Menu Planning~ A Love/ Hate Relationship with Food

After hosting Menu Plan Monday last week, I was surprised at how many of my readers do not like to menu plan, or just don’t menu plan.

For me menu planning is the backbone to my grocery savings. If I know what we are having for dinner, we eat out less, I spend less at the grocery store, and the kids complain less because they know what is coming.

I use to assign days to each of our meals, now I plan weekly or monthly. (Monthly before the baby, weekly now). I plan six meals a week, but they are not assigned to a specific day. That gives me some flexibility, so if one night we really don’t feel like chicken, we can have pasta. Or if we have unexpected plans, we can make a quicker meal that evening and save a more time consuming meal for another night.

What about you? What is stopping you from menu planning? If you do menu plan what system works best for you?



  1. I try to meal plan because it does work, but then plans change or things come up and I get all discombobulated and get off track. Then I am so disappointed with myself that I say forget it. I need to find simple, healthy recipes that my picky eaters will like, but that will not bore me to tears. I am really not liking food too much lately lol

  2. I do meal plan but for some reason I hate it with a passion. I think it’s because we’re on a budget and so it’s hard for me to think of things that a. my husband likes (he’s picky) healthy c. is cheap and different from what we had the night before. I get tired of the same things over and over. And it does leave me frustrated because I haven’t learned how to eat healthily on a budget. I feel like every time I get fresh things it blows our grocery budget. However, what I have found to work is to plan 2 weeks at a time instead of a month… that is just a little too overwhelming to me. But I still find it hard to plan and I DREAD doing it. Any help? 🙂

  3. I have meal planned for years and for various reasons. In the first few years of being married, I had a very tight budget and only bought what was on sale and I planned my menu on that. Then once I had kids, meal planning was a time saver. Now, I meal plan because I live out in the country and can’t just run out to the store when I need something. I plan ahead and make sure I have what I need. I am also busier now and can’t stand 5:00 coming around and I have no clue what’s for dinner. So, yes menu planning works for me for various reasons. I usually plan weekly, but sometimes do a two week plan.

  4. I use a 12 week rotating plan. I have 12 weeks worth of 5 day meal plans for breakfast and dinner. On Shopping day I just have to pull out the list for that week and off we go. It is a lot more flexible than it sounds. Everything I make can be cooked several different ways, so like now if it is too hot to use the stove, we use the grill. Like you I also don’t have specific days planned so that I can be flexible in that regard as well.

    I have def. cut my grocery bill down, and my frustration level at dinner time.

  5. Menu planning has really saved me when it comes time to make dinner. Before I did it every single day making dinner was a chore of figuring out what I could make with what we had. Now I have a 5 week rotating menu that we just repeat over and over. I leave Saturday nights for leftovers, one night a week is breakfast for dinner like pancakes, and the biggest meals are usually on Sundays. I also leave myself one day a month to try out a new recipe or pull out one we haven’t had in a while. We also have a pizza night and an eat out night once per rotation. Although I have it all written out by day of the week, I allow myself to switch what days we have things depending on time and mood. I’ve been doing my menu planning for over 2 years now, evaluating a few times a year to add or remove meals and switch things up.

  6. I’m excited to really get in the habit of having a menu plan, thanks to winning the Stolen Moments Menu Planning giveaway. I’ve tried before, and always end up lapsing when I need it most (busy times). Then, we end up eating out, which is NOT affordable for a family of 6 (or healthy). I think it’s important, for health, budgeting and sanity reasons.

  7. My husband and I haven’t had much success in the meal planning department in the past. REcently though we’ve started doing like you- not assigning a meal to a specific day. Just picking several meals for the week and picking what we are in the mood for that day. We find that making a list of meals ahead of time saves us from being wishy-washy about what to eat for dinner- which is a BIG problem for us. We’re not perfect at it, but we are getting better. 😀

  8. Jenny from S.G. says:

    I have planned our meals for almost 10 years now. I plan two weeks at a time (payday to payday) and do the same thing you do by not assigning meals to days, but just having enough meals planned and ingredients on hand for those meals. I find it works out very, very well, and our grocery budget is low (only $400 a month for a family of 6)and that includes keeping my food storage up-to-date with enough food to feed our family for three months or more.

