Menu planning resources :: useful links, sites, & a free download

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by Tsh

Tsh is the founder of this blog and is currently traveling around the world 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.

In the comments yesterday, Sarah asked, “I would LOVE to see some actual grocery lists and complete two-week menu plans! Also, how frequently do you shop with a two-week menu?”

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Photo by Angie Tjoelker

I’d be happy to share what I’m currently doing, though it changes often. I love seasonal cooking, so my current recipes depend on the produce available at my farmer’s market and the price of staples at the grocery store. My energy to experiment also varies depending on my life stage. So with two little kids, one of whom is not yet sleeping through the night, and still adjusting to a new cross-cultural situation – let’s just say lately I have gone easy.

To answer your last question, Sarah – I typically shop every two weeks at the grocery store, and every week I hit up the neighborhood farmer’s market. This is one area where I feel very blessed to be living outside the U.S. Fresh produce is extremely cheap here, and it’s available twice weekly at minimum. It’s much healthier, too, because there’s no pesticides, preservatives, or anything, really, but the fruit or veggie itself. Bliss.

my weekly shopping trip at the pazar
Here I am, choosing a head of romaine lettuce.

it's cherry season!
It’s cherry season right now – the perfect, sweet snack, and a great addition to scones.

But you can easily find local farmer’s markets wherever you are – we went regularly when we lived in Austin. Local Harvest and Farmer’s Market USA both list local markets. Try yours, if you haven’t yet.

Two Week Menu Rotation

So here’s our basic, summer two-week menu plan:

WEEK ONE
• Monday: Mexican – usually tacos, beans, and rice. I soak pinto beans Sunday evening, and on Monday morning, I start them in the Crock Pot. I make enough to freeze for the following week. I also typically bake an oven-roasted chicken, cube the meat, and divide it into one-cup portions to use throughout this week.

• Tuesday: Pasta – usually chicken fettucine alfredo and salad. Fettucine is very versatile; you can change its flavor easily with different veggies and herbs. It’s also quick and simple. Serving a basic salad keeps the fettucine portions smaller, and therefore, healthier.

• Wednesday: Asian – stir fry. This is my husband’s night to cook dinner, and he’s really good at stir fry. The basic ingredients are the same each time – chicken, rice, and a mix of vegetables (we keep a bag of frozen mixed veggies on hand for those times we’re out of fresh) – but the taste can be altered completely with various sauces. He changes these from week to week, but they’re all made with basic staples we have in stock.

• Thursday: Crock Pot – lately, it’s been red beans & rice. We’re trying to have more meatless meals, as meat is expensive here.

• Friday: Homemade pizza and salad. I adore this easy crust recipe, and I use this sauce recipe. Both can be doubled or tripled, and then frozen for future meals. I like to have five to six portions of these in the freezer, which means I have a slew of Fridays where all I need to do is thaw the dough and sauce, grate cheese, and chop whatever veggies I have on hand in the fridge.

• Saturday: Anything goes. This is when I try a new recipe. A few weeks ago this dirty risotto recipe made the rounds, and this week, I’m trying a new one – chicken and summer vegetable tostadas.

• Sunday: Super-Duper Easy – grilled cheese sandwiches, tomato soup, and salad. The soup can also be made in bulk and frozen for future meals.

WEEK TWO
• Monday: Mexican – chicken fajitas, beans, and rice. I also bake another oven-roasted chicken for the week, like last Monday.

• Tuesday: Pasta – spaghetti and salad. I use a basic tomato sauce recipe I throw together – equal parts tomato paste and water, garlic, fresh basil, oregano, salt and pepper, a dash of sugar, and whatever veggies I have on hand. I also put a cup of ground beef in the sauce – I typically brown a kilo of beef and freeze it in one cup portions.

• Wednesday: Asian – stir fry. The same as last week; usually a different sauce, or maybe with noodles instead of rice.

• Thursday: Crock Pot – jambalaya this go around. I like to try a new Crock Pot recipe here, or possibly go with a standby classic I know we love.

• Friday: Homemade pizza and salad.

• Saturday: Anything Goes – I’m trying something new and doing this Mexican Cobb Salad recipe.

• Sunday: Super-Duper Easy – baked potatoes with grilled veggies and salad.

And as I described earlier, I repeat these two weeks at least once, which gives me a full month of dinners planned. If one of the new recipes gets lets than rave reviews, I’ll replace it with one of my basic standbys. In repeating two weeks, we’re eating the same recipes only twice a month. We have stir fry and homemade pizza almost weekly.

After these two weeks, I still keep to the basic structure, just replacing a few recipes for variety.

Keep in mind that none of us are super-picky eaters (well, my three-year-old can be unpredictable, but we don’t alter anything for her), and that this rotation provides enough variety to satisfy us.

