A basic guide to menu planning

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About Tsh

Tsh is the founder of this blog and lives in Bend, Oregon with her husband and 3 kids. Her latest book is Notes From a Blue Bike, and believes a passport is one of the world's greatest textbooks.

Photo by The Bitten Word

Menu planning saves hours of time, energy, money, and headaches, but it’s easy to overcomplicate the process. And when that happens, it becomes a burden instead of a blessing. So why do it at all?

My daily life can get crazy, as I’m sure it can for you. Cooking is one area that I can keep relatively under control, if I take a few basic steps to do it simply and thoughtfully. To make the job of nourishing my family enjoyable and cost-effective, I rely on menu planning.

What is menu planning?

All it really means is that you plan ahead of time what meals you’ll cook.

What are the benefits?

  • You can extract a grocery list from your menu choices.
  • Because you buy only what you need, less food is wasted.
  • You know with plenty of notice what’s for dinner – no more frantic 5 p.m. crazyness.
  • Cooking is more enjoyable, because odds are you’ll be more prepared.
  • You’ll have more variety, because you’ve planned it.
  • It’s healthier, because it cuts down on drive-thru runs.
  • It’s cheaper, too, because you’re eating out less, you can menu plan around your coupons, and you can intentionally cook with seasonal ingredients.

How far in advance should I plan my menu?

It’s really up to you and your family. Different seasons call for different types of home management, so if your current season is more hectic than usual, perhaps a simple menu planned for an entire month is ideal. If you like variety or experimenting, then maybe planning just a week at a time works well.
I recommend menu planning at least a week at a time, and not going farther in advance than a month. This way, you’ve got enough menus planned to make it worth your while, yet not so scheduled that it becomes too big a chore.

What’s the perfect, ideal way to menu plan?

Well, I don’t know the perfect way – but I know how I’m doing it right now for my family of 3.5 (one of us is six months old). I plan two weeks at a time, and repeat those weeks at least once. This way, I’ve got around a month planned at minimum. We’re pretty easy-going eaters, and don’t mind repeating a meal every other week – after all, that’s only having it twice a month, more or less.

I use Google Calendar to plan my menus – it’s streamlined with my Gmail account, so I can have it email me my day’s menu and recipes each morning.

How I use the internet to plan my menu

spinach feta cheese pizza
Photo by Naotake Murayama

1. A few days before a new month, I open up my Google Calendar. You can create different sub-calendars; I’ve got one labeled “Menu Plan.” I keep both this one and my “Events & Appointments” calendars open. This is so I know what events I need to plan around. I also set it to the monthly view.

2. In a separate tab, I open my del.icio.us cookbook (you can read more about how I created one.) From here, I select different tags based on what recipes I want to add to my menu. When I get to the right recipe, I click on the link, and copy the URL address.

3. Back in my Calendar, I click on a day, enter the name of the meal, set it on the Menu Plan, and go to “edit event details.” I paste the recipe URL in the description, in case I want to find it when I’m in my Calendar – this is helpful if I’m making several recipes for one meal.

4. Here’s an important part - under “Repeats,” I choose “Repeat every 2 weeks.” This will automatically plug in this recipe on this day, every other week, until I change it.

5. Under “Reminder,” I choose to have an e-mail reminder sent to my Gmail account three hours before dinner time is scheduled. This is because the bulk of my computer time is around 2-4 p.m., during my kids’ afternoon naps. I’m on the computer anyway – it’s a helpful reminder about the last half of my day, and what I need to do to get ready for dinner. If I’ve got a Crock Pot dinner planned, I have the email sent to me 12 hours prior, which is during my other computer time, before anyone else is up.

Because I repeat my recipes every two weeks, I only have to fill out two weeks of menus to have an entire month filled. At the end of the month, I can keep the recipes on the menu, or I can switch them out and repeat this process.

When a month is filled, I print out that calendar and put it in my Home Management Notebook. Sometimes I print an additional one and keep it near my grocery list in the kitchen.

Now, I don’t want it to sound like every single day I have an elaborate menu planned for each dinner. Far from it! We have some classic standbys that we make weekly – stir fry, homemade pizza, tacos, and spaghetti, to name a few. We keep variety alive with super-easy seasonal side dishes, like salad, sliced fruit, and basic steamed or roasted veggies.

I also only plan our dinners. Lunches are almost always leftovers, and if there aren’t any (there usually are), we do sandwiches, quesadillas, salads, or finger foods.

For breakfast, we rotate between oatmeal, cold cereal, scones or muffins with fruit, Dutch babies, pancakes, and granola.

I’ve got more to come – hacks on cooking from scratch, tips on selecting the right menus and recipes, and good online tools to do it all. But I’d love to hear from you – how do you plan your menus? Or do you? What are your stumbling blocks that make it challenging? What are tips you can share the rest of us?

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Comments

  1. Thanks for showing how you incorporated your menu plan into your calendar. Love the details in that system. I know I probably would have come up with something similar eventually, but I like to make it easy and just copy your idea.

    So I guess if you repeat the same menu plan every two weeks, then you basically have the same shopping list each time too, right?

    Rachels last blog post..the Haircut

  2. @Rachel – Yes, more or less. I have a master grocery list I print out, and I check off things as we need them, and add new items along the way.

  3. I take the opposite approach. I go grocery shopping, from a list, and when I get home I plan all the meals I can make from the ingredients on hand. This system works for me for several reasons. First, I don’t feel tied down to a specific meal on a specific night. Because I always buy the same things, going to the grocery store is a snap- I breeze through. If I want to try a new meal, then I just add the ingredients to a list, and the list making is easy because I add things as I go along throughout the week.
    I’ve also found this to help me go two weeks between shopping trips, which has saved me a lot of money and time in and of itself.

  4. I’d love to know what Kelly’s (above) shopping list looks like.

    Kristen M.s last blog post..Summer Pictures

  5. @Kelly – If you’re up for it, maybe post your grocery list on your blog!

    I’ve got my master list that I thought about posting sometime, too. If anyone else has one, I’d be up for seeing it.

  6. Wow! It’s been awhile since I’ve starred something in my Google Reader…thanks for posting this, and the Google Calendar instructions. I’m totally going to try this out!

