8 step ultimate guide to menu planning [simple, clean eating, includes FREE printable]
What is menu planning? [aka meal planning]
Menu planning is a way to avoid the 5:00 PM dance of fending off hangry kids, getting home from work and searching high and low for what you can create for dinner that night! It’s basically asking yourself “what’s for dinner” once, instead of every single night while your children (and most likely you) are at their absolute worst!
Our menu planning system, which we developed over 8 years ago while trying to pay off our debt, is a huge budget saver AND includes buying real, whole food. We’ve never been the family that was into throwing cans and packets of things into the crock pot and calling that food. High quality food is a value of ours and when we create a menu plan, it reflects that.
I even made a menu planning printable for you to have, fo’ free! It includes my step by step process, a printable to create your own menu plan for the week, our 20 most favorite, go-to simple and clean eating recipes AND our favorite cookbooks that we’ve used for years to get those dinners on the table.
You can get that printable by filling out the form below!
Also, if you’d like to see me walk through my exact process of creating a menu plan, then join my private Facebook Group, and you’ll be part of an amazing and supportive money community, AND have access to all of my Monday Night LIVE videos where I do Q&A based on your questions. This past Monday, 9/16/19, I just did a whole LIVE on how I create a menu plan with my best secrets on how to keep your plan budget friendly!
what menu planning is not
I promise. I make this as simple as possible so you can get started immediately. AND, bonus, I created a little workbook for you to use to make this whole process as simple as possible!
Meal planning has been one of our number one tools we’ve used to save money and then put that saved money towards our big picture Vision, Values and Focus. We eat out less, we impulse shop less (I’ll touch on this later), and we waste less food! No matter how you slice it (get it!) you WILL save money if you create a meal plan!
OK, I’ll admit there’s a bit of a time suck up front, but the time you save not having to wonder and wander around your kitchen deciding what you’re going to cook that night, or make a last minute trip to the grocery store where you end up buying wine, marshmallows and chips on top of the two other ingredients you actually needed to make dinner, will be substantial.
let’s get started creating a menu plan!
Paper (or a digital way to write down your menu),
Pen (or not if you’re choosing digital),
Smartphone or computer or ipad – a way to access recipes,
OR, just print out my free workbook and follow along. By the end, you’ll have your very first menu plan complete and ready to go to the grocery store!
step 1 \ make a list of simple, quick dinners
I have a master list of 20-30 easy, quick, clean eating dinners that I know I can make for our family, even if I don’t have help from my spouse. I also include 5-10 crock-pot or Instant Pot recipes so that I do things even faster (or slower) as the case may be. This list will be what you choose your daily dinners from as you create your weekly menu plan.
TIP: how do i find those recipes?
Well, if you download my workbook, I’ve created a list for you so you don’t have to. You could add a few more recipes to the end of my list to make it a bit more personalized, and then you’re done! Or, you can search your favorite food websites. Here are some of my favorites…
She has a lot of Instant Pot and Crock Pot meals. And everything is paleo friendly! Her Kalua Pig, and Beef Stew are in rotation at our house often! AND, we’ll make enough for leftovers so we can get two meals out of it!
I pin the recipes I love as well as tips on how to eat healthy on a budget! Click the link to follow my board!
There are so many good, easy recipes on this site. They often include video how-tos as well!
AND DON’T FORGET GOOD OLD COOKBOOKS. HERE ARE A FEW BY CHEFS WE LOVE!
Alice Waters “The Art of Simple Food” - we’ve had this cookbook since 2008. She’s super famous in the food world and this book is why. Try the tortilla soup. Even our kids devour it.
Jamie Oliver “5 Ingredients” - Jamie is incredible and everything we make from him is magic. This cookbook will be perfect for any family looking for quick, whole food recipes.
Nigel Slater “Eat” - the subtitle is “the little book of fast food.” Really delicious, really quick whole food recipes.
Amy Pennington “Urban Pantry” - we learned a lot about how to make the most of everything you have. And she has an amazing black beans recipe from scratch that we use as a go-to crock pot recipe.
STEP 2 \ WRITE OUT THE DAYS YOU’RE SHOPPING FOR
My menu planning process almost always starts on Friday. I’ll create the menu while we’re having movie night at home and watching Frozen for the thousandth time. So, I create a menu for an entire week. Saturday through the next Friday. That works best for our family as I don’t have time to get to the grocery store more than once a week.
Don’t forget to check out my free printable to help walk you through my menu planning process step by step!
step 3 \ check your calendar
This step is something we learned through trial and error. It’s crucial to check your calendar for each day next week and see what you have going on. Does your son have a flag football game in the afternoon? Then you’ll likely want to plan a crockpot meal that you can throw together in the morning and will be ready for you when you get home!
Or, maybe you have mama’s night out planned for Wednesday. Good for you! Plan a meal that your spouse can make easily. Sam is actually a much better cook than me, so it’s kinda the other way around for us.
