Weekly menu planning

My fiancee and I are terrible at deciding what to eat for dinner. We want to eat healthier and eat at home more often, but we always seem to have a mental block when it comes time to write a shopping list. She has suggested that we have a weekly menu (for example meatloaf every Wednesday), but I think that would get boring and repetitive very quickly. I suppose she sees eating as refuelling, whereas I like to eat and take pleasure in it.

Does anyone have any tips for menu planning? Does anyone do the “Wednesdays are meatloaf night” thing? How is it? I was thinking of a sort of compromise : Wednesdays are ground beef night - that way we could have some variety, but it would give us a starting point for planning.

For the work week, you can set a fairly fixed menu, and then do something different on weekends. A fairly fixed menu will make shopping easier, you’ll get better and more efficient at making the meals.

I used to do Wednesdays as pasta night - I usually have a red gravy handy, and if not, I can make a sauce from pantry ingredients fairly quickly. Or maybe I’ve prepared a tray of lasagna over the weekend and stuck it in the freezer.

Another night would be chicken night. Usually marinated, grilled chicken breasts with rice and a vegetable, but sometimes a rotisserie chicken, or chicken cutlets, etc.

Make ahead meals, and/or meals that can be prepared in bulk like stews and soups, can allow you to eat healthier and cheaper. Remembering to defrost foods in the fridge the night before was always my biggest drawback.

You are right - setting a day as “ingredient” rather than “dish” is more flexible. Around here, Friday is “Pizza Night.” I make a mean pie, so that is our standard week-end lead-in.

The other helpful idea for meal planning is to figure out how to get multile meals off of one main ingredient. Do a pork roast in the crock pot on Sunday, then finish it off as tacos on Thursday, for example.

Agreed, I’ve seen similar menu plans based around “ingredient night.” I recall one that I saw which had “chicken night” and then plans for four simple chicken-breast-based dinners and easy side dishes (to cover a month’s worth of that night’s meals), “roast night” on Sunday (since you’ll probably be around to watch over a roast, won’t be at work, etc.), and so on.

Make a shopping list for the upcoming week, as well, so you won’t be at home and realize “oh man, I don’t have __________” and then suddenly draw a blank on what to do from there. If necessary, label an ingredient as being “reserved” for something (post-it or marker on the label, etc.) so it doesn’t accidentally get used for a lunch earlier in the week and suddenly you remember why it was you bought a can of chickpeas, or whatever it is.

Sunday was always roast day for us - but that gave good variety between Chicken, Pork or Beef. Mondays then became Burrito Mondays, with the left over roast beast forming the basis.

I then had around 10 or so other go-to recipes, that allowed for a fair amount of variation to cover the other two or three times a week I would cook. The other nights were left overs/sandwich/cereal/eat out nights.

Other than the first two nights, and Burrito Monday often became Taco Monday or Enchilada Monday or Quesadilla Monday, there wasn’t any set pattern - it tended to depend on what was on sale at the supermarket.

I do menu planning every Sunday. I look at the circulars to give me an idea what’s the best deal. I hit the grocery store Sunday night and buy groceries for the week based on the meals I’m going to cook. I’m not entirely inflexible, if I get to the store and something looks awesome or is an excellent deal, I make changes on the fly. But, pretty much I know what I’m going to eat every meal (breakfast/lunch/dinner) by Sunday night. It works for me.

I’ve found, if I leave “what’s for dinner” for the last minute, it tends to be stuff like pizza. Once I actually buy healthy ingredients, I’m much more likely to use them because I hate stuff to go bad.

I don’t do “Wednesdays = meatloaf” but Fridays tend to be stuff like home made pizza, tacos or burgers - fun, Friday kind of foods. I probably have 10 favorite, tried and true recipes I cycle through (pork loin stir fry with veggies and cashew, maple glazed salmon with broccoli, home made pasta sauce with sun dried tomato, etc), but I like to try new things too.

I do menu planning for our household every week, then try to cook everything on Sunday, so it’s ready to just stick in the microwave when I get home. Like mentioned above, it’s best to make at least one dish that can be reconstituted - roast a chicken on Sunday, quesadillas for dinner Tuesday and chicken salad for lunch for the week. Any beans and rice dish can be mashed, mixed with egg and be made into homemade veggie burgers. Fish can make fish cakes or tacos. Leftovers from a good steak dinner can be chopped up and tossed into a stir fry or chili.

When I cook from a recipe, I make a point to write down what book and what page the recipe came from so I don’t buy ingredients and never use them.


This site gives you the recipes and shopping lists for a full week of meals, including how to plan for and use the leftovers. It also gives an estimated budget for the groceries. It costs $5/month to belong but is well worth it.

Ultraviolet, what kind of grocery shopping style do you and your SO prefer? Do you want to make one big, rather time-consuming and expensive grocery trip, and then have that last you for a week or more? Or do you prefer stopping at a convenient market on your way home to pick up 1 or 2 days’ worth of food?

Knowing which works better for your household might be another good starting point.

For a long time, I would go to the grocery store maybe twice a month, but I’d get a bunch of stuff that would last me for many meals. Then the planning was along the lines of, “I bought chicken and ground beef. What can I make for dinner tonight using chicken or ground beef?”

Lately, though, I’ve been making shorter and more frequent grocery trips. Then the planning is sort of reversed: “What do I want for dinner tomorrow night? Hmm. Chicken with a green salad sounds good. I’ll stop and get chicken and lettuce after work.”