    I think our stumbling block is I have a family of 2 2/3, and I’m stuck in the rut of cooking for 6. My DH is Middle Eastern, and their cooking thends to be more involved than good ol’ American meat and potatoes (meat as a main course is still foreign to him, even after living here for 13 years – great for frugality, but there’s really only so much rice a girl can eat!). So, to compensate for the more time-consuming fare, I tend to cook it in bulk. Some is freezer-friendly, but most is not.

    I miss when cooking used to be fun! Hopefully this is the system I’ve been looking for…. :)

    Emilys last blog post..Riding the Fence, Again

  7. I meal plan but I love your system for meal planning. I never thought of duplicating one of my weeks meal plans for another week. My meal planning is kind of simple and plain. I write down meals for Monday-Friday, then I create my list. I try to stick with what I have coupons for. I add in snacks and a type of lunch item because there is always a day where there isn’t leftovers. Saturdays & Sundays are leftover days. I tend to over cook, so by the end of the week there is always a left over that can be eaten. If the lunch I planned wasn’t used, its used for left overs saturday or sunday.

    I think I will have to use your idea. It sounds like it will make things much simpler for me.

  8. This is a great idea, and a great system for planning out meals. My wife and I try to plan at least one week in advance before doing our grocery shopping. A few times in the past we shopped biweekly and planned meals out two weeks in advance. Invariably, taste buds or circumstances changed and knocked out a couple meals in the second week, but staying away from the stores did help our grocery budget.

    Frugal Dads last blog post..Becoming Debt Free: Identifying the Why

  9. I use the weekly Meal planner and grocery shopping list from Lobotome (www.lobotome.com) – they have helped me a lot. Meal planning has saved us money and helped us not waste food each week! your system sounds great, but probably a little too involved for me.

  10. O.k., that is super organized when it comes to food planning! I would love to get to that point and I do try and plan it out for about three days. Sometimes we do the meal on a whim for the weekend but during the week it definitly needs to be planned ahead. I think I get nored of the same recipes and how much can you do with chicken!

    happyathomes last blog post..What we did on the Holiday weekend!

  11. Hmm, perhaps I’m making this sound more organized and complicated than I mean to. It’s really quite simple!

    1. I plan a week’s worth of simple dinners. I enter it on my calendar so that it repeats two weeks later. 2. I plan another week of simple dinners. I enter it on my calendar so that it repeats two weeks later.

    Walla – a month of dinners.

  12. I also use my feed ME meal planner. But first I take a look at what we have left in the fridge, in the freezer & in the pantry – then I take a glance through my recipe binder and see what we might all be in the mood for that week – then I create my meal plan and jot down what we need to pick up at the store on the right hand side of the feedME sheet. Then I check off all the items on the Check ME grocery shopping pad – as that is sorted by aisle – so I can get in & out of the grocery store in the least amt. of time with only what I need. While we keep some staples the same (quesidillas, fish on the grill, etc.) I try to mix it up some each week so we don’t get bored (and then aren’t tempted to eat out).

    LobotoMEs last blog post..{ spend smart. live rich. }

    • That is exactly what I do! Only took me 40 years. LOL I don’t know what FeedME is; I just use paper & pencil.

      It’s also a great way to teach my sons how to cook (13, 9 & 5). The biggins both get a week where we inventory, plan and cook together.

      It’s been a lot of fun and sooo much peace of mind.

      Jennifer´s last blog post…

  13. I just posted about this topic – or, how do I start, to be exact. Good timing! Your post is very informative, thank you!

    Amys last blog post..Peek

  14. Your system is great – I love the idea of the email reminders. We’re getting ready to move and I would love to start menu planning once we get situated.

    Off now to check your archives for any moving tips. Thanks.

  15. Great post! :) I really love you blog… been looking for a while for the *perfect* blog like this.. and i’ve finally found it!

    Now.. onto meal planning… I have 4 kids.. so meal planning is a *MUST* for me.. lol! I plan for 7-10 days at a time.. In these steps:

    1. Check to see what’s in my freezer/panty
    2. Plans meals from ‘what’s on hand’ first
    (ie: if I have 3 lbs of hamburger and a whole chicken in my freezer, I may write down ‘meatloaf, roasted chicken, and spaghetti)
    3. Check out sale flyers to see what’s on sale (meat)
    4. Plan the rest of my meals based on sale items
    5. Shop according to list

    And there you have it.. I also let the kids each choose a meal a week when possible.. :)

    ~Carla~s last blog post..2 Sketches 4 You & Happy Monday! :)

  16. I LOVE meal planning. I plan for a month. I have a standard shopping list for the things I know I will need every week (I also have one for the month). I then add to that throughout the week. I have it posted in the pantry so my husband can easily write down things as well. Along with the meal planning I also have a “theme” each night of the week that is consistent each week . Ex. Monday is mexican, Tuesday is italian, etc. Then I just switch up the meals. Mexican night usually rotates between tacos, fajitas and quesadillas.

  17. I usually read through the grocery ads to see what is on sale for the week, and I go through my freezer to see what I have on hand. Then I go through my cookbooks and recipes to see what I can make with what I have on hand or what is on sale. I make up a list of everything I do not have and go shopping. I usually don’t assign a certain meal to a certain day I just know that I have everything I need for these 5-7 meals this week. So, what would you like today? hehe. I only plan out my dinners as well. We almost always have leftovers and if we don’t we do sandwiches or soup/salad for lunch.

    This is a great post (like every single post you ever do!) I really like the every two week idea. I think I am gonna have to give that a try! I also really appreciate the instructions of how to include meal planning in your Google Calendar!

    Thank you!!!!

    Melissas last blog post..Penny items at Staples!

  18. Another great post, I really enjoyed it. We are a menu planning family, too. It saves us so much money at the grocery store and it makes sure we actually have meals to eat since we only buy what we plan to eat instead of whatever looks good at the moment. I try to base our menus off of what is already in my pantry and what is on sale.

    Jenns last blog post..Aisle Six

  19. Wow, you are smart. Where have these ideas been all my life — I mean, Google calandar? Brilliant. Thanks!

    mollys last blog post..Bumbleberry Pie

  20. I love the google calendar idea. I just might have to try that since I use it already.

    I think posting your grocery list would be a great idea. I have a different “list” for different stores based on my frequency shopping there and the setup of the store. I love lists.