But, the point is, to put dinner on the table without much fuss, have a nutritious, whole food dinner that supports your wellness goals, AND to save money by not impulse eating out! So, set yourself up for success by checking your calendar and picking meals that will support the events of that day!
Even if you have dinner plans with another family, or plan to eat out on Friday night, write it on the calendar so you can stay focused. (Speaking of focus, if you want to learn how to create a money focus for yourself, you can check out my Step 3 Workbook in my shop!)
TIP: We make every Friday leftover day. Sam and I are always exhausted and not wanting to cook, and we usually have a few things laying around the fridge to eat up. It’s a win-win. And if you don’t have enough leftovers, make eggs for everyone. Easy, fast, simple and delicious.
step 4 \ write down your grocery list
After you’ve checked your calendar and then chosen a recipe that supports each particular day of the week for you and your family’s schedule, THEN it’s time to create a grocery list based on your menu plan.
I go through each recipe and write down every ingredient needed to pull that recipe off. If I KNOW 100% that I have an ingredient listed, then I don’t write it down. If I’m not sure, I write the ingredient on the grocery list. In step 6 you’ll clean up any ingredients you don’t actually need, so don’t worry about it yet!
step 5 \ create a breakfast and lunch menu plan
I write breakfast and lunch off to the side of the menu plan. If you printed out my free workbook, you’ll see them listed on the right side. We’re not strict with our days here, since our schedule doesn’t fluctuate much for those meals. For breakfast and lunch I do NOT attach the meals to a specific day. So, in the morning I check the menu plan of what we have available and the kids can choose from that. Easy peasy.
Now it’s time for you to write out 7 breakfast choices and 7 lunch choices for the week. We ALWAYS make extra for dinner so that Sam and I can have leftovers for lunch. If there’s no more leftovers then we always have spring greens and some sort of protein (hard boiled eggs, tuna, chicken, or tofu) to throw a salad together.
Once you have your breakfasts and lunches written down, go through each recipe and make sure you have the ingredients you need to pull them off. Maybe they’re not a recipe. Maybe it’s yogurt and granola. If that’s the case, make sure you have yogurt and granola on your grocery list!
Also, sign up for the free meal plan below to make this WAY easier on yourself!
step 6 \ shop your house
This is another tip that Sam and I picked up after years of overbuying things we already had in the house, and then creating food waste: shop your house.
What I mean is once you have your full grocery list made up, go through your pantry, fridge and freezer and see if you already have any of the ingredients listed on your grocery list. If you find the ingredients, cross them off your grocery list. Easy as that!
TIP: Shopping your house is an excellent budget saver. Don’t skip this step is your main reason for menu planning is to save money!
step 7 \ order or buy groceries
At this point I take my meal planning printable, head over to the Instacart App and order all the groceries in about 10 minutes flat. I’m NOT kidding. I order all of my groceries from ALDI, and if there’s something I can’t get there, I’ll make a trip to our whole foods store sometime later that weekend.
Once I order the groceries from ALDI through Instacart, I set up a delivery time for Saturday morning and the next day a nice person brings my groceries into my house for me and sets them on my counter. Grocery shopping done.
Instacart does have a monthly fee (which if you pay there will be NO delivery fee) and you’ll need to tip your driver. Other than that, I save so much of my time (which is more valuable than money) and money using Instacart.
For years we would shlep our kids to the grocery store and do the grocery shopping with those little, tiny impulse shoppers in tow. It WORE on me, we spent way more than we wanted to, and it left me frustrated and often screaming. That might still be your reality right now, and that’s OK. (Although I’ll definitely be holding you in the light because I SO remember those days.)
If you’re not in a place where you can add the $10 a month Instacart fee to your monthly bills, then now is the time you would take your meal planning printable and grocery list to the store and do your shopping!
TIP: Stick to your list. You’ll save a tremendous amount over the year if you only shop once a week AND you stick to your list!
step 8 \ prep for the week
This step is totally optional.
Whatever it takes for you to be successful with your new menu plan, make it happen on the weekend! You likely have support from a partner and the kids aren’t STARVING, and making sure you know it, while you’re prepping.
TIP: Hard boil some eggs to have easy to transport protein to throw on some lettuce greens for your lunch.
TIP: Always have smoothie ingredients and protein powder on hand so you can whip together a meal replacement in a drink!
YOU DID IT!
Every time you make a meal plan you learn more about what works and what doesn’t work for you and your family. You’ll see what meals take too long for you to whip together on game day, and what crockpot meals everyone will devour.
You’ll get more efficient with every meal plan you make, which will revolutionize your time, your energy and your budget! And your menu planning will allow you to create healthy, whole food meals on a budget.
Get your very own menu planning printable workbook with template by filling out the form below!
Alright, that’s my 8 years of menu planning in a blog post. Don’t forget to join my Greatest Worth Family facebook group where I have a video walking you through this whole process step by step! AND, you can tune into all my LIVE Q&A videos every Monday night at 8:00 PM Eastern.
I’d love to hear what you think and if you have any tips you’d like to add! Comment below friends!