I menu plan for 2 or at a stretch 3 weeks at a time because I hatehateHATE thinking of what to make each day.

I use a spreadsheet to d oit, and have about 200 meal ideas stored up, so I can just copy and paste in whatever we’ll eat that 2 weeks.

Like for a typical week we might have:

  • Roasted Garlic Oven-Baked Chicken, Canned Biscuits, Cooked Spinach, Green salad
  • Chicken Parmesean (from scratch), 1 hour italian Dinner rolls, Spaghetti, Mozzarella cheese, Frozen Green Beans, Green Salad
  • Grilled Cheese & Ham & tomato sandwiches, chips, pickles, Baked beans
  • Costco Chicken, Cranberry, Boxed Stuffing, Steamed Zuchiini, mashed potatos, Ice Cream & strawberries

For a cookout with friends I can choose from

  • Bullseye burgers on the grill, Hot Dogs, Fries, Veggie skewers, Hamburger buns, Gingerale, lemonade, apple juice, Ice cream sandwiches
    -BBQ Cheese Burgers, Shish Kebobs, Baked French Fries, Green Salad, Water, milk, Strawberries and Icecream

And so on.

I find that just spending one Saturday where I thought of every meal in the world that we enjoy, and including all the components, makes bi-weekly menu planning a copy-and-paste process from then on, and very easy. If we go out somewhere to eat, or at a friends, and we eat a meal we like, I’ll add it to my list.

Then, once a every 2 weeks I assemble my menu, find recipies for anything I don’t know how to make, mark off all the ingredients we have in stock and assemble my grocery list. (I keep a running list of everything I buy and just mark off the things we need that week)

I’ll also add that you may want to allow yourself some flexability. The “I’ll eat X on monday and Y on tuesday” doesn’t work for everyone. Even for my family if I planned burgers for Saturday but when we get to that day we are in the mood for grilled cheese (or more likely don’t care to fire up the grill etc) I’ll switch it up and move burgers to what used to be grilled cheese’s day in the plan.

You don’t have to get as bizarrley obsessive as I do to get menu planning right, and I have been doing it for 6 years so have it very finely tuned to my style. For you it might just be grabbing scrap paper, writing 4 main dishes you like and then hitting the grocery store.

Good luck!

cookforgood.com, although it’s vegetarian (but you could certainly add meat.) You can try some of the recipes on the website, but the inexpensive e-books offer menu planning for whole months.

Try joining One Touch Gold it is actually my glucometer company, but they have a nice menu planning area, and it is free. Very healthy food plans =) You can print out the menus, recipes and a shopping list.

Neither of us is that fond of shopping, so once a week, with maybe an emergency stop for milk or something would be best.

Aha, that looks very interesting, as I am also diabetic (thus the “eat healthier” plan). I’ll check it out, thanks.

Sit down and think of the menus that you already like and serve often. Try to think up at least two or three weeks’ worth. Now think of the fast food meals that you tend to buy most often. Write all of these menus down, with homemade variations of the fast food meals, if possible, on index cards. You don’t have to write down recipes yet, just the menus. Go to the library and check out the South Beach Diet, or something similar to it. Examine this cookbook for more menu and recipe ideas. If you have access to Peg Bracken’s I Hate to Cook Book or I Hate to Housekeep Book, then they will have some quick, easy meals in them. Some of the recipes are quite dated, but some of them are old standards now, for instance, the “pour a can of mushroom soup on a roast” pot roast, which is still pretty darned good for something that takes so very little effort.

Make up recipes and shopping lists for each menu. If you like fast food fried chicken, for instance, try baked chicken with a breadcrumb coating*, some low fat cole slaw, green beans, and (frozen or fresh) corn cobs, half a cob per person. Fast food burgers get converted to home made burgers, with oven or skillet fries, and with some fresh fruit added to the meal. It’s OK to have one fast food meal scheduled on your errand/chores day. Each time you make up a new menu, or fix an old favorite, or go out for a fast food meal that’s not in your plan, add it in. Try to get a variety of both ingredients and cooking methods. For instance, use your slow cooker at least once a week. When you come home from grocery shopping, put a chunk of meat in the crock, cover with sliced fresh or minced dried onions, and refrigerate it until tomorrow morning. Then put the crock in the pot and set it on low…and that day’s dinner is mostly prepared.

Try to add another serving of a non-starchy vegetable to every meal. Frozen vegetables are quite acceptable, and might be more nutritious than fresh. Also, add a fruit serving to dinner.

If you want to add more fish, chicken, and meatless meals into your rotation, now is the time. I suggest at least one meatless meal every other week, and more often if you have several that you like. Also, you should try at least one new recipe a month. Don’t make a new recipe oftener than every three or four weeks, as it’s easy to get bored with it when it’s not already an old standby.

Be sure to have some sort of backup pantry meals. For instance, I have several cans of tuna in the house at all times, and I can make tuna salad or a tuna loaf. I also have peanut butter. My husband likes to have a can of chili in the pantry. When the snowstorm hits, we are ready with at least a couple of days’ worth of food, a great deal of which doesn’t require anything more than opening a can or spreading peanut butter on bread or crackers.

*Lightly coat skinless chicken pieces with melted butter and/or olive oil, coat with seasoned bread crumbs, bake in 375 F oven until done.