    I think I plan my list like some the others, by checking what I have then the sales, and going from there.

    blogversarys last blog post..cake

  21. LOVE this post. I’m adding my week’s menus to my Google calendar now! Also, I see that you added your planned blog posts to the calendar too. Smart!

  22. I love the FeedMe planner from lobotome.com – meal planner and shopping list in one! I’m also getting ready to type up my ‘go to’ recipes in a short list for my fridge.

  23. I meal plan weekly – I have a master list in my home binder where I write down tried and tested meal ideas (i.e. roast chicken and avocado salad, chicken and veggie fried rice etc)…Then each week, before I do my online grocery shopping, I choose 5 meals for the week, and figure out what ingredients I need. I don’t assign the meals to a certain day, as I like the flexibility in choosing what I feel like eating.

    p.s. I use fresh direct.com for groceries, which lets you save a huge list of favourites, and I start off by selecting items of essentials from that list (i.e. toilet paper, OJ, eggs, bread etc)…I don’t know what I would do without internet groceries – 2 toddlers and no car – its a life saver and worth it!

  24. Can I just say…thank you, thank you, thank you!!! I hate cooking! I actually despise being in kitchen. I love looking through recipes and I’m always inspired to try a new one, but when 5:00 rolls around I’m always unprepared. I’ve tried to create a menu plan one week at a time and I’ve only successfully done it once. I find it to be a lot of work. I LOVE your tips here! I can’t wait to get started! Thank you so much!

    Heathers last blog post..Water Bouncing

    • Heather, I could have written these very words just a two years ago.

      When I first started cooking in earnest (Hub was deployed), I started very simply by just writing down the boys’ favorites (2-3 weeks of fave dinners was my goals) and cycled those. When I got my confidence up with those, then I started branching out a little.

      When I started menu planning, I started the same way: what do I have on hand that my family loves? It gives such peace of mind. Give yourself a chance to get into the plan it/do it rhythm and life will be so much better.

      And I’m guessing that it’s not that you don’t like the kitchen, but don’t like the panic of not having a plan. That was true for me, anyway.

      Bon appetit. : )

      Jennifer´s last blog post…

  25. I shop a week at a time and usually make my list from the ads. Whatever is on sale most likely will be our dinner. I keep a list of what meals I have shopped for, (so that I don’t forget what we have.) Then, each night I look at the 7 meal list and decide what to make. I also have a blog where I keep the recipes of all the meals I make, this way if I’m having a hard time coming up with ideas, it’s all right there.

    the petersonss last blog post..Strawberry/Yogurt Salad

  26. This is a great post! I know that when I’m not on top of our meals, everything else seems to fall apart. But I’ve let menu-planning slide, and our ‘system’ has become pretty haphazard.

    I would LOVE to see some actual grocery lists and complete 2-week menu plans! Also, how frequently do you shop with a two-week menu?

    I find that the meals we keep coming back to are the ones that require the fewest ingredients. I do a roast chicken once a week, and then use leftovers for fried rice with chicken or chicken salad. And now we’re doing that great pizza recipe (from an earlier post) at least once a week! I’m curious about what everybody else relies on as their ‘favorites’…!

    And one more thing – I have trouble with lunches. Charlie’s not big on sandwiches, and these days (with five of us eating) we don’t have as many leftovers. I often find myself cooking something new for lunch, which is not ideal! What are your easiest ‘finger foods’ and other simple lunch ideas?

    Thanks so much for this post!

  27. I love everyone’s thoughts and contributions here!

    @Sarah – Looks like you’ve given me another post idea. Look for it soon.

  28. Like Sarah Park, I’d also like to see a two week plan. For years, I’ve menu planned weekly and shopped weekly. I’ve been trying to make the transition to bi-weekly or every two weeks. I’m trying to save trips, gas, time, etc., etc., etc. I don’t think I’m achieving that yet. I find that we run out of stuff and I’m back at that store anyway. I guess I’m just not making a thorough check of what we need when I make my list? I’m just so stuck in the rut of doing it weekly…

    Kats last blog post..Blueberry Muffins

  29. Holy cow! Thanks for the Google Calendar insight. I use gmail & iGoogle, but I had no idea they had a calendar! You’re the best.

    joans last blog post..Some Music

  30. OK, I bite! I’m going to post a shopping list, plus what maels I have planned for the next week (having gone shopping last week), plus how I manage to only shop once every two weeks on my blog, Almost Frugal. Thanks for the great ideas and it will be up Wednesday, 12 noon in France.

  31. For a long while I was meal planning a week at a time. Though I never thoroughly enjoyed it, it wasn’t that big of a deal until my son came along. Now my time is much more limited, as well as my desire to do things like meal planning. I don’t mind the shopping, I don’t mind cooking, I like trying new things, etc. but I absolutely LOATHED sitting down with my cook books, the internet, etc. & carving out a meal plan each week.

    Now that prices have jumped quite a bit, it’s forced me to do 2 things. I stretch out at least 1 meal, sometimes 2 meals for 2 nights. If it’s spaghetti, I make a little extra & instead of using it as leftovers for lunch, it’s just the same dinner the next night. (Bonus: I don’t have to cook the next night!).

    The other thing I’ve started to do is meal plan for 2 weeks, rather than 1. Now, even though I still have to do the task of writing it all down, figuring out the calendar, etc. – it’s done for 2 weeks. Sweet!

    I do 1 grocery run for all the ingredients that can sustain for 2 weeks or be frozen. The items I don’t purchase that first run, I circle with a pencil on my list (nothing fancy, just a yellow notepad & a pen). I try to hit the farmer’s market on Saturday mornings, but if not, then I do have to make a 2nd run to the grocery store by end of the week for stocking fruits, veggies, milk, etc.

    So, now our grocery bill has come down a bit, I’m actually cooking less, but still getting to try new meals, we’re beginning to save $$, & the best part is that I’m only planning meals twice a month. Woo hoo!

