Steps to Menu Planning

This post is a follow-up to the overwhelming response I received for my Menu Planning Tool. I realized that it wouldn't hurt to outline my simple steps at Menu Planning for those of you who are interested in getting started.

For those of you who received my documents, you'll notice that there are four main components:

1) Inventory of what you have
2) Menu Plan based on what you have*
3) Shopping List based on your meal plan*
4) Archive of your favorite recipes as you go, and keep a record of the meal plans

*If possible, try to print these front to back!

Here are the steps I use when meal-planning:

1) Carve out time on Saturday or Sunday. I try to have my meal plan completed by Sunday. Give yourself time and space to quietly and peacefully pour over your cookbooks, surf the internet, and go through your fridge and freezer. Pour yourself a cup of tea, play your favorite "relaxing" CD, and begin the process.

2) Take inventory of what you have. Knowing what is in your fridge is crucial. What leftovers can be "made over"? What produce needs to be used? What other perishables can be utilized? Remember: The key to being a Thrifty Oreganic is to "Use what you have, and buy what you'll use".

Use the menu planning worksheet to list out all that you have in your fridge, freezer, and pantry. It might be helpful to keep an ongoing inventory on an eraseable white board on your fridge/freezer, as well as on the inside door to your pantry. That way you can see what items you really are using, and what's just festering!

3) Plan meals based on what you have. This involves some research, perhaps, if you want or need to be creative. Consult your favorite cookbooks, or do internet searches for recipes that utilize the foods that you have. For example, if you have a surplus of green beans and tomatoes, you might google "Green Bean and Tomato recipes" to find some new and innovative ways to serve these.

Tip: For breakfasts, I have a "standing menu" that basically doesn't change much from week to week (except for now that we're on Gaps, things are a little bit different). For example, make every Monday scrambled egg day, Tuesday can be a smoothie day, etc.

Tip: Lunches can be simple: Leftovers are the most obvious thing to do, but you can also do simple "finger food lunches" like sliced veggies, cheese cubes, salami and crispy nuts. These are especially easy to pack and eat at school or work.

Tip: I usually plan my dinners based on which type of meat or poultry I'm going to roast. If it's a "Chicken Week", I'll roast a chicken on Monday and use the leftovers in a curry or in enchiladas or soup. I always have plenty of leftovers to make a couple more meals. If it's a beef week, I'll roast a beef cut and use the leftovers in shepherd's pie or sandwhiches. The possibilities are endless! Too often, money is wasted when leftovers rot in our fridges!

4) Make your shopping list based on what you are cooking this week: Don't get sidetracked by the fancy displays in the supermarket: Buy what's on your list because you know you're going to utilize it! Notice that the shopping list tool I offer is separated by category. It's helpful and efficient (not to mention healthier!) to "shop the perimeter" of the grocery store. My shopping list is grouped according to the perimeter of the typical grocery store, emphasizing fresh produce, meat, seafood, and dairy. Packaged/boxed food should be kept to a minimum as it is more expensive and less healthy.

5) Archive! I suggest you keep a binder of all of your weekly menus. As you go through several months/seasons of meal planning, you can look back and more easily plan your menus based on what worked in the past for your family. Also, keep a running list (on the worksheet provided) of your favorite recipes, along with page references and notes. Keep this at the front of your menu-planning binder so that when you're having "menu-planner's block" you can look at what you've enjoyed as a family.

6) One last thing: Keep it simple! If cooking isn't your favorite thing to do, look for simple recipes t hat focus on quality meats or seafood, whole grain pilafs, and a side vegetable. Slow-cookers are also a life-saver. Soups are deliciously satisfying in the winter time. Start simple, and work your way into more "gourmet" faire.

For an archive of my past menu-plans, you can go here. To receive my menu-planning tools, or to give feedback on the effectiveness of these tools, please feel free to contact me.


Anonymous said...


Your talk was great last week, - and I appreciate your outline of menu planning.

Could you give me the recipe for your crockpot taco/spinach dish?.I couldn't find it on your blog.
Love you

Helenrr said...

Hey there Carrie, I am impressed, wow what a great job you are doing-and I would love your menu planning documents as I can always learn something new! You are so right about carving out time-when I don't I have to fly by the seat of my pants, and that sometimes means a not so good meal or it is really late because I start from scratch (I cook as much from scratch as I can, using whole foods, which takes time!). I guess you could say we eat like the Europeans, haha.
A few of my favorite recipe places-Martha Stewart's 'Food" magazine; Great recipes that use a minimum of processed and canned food (you can easily substitute also), plus they are mostly simple, and they have variety, are seasonal, and there are little articles explaining different spices, produce etc. Another is the Moosewood cookbooks-partly vegetarian but yummy not odd. They use a lot of produce too so it is good for those of us with gardens and CSA boxes (we have both and love it). I also like "Putting Food By" and my old Joy of Cooking.
I am going to print out your recipes too, they sound good!
Have a blessed week end,
Love and hugs to all,
Aunt Helen