes what are we having an easier question to answer.

  20. Anonymous

    Do you think the beans from ’87 are still good?

  21. Anonymous

    I am also a fan of having “theme” dinner nights. In my family we typically do Taco Tuesday (think beyond tacos… burritos, fajitas, quesadillas, Mexican soup, etc.) and Italian Thursday (spagehtti, lasagna, pizza, etc). Having a theme tends to help me think of menu items. We also do breakfast for dinner quite often (omelets, pancakes, waffles, etc.)

  22. Anonymous

    why wont these print??? i’ve tried it like a million times…grrr

  23. Anonymous

    Tonight we had ALL veggies night! Everything came fresh out of our garden. Everyone is crying! WHERE’S
    THE BEEF? LOL!

    The Davidson’s
    NC

  24. Anonymous

    I like to cook extra and freeze in containers from frozen dinners,but i’m having a problem with covers .Cling film keeps falling off ,any suggestions?

  25. Anonymous

    Freezing pre-cut basic ingredients helps me motivate to cook at home. I freeze fresh garlic, ginger, onions, mushrooms, cilantro, cooked rice, diced or thin sliced chicken, pork, bacon, beef, etc. etc. I use my food processor for instance to chop up garlics and place them in little ziplock bags or saran-wrap them and place them in topper wears to freeze. So when I make meal, I heat up some olive oil, toss some frozen garlic, onions, other veggies, meat and add some seasoning and meal is ready. When I freeze cooked rice, I make sure to saran-wrap them while their hot/warm to trap the moisture. You can just microwave them for about 2~2.5 minutes and it tastes just like it’s freshly cooked. As for the Cilantro, I find it time consuming to cut this in little pieces so I wash them and place it in freezer bag and put them in freezer. Then once it’s frozen I pound the bag with a wooden spoon or rolling pin then end up with little pieces of Cilantros. Great to use them in soup and lots of other cooking. This way I never waste Cilantro and my time.

  26. Anonymous

    I do the once a month cooking thing. I know it sounds overwhelming. I thought that at first too. Then I got a deep freeze and thought wow, I have all this room what will I do with it?

    So, I take one day out of the month and I put together several casseroles, I will make a pot of chilli, soups, bake bread, make pasta asuce etc.
    Then for a month I have around 25 meals to choose from. We tend to like eating the same thing around here so I don’t do tons of variety.

    The night of the meal I pull out the casserole and then throw it in the oven and all I have to do is make a salad.
    This saves me a ton of time. I don’t have to worry about having a meal for guests and I get to use my stockpile of items and save money.

    I don’t like to cook so this really helps since I don’t have to except one day a month.

    Definetly worth a try!

  27. Julie Lynn

    I feel like this is cheating, but I use a service that plans meals for the week. E-mealz prepares a menu and shopping list for your grocery store of choice. Before e-mealz I hardly ever cooked at home, if I did I just ran to the grocery store that day to get food for the meal I wanted to cook. My husband and I usually ate out. Then I had a baby, she started eating table food and I realized I needed to be able to cook more at home. This has been great, I am learning to cook so many different things. I am able to buy groceries and know that I have food for meals for a whole week. E-mealz also lets you pick one store from a variety of different grocery stores in which they try to utilize food on sale that week. The service costs $5/month (only about $1.25/week) which is worth it to me to not even have to think about what to cook, find recipes then make a grocery list, etc. If you’re not meal planning because of time, I would definitely recommend trying e-mealz.com. If you do decide to try e-mealz, please go through this link so I can get referral points. Thanks!!
    http://www.e-mealz.com/amember/go.php?r=37704&i=l0

  28. Julie Lynn

    I feel like this is cheating, but I use a service that plans meals for the week. E-mealz prepares a menu and shopping list for your grocery store of choice. Before e-mealz I hardly ever cooked at home, if I did I just ran to the grocery store that day to get food for the meal I wanted to cook. My husband and I usually ate out. Then I had a baby, she started eating table food and I realized I needed to be able to cook more at home. This has been great, I am learning to cook so many different things. I am able to buy groceries and know that I have food for meals for a whole week. E-mealz also lets you pick one store from a variety of different grocery stores in which they try to utilize food on sale that week. The service costs $5/month (only about $1.25/week) which is worth it to me to not even have to think about what to cook, find recipes then make a grocery list, etc. If you’re not meal planning because of time, I would definitely recommend trying e-mealz.com. If you do decide to try e-mealz, please go through this link so I can get referral points. Thanks!!
    http://www.e-mealz.com/amember/go.php?r=37704&i=l0

  29. Anonymous

    I don’t plan out each day. I just plan 10-12 dinners (for 2 weeks at a time….a couple nights can be left overs!) TOTAL and write them on an notecard. I place the notecard on my fridge. I make sure I have ALL the ingredients for each meal/dinner. Then I can look at the “list” of dinners on my fridge in the morning to decide what to make that night.
    I tried assigning each night a specific meal but it was always changing and life is too busy for being that “strict” with your menu. I’ve been doing it this way for years and LOVE it!
    I grocery shop for 2 weeks at a time. Milk, produce and all!
    Saving TIME, ENERGY and MONEY all at once.
    We rarely eat out!

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