  32. Are Dutch Babies also known as German pancakes and, do you have a recipe you’re willing to share? Thanks!

    As an aside, I love breakfast. I like making Oat Kolaches, French Toast (from the Deceptively Delicious cookbook), Buttermilk Blueberry Pancakes, and Waffles. Most of those are weekend items. Weekday breakfast is much more mundane: eggs and toast, cereal, etc.

    Frugal Mom LAs last blog post..Who’s Your City?

  33. @Frugal Mom LA – Here’s my Dutch babies recipe – yes, I’ve heard them called different things, so it could be German pancakes as well: http://theartofsimple.net/dutch-babies/

  34. i’m trying this.
    i’ve been trying to work out a system with either Living Cookbook or BigOven for weeks now because both programs will generate a shopping list for you. But in the time it’s taking me to get the system set up — I could have handwritten a billion shopping lists.

    i had to create a delicious account. and i had to overcome my reluctance to use tag for organizing. i don’t know why i was so anti-tag! it’s so easy and intuitive!!!

    Jills last blog post..Back to our regularly scheduled programming…

  35. Thanks so much for this great idea. I always use Google Calendar, and now I have a meal plan for the next month.

  36. Have you checked out http://www.savingdinner.com? All the work is done for you – seasonal weekly menu plans, recipes, detailed grocery lists, including breakfasts, lunch and snacks. You can select by special need too – low carb menu’s, slow-cooker, budget meals, etc. And according to no. of people you’re catering for. Very convenient. Available in books too.

  37. avatar
    learning the ropes says:

    Been there, done that, didn’t work out. :(
    My biggest stumbling block was that often we didn’t feel like eating what was on the menu, and in no time menu went out of the window.
    Maybe I should do it like you, by just planning the dinners, so that we have more flexibility. Will try that again sometime.

    learning the ropess last blog post..My first month with budgeting…And the budget goes out of the window :(

  38. Brilliant! Thanks for the tutorial. Love the use of google calendar for this!

    melissas last blog post..Giveaway: Free craft goody bag – What is your crafting soundtrack?

  39. How do you use the google calendar? I couldn’t find it! Dur!

  40. Love the Google calendar idea – I’m going to have to try that for all my reminders!

    Here’s my thing with menu planning. When I make out my grocery list, I also make a list of all the dishes/meals I have (or am buying) things to make.

    But then life happens, and it’s 5:00, and it’s too late to do anything on the list. Potato salad requires cooking potatoes. Or the meat I would need is frozen (if I take it out the day “before,” it ends up rotting because it doesn’t get used). And a crock pot (which is supposedly the easiest thing on the face of the earth) – OMG! you have to think about supper at 8:00 in the morning! Who on earth does that?

    Yes, I’m at home all day. And yes, some days I have time to make more elaborate meals. But most days, I’m quite busy. I have two little boys (5 and 2) and I also work from home. I just really struggle with this. But I’m so tired of eating frozen pizza and burritos.

    Tana’s last blog post…They just don’t get it…

  41. OK, I’m convinced! My neighbor and my husband have both been trying to convert me me gmail, and now after reading your post about meal planning, I think I’ll give it a try. I’ve been working on meal planning but feeling like I was reinventing the wheel. Thanks for your directions and ideas. They are really helpful! Beautiful website, I’ll be back!

    CarrieK’s last blog post…The Missing Link

  42. Thanks so much for bringing light to this subject, between yourself and your great comment-ers I have a plan! not just a plan, it’s actually happening already, using goggle-calendar and the great repeat option and I have also blogged about it…
    Thanks a lot…

    Scribhneoir’s last blog post…Do I Have To?

  43. I just found your blog from a friends blog and I really like it. I really like the clean look and downloads. I have tried meal planning this year and find that it really helps me. Especially when I need to use up food that is already in the house. Otherwise, I would just end up going to the store and buying more stuff and what is at home would go bad! If you go to my blog, you will see a link to my recipe blog that I just started with my friends. We share recipes that are easy to make and we have all eaten together and enjoyed. Check it out if you are in need of new recipe ideas. A lot of them are easy so they would probably be do-able overseas. I lived overseas for a few months and I know how some recipes can be difficult to adapt when the store looks a little different.

    Teresa’s last blog post…First week of school accomplished!

  44. Thanks for this idea. I use my google calendar for bills, setting them on repeat with thelinks to the online bill payment location. This seems like it would work really well for me. As far as meal planning, on grocery day, I had my husband the list of meals we all like from my home binder, and he writes down 5-10 on our calendar. I take it to the pantry and create my list and there we have it. This is a great blog!

  45. Always late to the party, but excited to be here anyway! I will try the method exactly as suggested on google calendar then make modifications for my situation. For years now I have used a paper templet and good old ink pen to lay out breakfast – dinner menu while I peruse receipe books or magazines for inspiration.

    I am going try modify/manulipating “address” as a receipe file. Any ideas? – thanks Holly

  46. I had to write belatedly (I just found your blog) to say THANKS for the heads-up about delicious. Finally, a way to manage all the recipes that I am constantly finding online!

    Nancy’s last blog post…Going native

  47. You are far more organized that I am! I menu plan when I shop. I always have 3 fresh veggies and fresh fruit on the list, so my meals come out of what is on special, in season and fresh at the store. This works for me becuase I’ve got a lot of experience in the kitchen. I can wing it. One time saver I follow is planning for a left-over meal. I make extra pasta, grains, veggies when I cook, and then one night those pre-cooked things get added to a cold salad with vinagrette or a warm stir-fry. We had quinoa stir fry last night with snow peas, cauliflower, green peas and onions. Cooking with little ones around is tricky but possible. Time savers and pre-planning is absolutely the way to make the expereince rewarding! Kitchen stools help a lot too. When my kids want my attention I let them know I’m cooking and can’t play. I always invite them to come wash, rinse or snap veggies with me. They love it, and it’s a great way to expose them to the flavors of dinner before it sitting on their plate.

    jenna @ foodwithkidappeal´s last blog post…My Favorite Organic brands

  48. I just found your blog (through another blog… just not sure which as I have been reading blogs on and off all day)! Thanks for the inspiration!!! I struggle with meal planning, like others have also mentioned! I think I try to make it too hard or too “fancy”! I keep wishing for a software package that will keep my kitchen inventory and recipes then allow me to make a menu using available items in freezer and pantry, and then finally print out a grocery list of missing items! I’m just not tech-y enough to do it myself! Sigh!

