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5 Steps to Creating the Perfect Menu Plan

Are you tired of defaulting to drive-thru and frozen meals to feed your family? Is your wallet (and your digestive system) crying out for a change? Are you finally ready to create a menu plan that will help your family love eating at home?

I’m here to show you that menu planning is not that complicated! But if you want to ensure that you don’t run out of food half-way through the pay cycle and ruin your budget, you must make a thorough plan!

To help you out, I’ve outlined a simple 5-step process to help you create a menu plan that you will love. If you do a thorough job with this, you can pretty much just repeat the same 4-week menu plan and never have to go to as much trouble again!



First of all, click here to get my FREE Printable menu planning calendar!

This is just a simple template for a 2-week menu plan. If you want to go ahead and plan for 4 weeks, just print out two of them.

Ready? Here we go!


Step One: Mark Your Calendar

Look at your calendar. Jot down any abnormalities, like:

  • a day when you’re out of town
  • when your in-laws have invited you for dinner
  • a night when you’re hosting a dinner
  • a special occasion you’ll be celebrating
  • a potluck at work or church
  • nights when the evening activities will cause you to eat supper earlier or later than normal (i.e. gymnastics at 6:30)

Make note of any special foods you need to prepare on these days. For example, if you’re going to dinner at your in-laws’, and are expected to bring a dessert, write down what you will bring. If you’re going to be out of town, is it possible to pack a picnic lunch? The better you plan ahead, the easier it will be to make these things at home instead of defaulting to more convenient (and therefore more expensive) store-bought or restaurant meals.


Step Two: List Your Favorites

Make a list of your favorite stand-bys. Have your family help to come up with their favorite meals. This list will make up the majority of your menu plan. For variety, spread out different types of meats. To keep the budget in check, space out more expensive meals.

Some of these meals can be repeated every week or two. (Perhaps a weekly pizza night is something your family cherishes.) Others you may not wish to repeat but every month or two. (I love tuna melts, but once a month is plenty.)

Here are my family’s normal meals. Maybe this list will jog your memory.

  • Hamburgers
  • Sloppy joes
  • Chili
  • Enchiladas – chicken or hamburger
  • Grilled meat – steaks, pork chops, pork steaks, venison
  • Fried meat – chicken tenders, pork chops, venison, fish
  • Montereys
  • Spaghetti
  • Roast whole chicken 
  • Southwest tilapia
  • Spicy island shrimp
  • Blue cheese pork chops
  • Crock pot pork chops and gravy
  • Hamburger steaks and gravy
  • BBQ meatballs
  • French dip / Italian beef sandwiches / BBQ beef
  • Pork roast / ham roast
  • Tacos
  • Fajitas
  • Patty melts
  • Polish sausage
  • Beef stroganoff
  • Seasoned chicken pieces in a skillet
  • Chicken noodle soup / chicken and dumplings
  • Homemade pizza
  • Breakfast for dinner
  • Stir fry
  • Fried rice with meat (chicken, shrimp)


Step Three: Add in Easy Fillers

It’s likely that you will not want to cook every single day. (Just me?) Plan to have some easy things on hand. Frozen stuff like pizza, burritos, chicken strips, toasted ravioli, and corn dogs are easy to fix for one or six. If you’re super-ambitious, you can freeze individual portions of meals like enchiladas, burritos, or lasagna so they’re easy to take out and reheat quickly with little effort.

I like to add in one ‘Leftovers’ meal each week. You may have fewer leftovers if you take them in your lunches. Or you could plan to make larger portions of your other meals in order to create more leftovers.


Step Four: Plan Sides

Make sure to plan for sides! I have made this mistake many times. I get my main course on the menu plan and think I’m done. “Oh, we have potatoes and rice. I’m sure I can pull together something!” But who likes to eat potatoes or rice as the only side dish for days in a row? Make a list of stand-by sides as well.

Here are some of ours:

  • Rice
  • Rice packets (wild rice, red beans and rice)
  • Fried rice
  • Mac and cheese
  • Buttered noodles
  • Mashed potatoes
  • Baked potatoes (or sweet potatoes)
  • Fried potatoes
  • Potato salad
  • Lemon-butter red-skinned potatoes
  • Oven-fried potato wedges (or sweet potatoes)
  • Tater tots
  • Garlic bread
  • Biscuits
  • Crescent rolls
  • Frozen corn
  • Corn-on-the-cob
  • Fresh veggies – with or without dip (baby carrots or carrot sticks, broccoli, cauliflower, sugar-snap peas, cherry tomatoes, cucumbers, fresh sliced tomatoes)
  • Fresh fruit
  • Canned green beans
  • Steamed broccoli, cauliflower, or california blend
  • Creamed spinach
  • Fried okra
  • Salad
  • Onion soup
  • Grilled veggies (asparagus, onions, tomatoes)
  • Roasted veggies (zucchini, potatoes, broccoli, carrots, sweet potatoes, asparagus, squash, etc.)
  • Egg drop soup
  • Deviled eggs


Step Five: Plan Breakfasts, Lunches, and Snacks

I recommend keeping this really simple. If one day you feel like being a gourmet chef and making something more complicated, more power to you! But keep it simple the rest of the time so you can get ready quickly in the morning, and not feel like you’re spending your whole life in the kitchen!

For Breakfasts:

  • Cereal
  • Oatmeal
  • Smoothies
  • Frozen pancakes or waffles
  • Frozen sandwiches or burritos

For Lunches:

  • Leftovers
  • Sandwiches (lunch meat or peanut butter) or wraps
  • Cook once and eat all week (make something on Sunday just for your lunches and divide it into 5 containers for the whole week)

For Snacks:

My kids get out of school at 3:00 and we don’t eat supper until around 6:00 on average. When they eat lunch as early as 11:30, they need a snack after school. I keep two fruit options and two other options (crackers, yogurt, etc.) on hand all the time. They are each allowed to eat one fruit and one other thing. To save money, I buy the large packages and divide them up into snack bags (my kids help).

You may also need snacks for a car trip or something like popcorn for movie night. Plan it all out!


Next Step: Make Your Grocery List!

Now that you’ve thoroughly planned your menu, you need to look over every meal and write down what groceries you need to buy.

Move on to my post about how to shop with a grocery list the right way!

Plan your meals thoroughly, but stay flexible. Just because you say you want to make enchiladas on Tuesday doesn’t mean you have to make enchiladas on Tuesday. Maybe you forgot to thaw out the chicken (or worse – forgot to buy the chicken). Cook hamburgers instead tonight, and save the enchiladas for tomorrow night. Then go and thaw out the chicken right now!


What are some meals or sides on your ‘stand by’ list? Share in the comments below!



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