So to recap, here’s our basic set-up:

  • Mondays: Mexican
  • Tuesdays: Pasta
  • Wednesdays: Asian/Stir Fry
  • Thursdays: Crock Pot
  • Fridays: Homemade Pizza
  • Saturdays: Something New
  • Sundays: Something Easy

Our Grocery List, downloadable as a PDF

I’ve provided my basic grocery list in my new downloads page. Included are the staples I try to have on hand as often as possible, provided the season allows it. I have room to add additional items, of course.

(A note: The list we actually use is slightly different – it’s arranged by aisle of our local grocery store. This was my husband’s brilliant idea, mostly because we unintentionally project our American assumptions on how a grocery store should be arranged, and it therefore takes forever to find anything. Once we took the time to list each item by its aisle, our shopping trip time was literally cut in half.)

Useful Recipe Resources

Lastly, here are some of my favorite places for recipes:

Now it’s your turn – where do you find your favorite recipes online? Do you have any tried and true recipes? What are your tricks and tips for menu planning for a family? Let’s learn from each other.

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Comments

  1. I love this site! Thanks for the great ideas. I have a recipe blog where I keep all the stuff I make. I like finding ideas from “taste of home.” Lots of their recipes seem to work for my family.

    Peterson Fams last blog post..Orange Cashew Pork and Peas

  2. Our “something easy” night is when I make something I prepped ahead of time on a batch cooking day. Chili, stews, and chicken all freeze well. I fill a quart size freezer bag with two servings, and freeze them flat. They will defrost in 10 minutes in a sink of warm water. I can usually make about 4 meals at a time this way, and keep a variety of prepped meals in the freezer.

    Rachels last blog post..1st Week of No Spend Month

  3. I’m so glad you shared your basic menu plans. When I read the food mags (which I don’t often do) I sometimes feel like I’m the only one not preparing extravagances every night of the week. When you have a young family and are living on a budget that’s just not possible.

    A couple of weeks ago I did a post on my blog called 10 Great Standby Recipes (basically my favourites that I make very regularly) and another about how I tackle menu planning.

    Journeyers last blog post..Frugal Wisdom

  4. Share your recipe for cherry scones??

    Stretch Mark Mamas last blog post..Safe Places To Bike

  5. Hi, I found your site a few days ago and have benefited so much from it. Maybe it’s so interesting to me, because I do not live int he US and you life seems much closer to mine. I too am doing more of my shopping on the farmer’s market than in the store. I do not know where exactly you are, but it sure looks familiar =). I live in Vojvodina (northern province of Serbia). I chuckled at your “no shoes in the house” post, because just recently a friend of mine shook her head about “the crazy Americans” who wash their towels after each use, yet walk in their street shoes into their bedrooms, LOL. I will definitely be checking out this site regularly. Thanks for putting all the work into it.

  6. @Rachel – You should write a post on how you do batch cooking. I’d love to read that!

    @Journeyer – Oh, I SO do easy right now. I love reading cooking magazines (especially Cooking Light), and I get lots of great ideas from them, but when it comes down to it, the most realistic and sane thing to do is classic and simple. I really do love cooking, so I enjoy trying new recipes. Just not now for me. Maybe in a year, or even a few months from now. I’ll have to check out your post!

  7. I’ve been wracking my brain trying to come up with 30 different dinner ideas to fill an entire month. My head hurts.
    So I love the idea of planning for two weeks at a time and then repeating. It’s so simple — why didn’t I think of it?!
    Looking forward to checking out everyone’s “stand-by” recipes…

    Jills last blog post..The Rest of The Tattoo Story…

  8. @Stretch Mark Mama – Will do. I have a basic scone recipe, and then add different things in them to change it up.

    @Natalija – Well, I don’t live in Serbia, but let’s just say I’m not too far away from you. ;) That’s funny about your discussion about Americans and their shoes. So many non-Americans just don’t get the idea, do they? I can’t say I blame them.

    • avatar
      Helen Hopkins says:

      I would love to have your “basic scone” recipe as well as what you add to them !!!! This website is becoming fascinating!!! Here it is after 12 AM and I am still on it – can’t wait for your reply. Thank you!!! Helen

  9. Hello! I’ve been peeking in on your site for awhile now and thought I’d leave a comment to let you know how much I enjoy it. I love your 2 week rotation idea and loosely follow a similar plan. Much easier than either not planning or trying to plan to many individual days.

    By the way, we live in the Austin area!

    Dawn Ws last blog post..Works for Me Wednesday

  10. My shopping post and menu planning is up!

  11. avatar
    Heather says:

    http://www.savingdinner.com is an amazing resource. Check it out!

  12. This is a great way to plan, theme dinners every week, just mixing up the recipes. I am going to try this and thanks for the new links to look at. BTW, love Red Beans and rice, we generally make it after making a ham and using the ham bone so it seems to be a Monday meal.

    happyathomes last blog post..Christmas in July

  13. and for anyone wanting to read more about seasonal cooking, I recommend Barbara Kingsolver’s Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life. Very inspiring.