    Thanks again! With your encouragement I will keep trying!

    Blessings!

    Amy´s last blog post…To Wii or Not to Wii – that is the question…

  49. With four children who are extremely picky, how do you get away from the same old same old every week? How often can you eat hamburger meat?

    Have any of you found ways to get your kids to eat new things? Perhaps hidding veggies? My boys are 8-18 so I have to be clever.

    Anna´s last blog post…You’ve Got Green Mail Round-up of December 28, 2008

  50. Hi! I don’t know if you read new comments to old posts and perhaps there’s a better way to ask this question, but do you pack lunches for your husband? We live with my mom and I’d like to get to packing lunches for her and my husband (they both work full time), but I haven’t been able to manage that yet (new baby, grasping for a schedule still). Any advice would be appreciated!
    Thanks,
    ~Marilyn
    marilyn.eakin@gmail.com

  51. Hi Simple Mom!
    I’m very excited to start this year with menu planning and I just did all your recommendations (google calendar and de.li.cious). This is my first week and I love it! (I also used your grocery list and have modified it according to our shopping, I will make a post one day about this after a while of using it, I think your system is excellent! I’ll let you know)
    Simple question that I have is if you’ve figured out a way to look at your event in the google calendar in a way that it can let you click on the link for your recipe -I find it a little too much work to have to copy and paste the link all the time, specially when I’m trying to decide which recipe to make-. Hope you check out this message and thanks for your blog! Love it!!

    Dariela´s last blog post…Una entrevista como Mamá / A "Mom" Interview

  52. Love this hint. Long. But explained for the techno-retarded. Thanks

    alex´s last blog post…. . .: Low Impact Homes

  53. too funny – this is my first time on your site and the first photo I see was taken by a dear friend who lives not far down the road here in Va Beach. love the simplicity and helpfulness of your site – i’m sure to be a long-time reader!

  54. Wow! I never thought of using Google Calendar. I usually just sit down with a pen and paper. What a great idea!

    I started a blog three weeks ago where I post my menu plans and some recipes. I’m single and live alone – plus I’m trying to eat healthy – so I do plan lunch, breakfast and snacks. I find this keeps me away from a 3:00 brownie at work, or donuts in the AM. It’s also important to me to plan which leftovers go where – as a single, I could end up eating the same thing all week, or wasting a tonn of food if I didn’t know where my leftovers were going!

    I’m excited to see someone who’s even MORE organized than me, and with a family to boot. I’ll definitely be back for more trips and may link to you on my new blog!

  55. This is such an awesome awesome blog post!! I wish I would have found this when you initially wrote it *smiles* Thanks so much!!!

  56. This is a very clever use of google calendar. Love the crockpot 12 hr alarm tip too (I’m a new crockpot user).

    My menu planning strategy is much more focused on nutrition than organisation but I can see some of your ideas would help people eat better too. As you say, if you’re organised you are much less likely to rush out and buy something unhealthy. Such a useful post!

    Sophie´s last blog post…Revealed – why you are not a freak of nature if porridge doesn’t fill you up

  57. Love, love, love they way you organize meal plans. I am using it and it keeps me organized and the reminder e-mail from my google calendar is very helpful!

    I had to post about it.

    http://shewhoislaughingorcrying.blogspot.com/2009/03/menu-plan-2-35-vegan.html

    tutti´s last blog post…

  58. I’d never have thought of setting up a menu planner in my Google calendar. Genius idea!

    Many thanks
    Ali @ A Cosy Life

    Ali H.´s last blog post…Its Earth Day

  59. Excellent post, thank you! Sometimes I wonder how I managed before I started menu planning, it’s definitely one of the most effective ways for my family to eat healthy on a consistent basis.

    Melanie Thomassian | Dietriffic´s last blog post…5 Ways to Deal with Weight Prejudice

  60. Every time I try to meal-plan, I end up frustrated and with food ready to rot.

    No matter how flexible I try to be (e.g. this week I had 5 meals planned, only 2 using fresh ingredients, the others are from boxes/cans/frozen), it just doesn’t work. Sometimes hubby works late and I don’t want to cook a “full” meal just for myself (the baby barely eats solids). Sometimes his boss buys him dinner and he brings leftovers home. This weekend I planned to use up any remaining fresh ingredients after only making 1 meal out of the 3 I planned; but as so often happens, any pretense of schedule disappeared: we didn’t eat “lunch” Saturday until 3pm, grabbing fast-food because we were already running late for an afternoon/evening outing. Sunday, we received a spur-of-the-moment invitation for lunch, and didn’t end up coming home until 8pm.

    So now it’s Monday and I have uncooked food for TWO meals in my fridge. And I doubt we’ll eat it tonight, hubby wants to go out for a super-cheap meal with friends. And tomorrow he works late. I’m going to have to cook it up soon, otherwise it will go bad.

  61. avatar
    Helen Hopkins says:

    Simplemom, I think I sent my reply thru the dutchbaby recipe that should have gone to you but then it still may. I am staying with my daughter who just had a baby. This menu calendar sounds like her salvation!! I will start it for her and see what I can put together. May need to get back to you with ?????’s I may be able to use it too even tho there is only one of me. Thanks a heap! I found you through BHG!! Cindy also has a 3 year old daughter and as you all well know, meal planning is a MONEY SAVER!! Talk to you soon! Helen

  62. avatar
    Nicole Thomas says:

    Found your blog while searching for menu planning ideas. I just wanted to say thank you for introducing me to Google Calendar — what a GREAT tool!

  63. avatar
    Carol Ann says:

    Next time you are trying to find a gift for your “connie career girl” single, childless, friend, think about putting together a one month, menu plan with shopping lists for each week. There are plenty of sites for planning menus for a family but I can’t find one for singles.

    I already make crock pot fulls of bean soups to freeze portions and buy a rotiserie chicken when they are on sale and make four or so meals out of it but, unless I want to live on skinless, boneless chicken breasts with a couple of handfuls of bagged frozen veggies and prepared (and overpriced) bagged lettuces for sides, some days, I’d rather see te pizza delivery guy walking down the hall than Mr. Right.

