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Menu Planning ~ What It Is and How To Do It

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Why menu plan? Because menu planning can save you time, money, and relieve stress. It also allows you to make better food choices for your family. Let me walk you through how to do it.

Menu Board with Menu

One of the most important things I did when my kids were young was menu plan. It was important for 2 main reasons:

#1. It kept me from blowing my grocery budget; and

#2. It kept me from losing my sanity…ish. 🙂

As a single mom and a full-time college student, finances were crazy tight. We didn’t eat fancy, but we did always eat. And menu planning was how I did it.

If you are interested in how family meal planning helps your grocery budget, I wrote Top 5 Ways Menu Planning Saves Money.

You should read it.

I’ll wait.

Keeping a well-stocked basic pantry is important, and planning meals a month in advance let’s you take advantage of monthly sales and seasonal pricing.

Groceries are like a lot of other things in that they tend to go on sale in fairly regular cycles.

pantry items in glass jars

Basic Pantry

So what do I mean by a “basic” pantry?

These are staple items that allow you to make a variety of things, or they are needed by several recipes.

While this may be a little different for everyone, this is the list of what I like to keep on hand.

Flour, sugar, baking powder and baking soda, salt and pepper, white vinegar, spices, rice, beans, potatoes, and onions.

And for me, the list also includes yeast for bread baking. I also try to always have milk (or milk powder), butter, and eggs.

Even back then when I only had those items in the house, I could still put several meals on the table. Most of those basic staples are pretty cheap.

And while you can get kinda tired of rice and beans and egg sandwiches, it sure beats the alternative. 

We’ll talk about how to stock your pantry some other time. But for now, let’s get back to the actual menu planning part.

blank calendar page

The Nuts and Bolts of Menu Planning from Your Pantry

Step 1: Make an inventory of everything you have in your pantry. Staples as well as canned goods and all the boxes and bags and mixes.

You’d be surprised what you can make by combining those things.

Step 2: Make an inventory of everything you have in the refrigerator and freezer. Sometimes you have packages of mystery meat that you forgot to label.

Take your best guess. 

Menu planning will cut down on those in the future.

Step 3: Make a list of all the meals you could make right now with what you have on hand. That might not be much but that’s okay.

As you make your list mark the ingredients off of your inventory lists.

Step 4: Print out a blank calendar page.

Like this one I have conveniently attached for you to download. 🙂 Blank Calendar For Menu Planning

Or just a regular ole piece of paper works too. Make a note of any special activities that would influence your choice of meals on the appropriate days. Things like birthdays, school activities, church activities, or holidays.

Step 5: Put the meals from step 3 on your calendar anywhere you want them.

Step 6: Look at your inventory lists again.

What meals could you make if you purchased only 1 or 2 extra ingredients?

Put those on the calendar, marking items off of the inventory lists, and starting a list of things you need to purchase.

Step 7: After that, fill in the rest of the days with meals.

The goal is to use up everything from your inventories that needs to be used.

Make sure you write down all the things you need to purchase to complete the meals.

So there you have it. In the space of about 30 minutes you have all the meals planned for the next month, along with a grocery list of everything you need to purchase to make those meals.

And just to head off the oft repeated refrain of, “What’s for dinner?”, I like to use a chalk board to hang in the kitchen or dining area.

vegetables for sale

Menu Planning is Crazy Flexible

I like to break my grocery list down by pay period. That’s what works for me.

You do it any way that it works for you.

Some people like to purchase everything except the fresh fruits and veggies all at once. Then they go back for the fresh stuff once a week.

It’s an incredibly flexible way of doing things.

And the menu isn’t set in stone. Unless you want it to be.

If you are at the grocery store and they have chicken breasts on sale, but it’s not on the menu until next week, adjust the menu and buy the chicken.

The beauty of this is that in any given week I have everything I need to make everything listed on the menu for that week.

So if I’m not feelin whatever’s on the menu for today, I can choose something else and I know I won’t have to run to the store.

And I’m sure we can all agree that the less trips to the store, the less money spent on impulse buys. Unless you are incredibly disciplined.

Personally, I think that not impulse buying is a superpower and is deserving of a cape and everything!

If you happen to have a canning pantry, the process is still the same. And if you keep a running inventory of your pantry and freezer that speeds up the process quite a bit.

Especially if you buy things in bulk.

If you have food storage, you don’t have food storage, or you’re just starting your food storage, menu planning will save you time and save you money.

And it just might save your sanity. Ish.

Give it a try and let me know how it goes!


Frequently Asked Questions About Menu Planning

What’s the difference between “menu planning” and having a “meal plan”?

To my mind, menu planning involves planning meals around what you have on hand and what’s on sale at the grocery store.
A meal plan on the other hand, involves you shopping for what the plan tells you to buy.
Menu planning is a much more frugal option!

What are the benefits of having a written out menu plan for meals?

The written menu plan takes a lot of stress out of dinner time. Some days you just don’t have the energy to make one more decision. With a menu plan you don’t have to.
Plus, if it’s written down, the kids and significant other always know the answer to that question of what’s for dinner.

What is the best way to keep track of a menu plan and shopping list?

Gotta be honest here. I’m totally old school. I print out my menu sheets, fill them in, and tape it to the inside of a cupboard door.
Shopping list is hanging on the wall in the kitchen. I occasionally use a magnetized wipe-off board that hangs on my fridge. That way I can tell someone to go add something to the shopping list and they have access to it. If it was digital they couldn’t do that.

By on February 10th, 2022

2 thoughts on “Menu Planning ~ What It Is and How To Do It”

  1. Thank you, this it is such a helpful reminder, I do Menu Plan however for some reason I never thought to shop my fridge, freezer or pantry until last week and doing so meant I only went out for a few fresh foods and drinks. It was lovely to stay at home and getting things done that needed doing instead of running around at supermarkets at the last minute. Also apart from our Son’s normal one take away in the fortnight we didn’t need more take away!
    So it was a win win! Your Page is lovely and a blessing.
    Blessings Jilly❤ ❤ ❤


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