My Menu Planning Process

One thing I have had more than one friend ask me is how I meal plan.  My process has evolved over time and through changing needs and dynamics, so I can only answer how I do it right now.  That also happens to be how I have done it for the last 5 years or so.

Here’s a peek and my very simple, not at all cute, menu plan and grocery list for this week.

daily ration menu planning process

First, you should know I plan on Sunday, but it doesn’t start with a plan.

I plan on Sunday for many reasons:

-It’s the day I clean out my fridge because Monday is trash day and I don’t like stinky rotting food sitting in my driveway. My menu plan starts with the fridge clean out.

– It’s the best day for us to eat leftovers that weren’t consumed during the week.  My son, one daughter, and my hubby all prefer leftovers to sandwiches in their lunches so we usually only have a few bits to use up.

-It allows me to use up leftovers.  On Sunday nights we either watch football (which we call living room tailgating) or a family movie or show while eating.  I sit out leftovers and a few tailgating type appetizer things and we kind of graze/buffet our way through dinner.

-It makes room in the fridge for the grocery shopping I do Monday.

-It tells me if I have food I need to use.  For example, last week I used half a bag of sweet potatoes but I need to use the rest up, so sweet potatoes went on the menu for this week.  I also have some fruit that needs to be used so that was put in a few places on the menu.  I have ground beef as well, which was also taken in to consideration.

– Taking care of this on Sunday means I’m ready to go to the store Monday morning right after I drop my kids at school.

After cleaning out the fridge, then I menu plan.  

I take several things into consideration and they are all conveniently on my menu plan/grocery list page.

-The red note part of my menu plan reminds me of things going on (like Back to School Night) that might affect the type of dinner I need to plan.  It’s also a place where I keep notes to remind me about things to prep, such as thawing things for the next day or cooking something ahead.  This helps me put things in the right place.  I wouldn’t want to plan a crock pot  meal on a night I have plenty of time to cook and a meal that takes an hour on a night that we won’t be home until dinner.  I also wouldn’t want to plan on using frozen beans and forget to take them out of the freezer in time.

-I have sections for the craziness in our lives.  For example, my husband works nights most of the time.  He’s starving when he gets home in the morning and wants something more substantial than the cereal or whatever the kids are eating.  I have a separate section for him where I prep an extra meal once a week (several days worth) and plan that item into the mornings he will need it.  For this week it’s a BBQ chicken burrito.   Even though it’s labeled as his breakfast, he doesn’t want breakfast food.  I also plan lunch only for myself as my kids have packed lunches at school and the hubby is asleep.  I usually plan just one or two real lunches and the rest I leave blank to either eat leftovers or graze on things like nuts, eggs, veggies, etc….

The grocery list:

I keep my grocery list on my menu planning page.  I learned a long time ago that I would get to the store and not remember how much of something I needed or why I needed it at all.  This led to purchasing mistakes.   Having the menu and list together when I go to the store lets me refer back to the menu in the middle of the store if I need it.  It also helps me decide on a substitution if something I need isn’t available.

You may also notice columns in my grocery list.  Those are purposeful.  I do the bulk of my shopping at Trader Joe’s, and those columns are the isles in the store.  My list is organized by isle so I can get everything in one pass and not have to trek back across the store for something I forgot while I was in that section.

Having the list on the same page as the menu also helps me write down everything.  As I am planning the food, I can look right there at the item or recipe and put the ingredients I need in their spots before I move on to the next menu item.

And there you have it, my process and a boring shot of my menu plan for the week.

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