  64. Great read! I have a series menus I rotate. I find grouping our favorite dinners and writing a shopping list and keeping them ready to print is worth all the time!

    Ruthie´s last blog post…Gluten Free Weeknight Dinner Menu

  65. This is a great article! I have been wanting to menu plan for while but it always seemed like so much work. Your idea about using a sub-Google calendar (I already use the calendar for my appointments) with a reminder is a great one. I love it and I think I am going to try it finally. Love your site and thanks!

  66. Wow, thanks for the tips! This was so much help. I hate planning meals and this made it so easy!

  67. Thanks so much for those tips!

  68. I tried to use Google Calendar today and couldn’t find a repeat every two weeks option. Has it changed, or is there a setting I need?

  69. Love this idea, but I think I’ll plan my menus around what coupons I have for what I can buy. This way I won’t have to try to find coupons to fit my menu. Thanks for sharing, truly, I needed this! Especially saying “don’t over complicate it.” Much appreciated.

  70. Thanks for posting this–I’ve seen a couple variations of this, but I really like the way you are doing it.

    Lords of the Manor: When You Come Home from Rome
    .-= Jen´s last blog ..When You Come Home from Rome =-.

  71. Love the ideas here. I’m looking to simplify and budget better. It would be nice to have this set up, that way… my husband can even join in on the fun since he can peek at the calender and know what’s for dinner too… long gone are those days when he would make the dinner! lol

  72. avatar
    Claudia says:

    Love your ideas! My current meal planning starts with a general plan for 5 meals each week: one with a fish entree, one pasta dish, two mexican meals, and one additional meal. At least one meal must be quick and easy and keep well because my daughter has music lessons every Wed. evening. I have to leave dinner ready for when we get back home. Sunday evening or Monday morning I list the week’s menu next to my calendar. I make my grocery list based on the menu. Every morning I look at the list and decide what menu item I’ll make for dinner that evening. This allows me to adjust a bit based on how busy we are. My biggest obstacle is that I get bored with the cooking and the menu. My family has no problem with it, but I love to try new recipes and that ‘s hard to plan for.

  73. avatar
    kris boholst says:

    wow!!!!!!i never though of this kind of wow!!!!!!

  74. I am thrilled that you broke it down for me! I am organizationally challenged, and I need all of the help that I can get. I am a single mom and I am dedicated to ‘getting it all together’! My realistic goals are: Start meal planning, and organize my home, one drawer, one cabinet, one closet at a time. No more big picture that exhausts me… baby steps! Your Google calendar idea is going to be a big help!

  75. Brilliant, brilliant. Using google calendar, AND using repeat events. Did I mention this is brilliant? I will have to poke around on your site some more! : )

  76. I recently discovered your site and I am so excited. I’m working on my first menu plan and I am following all of your steps! Here is my delicious links: http://www.delicious.com/moosiet. got a lot of links from you and hope to add a lot more.

    Also working on my calendar on google: its public but I can’t figure out how to share it?? I have 4 weeks of recipes that repeat every 4 weeks and some of those recipes I have different options to make it different if I want.

    and one of my favorite places for easy recipes: https://www.google.com/calendar/render?gsessionid=NnUSEinBWwY5H__XVEuUWw

    now off to work on the 5 week challenge, yayness!!

  77. avatar
    Amandalynn Sawyer says:

    LOVE LOVE LOVE the Google Calendar direction. I use Google Calendar for just about everything and was trying to find a way to make meal planning work. I bought a marker board for the fridge (so the hubby can remember what we decided upon over the weekend) but its super helpful to have it with me on the go! (my droid attaches automatically to the G-Cal….)

    Lifesaver! Thank you!

  78. Thank you so much for this article! It has helped me tremendously. I followed what you said, and now I have a delicious account and google calendar so I can map and plan out my weekly menus. No more flipping through my old cookbooks, and picking the same old things to make for dinner. I love your site!

  79. I meal plan also, but never thought to sync it to my Gmail account, that is a genius idea and one i plan on implementing into my routine. Thanks for the tip!
    Ricky´s latest post: toddler beds

  80. avatar
    Amina Shayne B.Halil says:

    Nice website !!! LIKE IT!!!!! Weeeeew… fit for my mom. i’ll tell this website to her!!

  81. avatar
    LaKendra says:

    Great idea to use Google Calendar! I love it! I just copied the link and directions for one of my meals to the “Description” section and voila! It pulls up on my phone! Loving this! Thanks again!

  82. This is a great idea, and a great system for planning out meals. My wife and I try to plan at least one week in advance before doing our grocery shopping. A few times in the past we shopped biweekly and planned meals out two weeks in advance. Invariably, taste buds or circumstances changed and knocked out a couple meals in the second week, but staying away from the stores did help our grocery budget.

  83. The hardest part is deciding the actual meals in my opinion. I found a great answer was to write what we had eaten each day on the calendar for a month and voila it turned out to be a menu plan!

  84. You eat Dutch babies for breakfast??? And you seemed like such a nice orderly lady up till that point! Can I have your recipe, I’ve only ever heard of people eating them raw before ;)

  85. This doesn’t deal with the same-o/same-o problem but I find it helps as a starter before you can get your own plan in place; my mom’s old stand-by cookbook – The Modern Family Cookbook (I know but it was in its day) has a menu plan for the whole year; now I probably wouldn’t want to be bound by it any more than you but if you’re just totally stumped and don’t know where to go I like the idea of being to just sit down on any given day and have a plan already in place – I’m just glad somebody else has already done it; don’t know if I’d want to plan a whole year in advance myself but I do try to plan somewhat; I’ve used Woman’s Day meals – they even used to plan in leftover days/meals – planned overs – had the 2nd meal for the leftovers already planned or told you how much to cook xtra for it, etc. but they seem to have gotten away from, which is part of why I’m here.

  86. Just wanted to say “THANK YOU!”
    The Google Calendar Tip was just the “thing I needed!”
    Much Appreciation to you sharing your knowledge with us – to help us with our organization!