    I find that I don’t have to skimp on making good food either. I love cooking and trying new recipes (I consider it a hobby), and when I plan ahead for a few more “expensive” items to try out new things, it always fits in the budget just fine. Cooking from scratch and not buying convenience foods is the real budget-winner for our family!

  9. I’m with you…I must menu plan since I do not like grocery shopping and I don’t want to go more than once a week. So I must know what I am making so that I am sure to have the ingredients that I need. I do have a white board with the days of the week (one weeks’s worth) and I write our dinner menu on it to plan my grocery shopping. My family loves knowing what to expect each night for dinner. It works well.

  10. I only shop twice monthly (around pay days) except for fresh fruit/ veggies/ milk. So… I must menu plan. I do two weeks at a time with calendar in hand. I need to know what nights we have activities, when dh is traveling, etc… to effectively plan our meals. I plan our lunches/ breakfasts with just enough to cover that two weeks- but no assigned day.

    Menu planning has made the single biggest difference in our effort to pay off debt! I’ve heard it before, the biggest savings in a budget can be found in the grocery column.

  11. I make a list of thirty meals for the month. I write them all out on a list. I shop for what I can in bulk and prep/freeze what I can in portions. Then on Sunday I pick meals for the week off of the 30 day meal list.
    I shop on monday for perishables and any thing else needed for that week. I try to plan easier meals on nights I think we need it. I still allow wiggle room though if needed I switch it up. Say for example I bell peppers for a meal and they just dont look like they can make it another day I will move it up on the list or change to accomodate last minute dinner plans for someone coming over.
    My frustration lies with the fact that I have VERY picky eaters. Dinner time can be down right stressfull and I sometimes feel like my hard work is not appreciated and that has made my meal planning harder in the past. I realize now I can’t please everyone all the time. I am trying new tactic. If they don’t eat and start crying about it I just take the plate away. It is one meal out of thirty …they can deal with it. I rather not have the drama.

  12. I do not like to menu plan. We like to eat what we like when we crave it. I admire those who can be so precise with their menus and shopping but it definitely doesn’t work well for our family.

  13. I’m SOOOOO bored by food. On one hand, I cringe at the thought of eating YET ANOTHER plate of spaghetti/burrito/taco/hamburger/broiled chicken breast/stir fry but I also cringe at the thought of having to eat the disaster that will likely occur if I try something I don’t already know how to cook. (Cooking’s not really my strong point, though not for lack of trying.)

  14. I just planned a menu for the first time this week. I’ve been meaning to for a couple of months (since I bought the Motivated Moms Chore Calender-which I love!) and have finally sat down to do it. I only planned for one week and did assign meals for specific days. However, I’ll allow myself some flexibility since DH does not always know in advance when he’ll be traveling. I’m also not far from town and grocery shop weekly.

    I liked spending 15-20 minutes planning out meals because, like everyone has said, grocery shopping is much easier! I love to cook and love not having to fret over what’s for dinner. I’m not quite ready to post my own Menu Plan Monday…I’ll try it out for a couple of months to see if I can keep it up.

  15. It took me a while to get into the habit of meal planning, but now I swear by it. I’ve noticed I have less excess in the house because I don’t need tons of staples “just in case” I need to throw a meal together. We eat what’s on sale and buy the needed extras to even out the menu.

    Our weekend meals got screwed up recently and I found myself at 4pm on Sunday with nothing ready or defrosted for dinner. (and not much to “throw together” for a last minute meal) We were very close to loading up the car and going out to eat, but decided to be spontaneous and have smoothies and popcorn and while watching a Veggie Tales movie. Not the most nutritious (and we all woke up starving in the morning!) but it was easy, the kids thought it was a HUGE treat and we didn’t spend $20 out on dinner. AND I got a night off from cooking!

  16. I began menu planning a few years ago to help us pay off debt. Before that, I “sorta” menu planned. I would make a list of meals for a few days, then I would make whatever meal suited my fancy for that particular day. I didn’t always work out, as many of my proteins were frozen (and don’t thaw well in 15 minutes)! We ate out a lot more than I was willing to admit.

    Now that I menu plan, things are better all around. The kids know what is for every meal and snack (less complainng, as I try to make everyone’s favorite once a week). We save money. We eat healthier. I have very little stress at 4:00. (That is my personal favorite reason for menu planning!) I’m even experimenting more with new recipes.

