We talked last time about why you should create a menu plan. Today, we will tackle how to menu plan. Honestly, there is no correct way to menu plan, but here are some of the most common methods:
Assign a Meal to a Day of the Week
Some people make it very easy on themselves and create a designated meal for each day of the week. For instance,
- Sundays—soup and sandwich
Then, they just plug in a meal for each day. Maybe one Monday they will have fajitas, the next Monday they will have tacos, the next quesadillas. Whatever they eat on Monday is some type of Mexican food.
Make a Menu Plan Once a Month
With this method, you look at your upcoming monthly calendar and plan meals accordingly. For instance, in my case, my son has tap dance class every Wednesday night. I know on these nights not to plan anything time intensive. On Wednesdays, I either choose crock pot meals that allow me to do the prep work in the morning and then require no additional work from me, or I schedule that day as a day to eat leftovers.
Similarly, if you look at the calendar and see that you are taking Uncle Joe out to eat on the 20th and you know he will want to go to a steak house, you probably won’t schedule another beef meal on the 19th or 21st.
This method works great for people who generally dislike menu planning and prefer to get a month’s worth of planning done in one setting.
Choose Your Menu Plan Based on What Is on Sale
Probably the most common method of menu planning is to center your meals around what is on sale at the grocery store. So, you get your supermarket ads on Sunday and see that ground beef is on sale as well as whole wheat pasta. Salmon is also on sale. Maybe you choose to make spaghetti (spaghetti sauce recipe) on Tuesday night, lasagna on Wednesday night and a salmon salad for Friday night, for example.
If you don’t regularly stock up on groceries when they hit rock bottom prices, this is the method of menu planning that will net you the largest savings.
Choose Your Menu Plan Based on What You Have in the Pantry
This is the method that I prefer because I regularly stock up on groceries when they are at rock bottom prices. Before I make my menu plan for the week, I look at what ingredients I have at home and make a menu centered around those items. Recently I bought Tilapia on sale, so we will be having a fish meal this week. I also bought imitation crab meat on sale two weeks ago (prepackaged), so I will be making crab cakes. However, I don’t want all of my meals for the week to be seafood based. I see that chicken is on sale for $1.49 a pound, so I plan two chicken meals and also buy some extra chicken to stock up in the freezer. I also have tomatoes and avocado that need to be used up, so I plan on having taco salad another day.
Final Thoughts on Menu Planning
The most important part of menu planning is choosing the method that works best for you and your family because then you will be most likely to stick with it. In addition, remember to be flexible with yourself. If you have a meal planned on Monday that you don’t feel like cooking Monday night, it is okay to jump to Wednesday night’s meal. It really doesn’t matter which day you prepare which meal as long as you prepare all of the meals within a week’s time so you don’t waste ingredients.
Finally, if you are ready to take the leap to menu planning, one of my favorite free online resources is food.com. You can easily search for the type of meal that you would like to make and find hundreds of recipes, many of which have been ranked by other users. I tend to only use recipes that earn 4.5 to 5 stars out of 5.
You may feel as if you don’t have time to meal plan, but often menu planning saves an enormous amount of time. If you don’t do it already, I hope you will try it.
photo credit: Emily Barney
Melissa is a writer and virtual assistant. She earned her Master’s from Southern Illinois University, and her Bachelor’s in English from the University of Michigan. When she’s not working, you can find her homeschooling her kids, reading a good book, or cooking. She resides in New York, where she loves the natural beauty of the area.