    Have a fabulous day!
    Tami :)

  87. I recently started using your idea for using delicious to bookmark my recipes. Now they changed everything up on delicious and I’m so frustrated. Can you help us through using the new system?

  88. Wow! It’s been quite awhile since the last time I’ve starred something in my Reader…thanks for posting this, and the Google Calendar instructions. I’m surely going to try this out!
    neerajswt´s latest post: Blepharoplasty or eyelid surgery

  89. Thanks for mentioning Google Calendar. I didn’t even know it existed. lol! (Great article, btw).

  90. I’m all about all things Google because the things Google produces has simplified my life so much, but I never thought of creating a menu plan this way. SO AWESOME!!! Everything in my life is digital except my menu plan because I hadn’t come up with a good way to keep track of it. This meant I was always misplacing my plan or forgetting to check it in the morning and missing the early prep time needed on crock-pot days. Thank you SO MUCH!!!

  91. Awesome idea! I’ve been trying hard to keep everything related to events in one place, and use a Google Calendar. I read your article, and added 14 meals to my calendar. Each meal repeats every 2 weeks FOREVER. :) I did this in about 20 minutes.

    I have a 2 and 5 year old, so they eat the same stuff all the time. Now I don’t have to think about it! And, I can go in and change things up whenever I want. Thanks so much for the ideas!!!

  92. I love your tips! I plan to repost some of these tips on my blog about nutrition (with credit to you and your blog of course)!
    Thanks!

  93. I am a menu planner too. However, I am getting to the point of burn out! I have been very faithful to planning for 2 months, but I am running out of ideas (and steam). I love your idea of repeating every two weeks. I usually post my menu plan on my blog on Mondays, but I am going to link to your blog for this time and give some upfront honesty about my dilema with planning instead. :) Hope you don’t mind!!

    kim
    specedteacherk.blogspot.com

  94. I love the ideas. Colleen and I have done this for so long, I created a web based application that does it for free. It does a bit more too. You can see and track multiple menu plans, track recipe prices, nutritional values, automatically print shopping lists plus a whole lot more. Its free, so give it a try and tell me what you think!

  95. Try out http://rushmeals.com. It’s easy to use and you can come up with the entire week’s menu in seconds. It’s also free with no sign-up.

  96. I’ve been meal planning for years. Don’t think I’d survive without it. And I completely agree with Tsh; it’s not that complicated but defiantly takes some time. Recently, I subscribed to http://www.nomoretogo.com. They’re great. Recipes that use whole ingredients – not boxed and canned. And, they’re interesting meals- not a bunch of fatty casseroles. Kind of like a Pintrest Meal Plan! Ha! Anyway, I like them. You should check them out.

  97. avatar
    Jennifer C says:

    Hi,
    thanks for the idea of google calendar. I use it with my Android phone for my schedule. I copied your idea of making a ‘menu plan’ calendar. But instead of delicious, I use http://www.allrecipes.com You can create a recipe book for free. I then linked some of the recipes from there onto the calendar. I hope this will help me be more organized & save money.

  98. avatar
    Ivete (Evy) Miller says:

    I love these ideas and tips you give here!
    I use cozi.com. It is a very handy online tool, because it is free, it has to do list, calendar, menu planner, journal, all at one place, and it is online. You can access from any place, plus there is an app for the iPhone, which is very helpful to have a glance on everything on the go.
    You can put all your recipes in there, and if they have a link, you can link it to the original. The good thing is that if the recipe becomes unavailable in the linked page anymore, you still have it at cozi. It is a little “tiring” though, because you have to copy and past the ingredients and the directions for each recipe that you add, (I will contact them to see if there is a better way to add recipes from the internet) but after that, cozi gives you the option to make grocery lists from these recipes automatically. It is a pretty neat system. I get overwhelmed with paper and folders, so the internet makes it more “clean” and easy for me…

    Another thing is that you can always print the recipes when you are going to cook or have them on the phone, which also serves as my cookbook. :-)

  99. Thank you so much! This is exactly what I needed!!

  100. Menu planning is great but has always been a chore for me. I dreaded sitting down, brainstorming ideas, figuring out what to buy, and then heading to the grocery store. Recently, I discovered yumprint.com, that among other things makes menu planning easy, fun, and visual. It is free to use and they even help you improve your health over time.

Trackbacks

  1. [...] (and reminders… I love reminders) and Del.icio.us bookmarks.  So, when I came across Simple Mom’s system for meal planning using her bookmarks and Google calendar it was love at first sight.  Heart.  Of course, you [...]

  2. [...] the backstory: Simple Mom recently posted A Basic Guide to Menu Planning, in which she describes her method of planning meals and menus. It’s very simple and easy, [...]

  3. [...] you’re new here, you may want to subscribe to my RSS feed. Thanks for visiting!In the comments yesterday, Sarah asked, “I would LOVE to see some actual grocery lists and complete two-week [...]

  4. [...] cooking provides a shared skill you can enjoy with your family. Once it becomes a lifestyle choice, your menu planning will become much simpler and [...]

  5. [...] How to Menu Plan:  A Guide.  A great system for planning meals, which helps budget associated food costs.  @simple mom [...]

  6. [...] A Basic Guide To Menu Planning Share and Enjoy: These icons link to social bookmarking sites where readers can share and discover new web pages. [...]

  7. [...] Mom plans her meals first.  Check out her guide to simple menu planning.  She plans a week in advance, rotates recipes and is extremely organized.  She uses Google [...]

  8. [...] planning Whether you plan your menus before you go shopping or after, menu planning can be a valuable tool in your frugal toolkit. it helps you [...]

  9. [...] to start my own Home Management Notebook. I’ve been reading articles over at Simple Mom about menu planning, home management notebooks, etc. I am an organized person or at least I try to be. She has some [...]

  10. [...] Toblerone at Simple Mom has written a very helpful article on how to menu plan. [...]

  11. [...] had a good read and then followed the yellow brick hyper-road over to Simple Mom’s blog for a read and wow – she has this whole thing nailed down! Many of the commentators also had [...]

  12. [...] Once again, in Google Calendar, I have an individual calendar for my routine (separate from my events & appointments). This is where I decide my week’s agenda, everything from when I balance the accounts, to writing this blog, to giving my daughter one-on-one attention for her “school time.” [...]