    It’s a win-win situation for everyone!

  17. I plan for the week but don’t assign it a certain day(unless there is a specific reason, like time, that factors in)

    My husband is actually the one that grumbles about the menu planning…he likes to eat what he has a craving for at any given moment. I try to keep an extra steak or 2 on hand just in case he starts pouting like the 2 year old.

  18. I meal plan. It is not my favorite part of the week but it a necessary one. It makes my week flow much better.

    I do put all our meals on certain days but I do allow flexibility within the week. If things are busy one day, I can look to the menu to see if there is an easier meal to make. Same thing goes for breakfast and lunch.

    The weeks I don’t menu plan I spend more at the grocery store, overbuy some things and miss buying other things.

    Another plus…..there are certain things on the menu that I know the kids can make : )

  19. I LOVE menu planning! It is just my husband & I right now (no babies yet 🙂 ), but I am usually busy being a full-time student. Spending time planning a menu and making a grocery list one day a week saves me money and time on other days. And, I have a lot of fun looking at recipes and trying new things!
    I usually plan for one week at a time, and at least have a general idea of what days I will make what meals. (With only the two of us, I like making enough for leftovers for the next day, too.)
    I’ve started doing a general meal plan for a month, but I JUST started that. We’ll see how that works. 🙂

  20. Monthly works best for me. I dont know what I would do if I did not plan a menu. It would be like losing a arm for me. If I menu plan this makes my shopping trip so much more organized and you spend less. I dont have to stand back and ask myself what can I make for dinner? I have a menu list format just like Toni i can pick and choose not set meals for set nights. If I want a easy night I pick a easy meal. Big meals are set for weekends or days I have more time. I dont have to run to the store for missing ingriendients anymore. I have my menu you therefor i have everything i need to make those meals. My thoughts are how do ppl do it without menu? I would be so lost. I have been monthly menu planning religously for 9 years I know no other way. + I can get input from the family on what meals they might want then add it to the menu.

  21. I do menu plan… however, the way I do it isn’t very conducive to link up with the Menu Plan Monday. Here’s how my system works. I plan my menu on Tuesday night, grocery shop on Wednesday after work, cook on Thursday night and/or Friday and/or Sunday, and eat the leftovers the rest of the days. (This is because I make sack lunches since DH and I both work.) It works for me, anyway. I guess I call it “weekend cooking.” But I guess you can see why it’s just not very efficient to link up.

  22. I have been wanting to start menu planning for a long time now. I think I’m just overwhelming myself and can’t get it going. Basically, I just don’t know where to start. My mother never menu-planned and it just feels like a foreign concept to me. So – wish me luck. I’m going to try again next week after school starts and I can get a minute to myself.

  23. I menu plan when I’m especially busy or have guests in my home.

    Typically, when we get home from work, we pull out whatever it is that we want to eat (pasta, rice, chicken, tortillas, etc.). Sometimes that means we aren’t eating the most balanced diet. But usually we’ll have a good dinner together and pack leftovers for lunch.

    I don’t think it really affects our budget much because I stock up when things are on sale and then we eat what we have (ie we eat out less than 1x a month).

  24. I’ve recently started menu planning, I plan for two weeks at a time and recently started including breakfast and lunch. My husband does not keep regular hours so I usually choose 7 or 8 items for dinner based on his schedule and it gives us options on any given night. I try to only go to the store once every two weeks, but I usually have to replenish fruit and veggies. I have really loved getting ideas from all of the blogs, but it is so easy to get in a rut!

  25. Am getting back into menu planning but only in a broad sense at the moment. I don’t have space for storage and I don’t have a pantry only a cupboard so doing any further than a week ahead just does not work as I end up having to ditch stuff as my fridge gets over full and can’t keep up with it (not a large fridge either)
    I also find our supermarket it quite useless with having a lot of stuff not available at certain times and sometimes the price of something will have jumped astronomically so makes it not worth actually using those ingredients this particular time
    Does everyone have large pantries, fridges and freezers t make this easier or more reliable supermarkets???

  26. I currently have 4 folders each with 28 recipes in it. What works for me currently is to print of the menus each month and then weekly look at my schedule and fill in what recipe would work best for that week. I grocery shop weekly now also, did do monthly but seasons change. This also helps me know what to look for in the next month so that I can take advantage of sales. I only do our main course and try to make side dishes of what is in season. breakfast for us right now is go with the flow. Oh and when I find recipes I would like to try I save them or add them into a free night. then when I have 28 recipes I have another folder!!!!!!

  27. I menu plan and it’s been varied depending on which ‘season’ of life we’re in! Before our third baby came, I planned weekly and assigned each day with a meal, i.e. Sunday lunch-spaghetti in the crockpot ready to eat when we get home from church, Tuesday night–beans/rice with yams and green peas, Friday night–pizza. Within that system, I left Saturdays open for ‘something different.’ AFTER our third baby came, I readjusted a little. I still plan weekly, but the only day assigned is Friday (pizza). Additionally, I still think ahead to Sunday–making sure I have something for the crockpot or is super easy to prepare quickly. Something I’d like to try more of in the future is batch cooking and freezing. I think we spend way more than we need to on breakfast (bagels/cream cheese, cereal, prepackaged frozen waffles). Breakfast is what kills our food budget. My hubby is usually grabbing breakfast on his way out the door in the morning and even though I get up earlier than my kids do, it is not early enough to prepare a hot meal from scratch. I’d like to try making a big batch of pancakes, freezing them, and seeing if it helps our morning at all!

  28. The fact that I am pregnant is the only thing keeping me from menu planning right now.

    Usually I menu plan about two weeks of meals with unassigned days. But right now what I have planned may or may not (usually not) sound appetizing to me, and that food ends up going to waste. It actually saves us money if I don’t plan ahead.

    Once the baby is here, and everything settles down (hee!) it’s back to menu planning. It’s a great help to me normally.

  29. Menu planning keeps me sane. I plan monthly with the calendar in front of me so I can plan easy/quick meals on nights with basketball practice, etc. I grocery shop once a month and then make weekly stops for milk/fresh veggies, bread. This has worked for our family since the kids were babies and my husband jokes that I will plan the menus in our nursing home LOL

  30. Oh, absolutely! When I let my menu-planning lapse, there is a definite difference in our grocery bill, and we end up with no time to fix anything and pick up takeout WAY too often! I love your idea of not assigning a meal to a certain day. I do, but often end up switching them as things come up during the week. For example, this week my sink backed up and I couldn’t use it, so I ended up doing something else because I couldn’t cook! Then, yesterday, I had dinner in the crockpot ready to go and ended up going out to eat with relatives who were visiting from out of state…so that meal is still in the crock in my fridge, ready to be reheated tomorrow night! I love menu-planning because it gives me a game plan, but flexibility is the key to making it work for me, just because of our busy lives.

  31. I don’t menu plan but I really want to. I have never done it and feel overwhelmed with where to even start. The whole concept is very foreign to me. Last year I was diagnosed with Celiac Disease and multiple food allergies, so eating and shopping for food is challenging. Right now, it’s just my husband and I but I want to start the habit now before we have children. I think I will really need it while pregnant because with all my allergies meal time gets complicated and having something planned would really help out a lot. Any suggestions of where to start would be helpful. Thanks!

  32. I’m one of those that just doesn’t really like much planning at all. I drive my best friend crazy! But, I do kinda know what I’m planning to eat just not when.

  33. I make plans, but I don’t always follow the asigned days. I helps make sure that we include beef equally, as I am not much of a beef person.

  34. I meal plan so I can know what we are eating and have someone make dinner. Our adult daughter lives with us and she will make a meal if she’s not working and I am. Meal planning does save money in the long run and it helps me shop specifically. I’ve been bad about planning but I know if I don’t then I’m up a creek without a paddle with mediocre foods from what’s in the cupboards. Usually I do pretty good. I try to not have much canned foods/frozen dinners. Too much salt or it doesn’t taste good. I make it work!

  35. ChristinaP says:

    We do not menu plan because we receive a weekly box of produce from our local CSA and we eat what we get. We will buy one whole chicken a week and that will cover 2 dinners and maybe some lunches. We buy dairy and other meats as needed. Using the CSA has saved us tons of money because we grocery shop once a week and we do not purchase more than we need. And we’re also supporting our local farmers that produce organic produce.