  13. [...] things easier.  I am sure there is more to it, but that is how I am using it right now.  A post on Simple Mom about meal planning gave me the push I needed to start my list.  Needless to say, I have [...]

  14. [...] already know how I use Google Calendar to plan out my meals a month at a time.  And when I find recipes online, I bookmark them in my Delicious Cookbook, [...]

  15. [...] I store my recipes online in Delicious, and yes, I plan our weekly and monthly menus online.  But when it comes to actually being in the kitchen and cooking, I rely on paper.  I keep my [...]

  16. [...] obstacles right now with my weight loss. That is until I found this idea for meal planning from Simple Mom. I had thought of using my appointment calendar, but I didn’t think about using my Google [...]

  17. [...] had a good read and then followed the yellow brick hyper-road over to Simple Mom’s blog for a read and wow – she has this whole thing nailed down! Many of the commentators also had [...]

  18. [...] tips from some of the frugal mom bloggers, like “I’m an organzing Junkie” and “Simple Mom” out there and eating some vegetarian meals a few times a week to save money and round out our week [...]

  19. [...] Monday. I plan my menus on Google Calendar now so I can repeat family favoties by the week.. See How to Plan a Menu on Google Calendar. You can peek at our menu here. I will keep my menus on Google Calendar and post recipes and links [...]

  20. [...] and because it’s a part of home management that won’t ever go away, it makes sense to simplify menu planning as much as [...]

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  28. [...] more ideas, here are a couple of blogs and a website that I enjoy: A Basic Guide to Menu Planning at Simple Mom. A different way of getting organized and planning your meals. Cheap Healthy Good I [...]

  29. [...] on one screen.  I’ve got our basic family events calendar, my husband’s work calendar, our menu plan, my writing schedule, our homeschool routine, the advertising schedule for my blogs, and the Book [...]

  30. [...] website with a post on menu planning, I nearly looked away until I noticed the following lines: How I use the internet to plan my menu 1. A few days before a new month, I open up my Google Calendar…. 2. In a separate tab, I [...]

  31. Social comments and analytics for this post…

    This post was mentioned on Twitter by reflective: @msbeeee Yes. Here’s the site where I got the idea: http://theartofsimple.net/how-to-menu-plan/ Step by step tutorial. #hsc…

  32. [...] I also keep my menu plan on my calendar. I love this, it makes it so much easier to plan meals, make a grocery list and link to recipes (in the notes). I learned to this from simplemom. [...]

  33. [...] it’s really not as hard as it might seem. You can find some comprehensive articles on the subject here, here, and [...]

  34. [...] planning Whether you plan your menus before you go shopping or after, menu planning can be a valuable tool in your frugal toolkit. it helps you [...]

  35. [...] Simple Mom’s awesome meal planning resource [...]

  36. [...] The more often you eat at home, the more often you control what goes into the meal. Think about creating a monthly menu so that shopping is [...]

  37. [...] There are tons of resources out there to show you the basics.  For example, I’m An Organizing Junkie tells how she goes about her meal planning here and A Simple Mom gives a basic run down of how to get started with meal planning here. [...]

  38. [...] I take shortcuts. I try my best to plan ahead, both by planning a monthly menu and by cooking ahead if I [...]

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  40. [...] use Google Calendar to actually plan my monthly meals. This idea is directly from the Simple Mom website. I created a separate calendar solely for meal planning and plan two weeks at a time, then repeat [...]

  41. [...] Simple Mom: How to Menu Plan AND Money Saving Mom: How I Save Money by Planning a Menu If you didn’t know the hows and whys of menu planning, you do now. Simple Mom has a particularly organized approach. She uses charts! CHARTS, people! [...]

  42. [...] Simple Mom: How to Menu Plan AND Money Saving Mom: How I Save Money by Planning a Menu If you didn’t know the hows and whys of menu planning, you do now. Simple Mom has a particularly organized approach. She uses charts! CHARTS, people! [...]

  43. [...] hopes of improving things, I’m taking a few ideas from Simple Mom by way of Small Notebook – especially the part about using a Google Calendar to keep [...]

  44. [...] Simple Mom: How to Menu Plan AND Money Saving Mom: How I Save Money by Planning a Menu If you didn’t know the hows and whys of menu planning, you do now. Simple Mom has a particularly organized approach. She uses charts! CHARTS, people! [...]

  45. [...] at Simple Mom has a great Basic Guide to Menu Planning that includes her own Google calendar & Gmail planning [...]

  46. [...] be less inclined to order pizza.   I’m looking for ideas on sites like Organized Home and Simple Mom, but I think I’m going to have to glean bits and pieces from different sites in order to come [...]

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  49. [...] Make your own cheese Once a month cooking (not all the recipes follow  a traditional foods path) Menu plan Make your own house cleaners Make your own raised [...]

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  57. [...] For tips on how to create a menu you’ll stick to, check out these three posts by Simple Mom (applies to non-moms, too): menu planning basics, monthly menu planning, how to plan a menu. [...]

  58. [...] my crazy life. I have decided to take my Menu Planning to the Max! With a little helpful tips from Simple Mom, Today I introduced my menus to my handy dandy Google Calendar. All I can say is WOW!! I was able [...]

  59. [...] you to a great webpage on menu planning with lots of helpful tips.  Click here to see it on theartofsimple.net.  She uses del.icio.us for her online recipe book.  I am old school and still like to download [...]

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  62. [...] did some research and everybody has a different way to be organized for meal time; SimpleMom uses Google Calendar to keep track of meals and grocery lists, MealPlanningMommies keeps an [...]

  63. [...] Calendar TSH of Simple Mom swears by her Google Calendar for dish planning. Her tips: emanate a specific calendar for “Menu Plan,” rest on unchanging recipes and [...]

  64. [...]  http://theartofsimple.net/how-to-menu-plan/. [...]

  65. [...] checking out Simple Mom’s blog on menu planning for the month, I saw that she did a theme for each day of the week.  This month I [...]

  66. [...] might be the most important step. If you sit down and plan a menu, you’ll know everything you’ll need to shop for. Also, you can plan ahead for the hot [...]

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