  36. Our life is pretty crazy with my husband’s health issues. That’s my excuse for not doing proper meal plans, although lately I’ve been looking at the ads to see what’s on sale and making my grocery lists around them and a meal plan for at least dinners. I’m getting there.

  37. I’ve only been menu planning for about 6 months now, and I can’t believe I didn’t start doing it sooner! It makes my life so much easier. It is great to come home from work and have a plan, so I know right away what I need to do. No sitting around trying to think something up or staring in the fridge/freezer wondering why we don’t have any food. Before I started planning, every night my husband and I would go back and forth: “What do you want to have for dinner?”, “I dunno, what do YOU want to have for dinner?”, “I dunno…” after about 15 or 20 minutes we’d finally give up and go to Taco Bell or Subway :p

    One trick that’s helped me is to have a “backup” or two for when things just don’t work out (working late, unexpected errands, or if I’m just too tired to go through with my plan). For me, this means having one or two meals that I can throw together quickly and almost always have the ingredients for – ie tuna casserole, pancakes & eggs (breakfast for dinner), or keeping a frozen pizza or some canned soup stashed somewhere. Although I’ve found that by putting some forethought into my weekly menu, I rarely need to resort to my “emergency” meals.

  38. Well, I read all of the above reasons & excuses for not menu planning & that was totally us for 11+yrs. We ate on a whim…every day. One year, we ate dinner at Applebees almost every night.

    I started meal planning only a short time ago…6.29.09 to be exact…and it has transformed our meal times. DH gave me disapproving glances when I first explained that I was going to do it. He soon discovered that it is super-cool to know what’s for dinner before 5-6pm.

    Like others, I didn’t know where to start…and I was terrified that we didn’t have enough meals that everyone liked to actually plan a menu. I finally just jumped in. I interrogated my kids about their favorite meals & foods they ‘might’ be willing to try. Then painfully made my first weekly meal plan. Yeah, it can be hard that first time, but the accomplishment is well worth the effort.

    I posted a few times for Meal Plan Monday, but it’s just too out of sync w/the shopping schedule I developed. I start thinking about my next weeks meals on Wed, then use Publix online circular and shopping list, check, rifle thru my coupons, & print off the online coupons on Thurs. Then I plan to be at Publix at 7am Fri or Sat or wait until Sunday evening (life dictates that I have to be flexible on that).

    It may be a lot of work in the beginning, but it sure beats how we did it for so long. If I can do it, anyone can do it.

  39. I like to menu plan so I only have to go to the store once a week. I check the menu’s for the week and then check what I have on hand so as to only buy what I need. I like fast, easy meals during the week since I work. Lots of times we have leftovers (or OLD FOOD, as my husband calls it) on work nights. Fancier meals are prepared on the weekends when there is more time. I used to have menu cards that I made that were season based and had the cookbook and page number of the recipes used in the menu. I loved that method because I just rotated through them and didn’t have to think about dinner. Now that it is just my husband and me at home, I just cook what sounds good (but healthy!)

  40. I like to do the same as you, planning 12-14 meals at a time, and not assigning days to them.

  41. I do it the same way you do. I have on hand items for 2 weeks worth of meals. I don’t put meals on days because maybe I don’t feel like fixing tacos on Tuesday or maybe I need comfort food on a certain day. Its way too constricting for me. Plus some days I’m just bone weary and we do YOYO (you’re on your own) and pull all the leftovers out of the fridge along with some homemade bread. My kids actually love YOYO days. 🙂

  42. I Love To Menu Plan, It Not Only Helps With The Grocey List But I Give My Family A Chance To Tell Me What They Would Like For Dinner & Overall, It Cuts Down On My Grocery Bil And A Happy Mom Makes Eveybody Else Happy.

  43. I Also Like To Menu Plan, Go To The Grocery Store And Cook All Or Most Of My Meals Ahead Of Time And Freeze Them Because When School Starts Back And It’s Really Hectic In My House, I Can Just Take Out What Were Having For Dinner That Night And Either Pop It In The Oven Or Microwave. I’m Big On Putting Things In The Crock Pot In The Morning, Letting It Cook On Low And By The Time Everybody Gets Home And Does What They Have To Do, Dinner Is Done. 🙂

  44. I love menu planning. I have a friend that I am trying to help menu plan. We were the other day back and forth on what she had and ideas. 😀

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