    Thanks so much for this post with all the links. I’m bookmarking it.

    Monica @ Paper Bridgess last blog post..On the rock

  14. I LOVED your idea about putting the menu plan into an online calendar! I use Yahoo more faithfully so I just used the Yahoo calendar. In fact, I set up the My Yahoo page to show my calendar when I first get online in the morning so I can see my menu plan right there. Next to my calendar on my page is my recipe blog so I can just click right over. My Yahoo also lets you have a “packaged page” where you can add a tab for all sorts of topics and one of them is cooking, so now I’m just a click away from all kinds of recipes.

    I find recipes at most of the sites you listed (allrecipes is a favorite) and I also like Start Cooking and The Pioneer Woman Cooks.

    As for my menu plan, for the moment, we do three chicken meals (T/Th/Sa) a week, one fish meal (W), one casserole meal(M), one breakfast-for-dinner meal (F) and one “random” meal (Su) where I get to choose from some of the more elaborate or special type recipes, or I make something from a new recipe.

    I also keep a frozen pizza in the freezer at all times for those no-good, rotten days where I can’t imagine trying to cook anything at all.

    Lauras last blog post..Defiance of a Prayer

  15. I get recipes from foodnetwork.com a lot.
    I try to make extra portions if I can to freeze for those kinds of days. I love the farmer’s markets. It would be great to have the neighborhood ones so I don’t have to trek out to it.

    Sarahs last blog post..More babble?

  16. Thanks a lot – now I’m starving! I like the idea of having a night dedicated to a certain cuisine. That move alone probably helps in menu planning. We are trying to move towards more “meatless” meals ourselves, but it’s a hard habit to break. My parents/grandparents are “meat and potatoes” kind of people, so I’ve developed a taste for it and think that’s how you are supposed to eat every night – not so!

    Frugal Dads last blog post..A Follow Up: The One Month Water Project

  17. @Kelly – Thanks for posting it so quickly! I’ll head over to check it out.

    Great ideas from everyone! Thanks for sharing what you do, and the internet resources you find helpful.

  18. You are too sweet to have mentioned me! I really appreciate it!!

    I used to be very strict about our menu plans, but when the grocery prices started increasing, I realized that I needed to become a bit more relaxed. Now I am trying to stockpile what is on sale and work from that to create our menus. It has been a little game to see if I can create and use our ingredients creatively so we can stay within our budget. It doesn’t always work, but I am trying to think more out-of-the-box.

    I like your menu ideas a lot and that also has the flexibility with it that people need to take advantage of the discounted stuff in the flier.

    Loving these posts- you rock!

    Amys last blog post..Happiness Is… Haircuts Alfresco

  19. Man, you are so helpful!
    thanks for this

    tiffanys last blog post..

  20. I’m lucky enough to live close enough to walk to two farmer’s markets but after lots of price checking, I realize I’ve been spending a ton of money there. It’s not cheaper than our grocery stores. In fact, it’s more expensive. A carton of blueberries locally grown is about $4, but at the grocery store I can pay the same amount for twice as much berries. I love the freshness of local produce but it isn’t for the frugal-minded. Sadly.

    I’ve been wanting to do this daily theme thing for a while but haven’t had enough frugal recipes in my box. I spent more than usual at the store this week — following a list and menu plan — and still ran out of foods like yogurt, milk and eggs. I just can’t seem to calculate that sort of stuff like I can the chicken or the pasta.

    Nice post. Very helpful.

    shawns last blog post..Need activities for your bored kids?

  21. thanks for the 2 week menu plan idea…I hate planning – not sure why…our schedule seems to change a lot on the fly, which sometimes disrupts the planning I do try to do, so that may be part of my problem. I need to work at getting better, though…we definitely eat out WAY too much and a lot of that is my fault because I don’t have a plan ready to go. Thanks for some great ideas/inspiration!

    jodis last blog post..Sweet Buddy

    • avatar
      Tamara Ahrens says:

      Jodi, you took the words out of my mouth! I have great intentions, but always end up eating out way too much.

  22. Thank you *so* much for answering my questions! This is a fantastic post!

    I’ve heard about planning by theme before, but have never successfully implemented it… I love that “something new” and “something easy” are two of your themes! (Gives much more flexibility than if all the themes revolve around a specific type of food…)

    Besides the roast chicken and pizza meals, one of our standbys is to make a big frittata. We use cheese and leftover veggies and meat… For flavor I’ll usually caramelize a couple sliced onions before adding other stuff. In fact, we love the taste of caramelized onions so much that we use them often – pasta with caramelized onions, chunks of chicken, and parmesan; or we’ll top a pizza with them.

    I’m really looking forward to sitting down with my recipes and creating a cycle like this… thanks so much for all the great tips!

  23. avatar
    LisaHoo says:

    Great resource.
    I am a big fan of ‘good enough’ parenting (which includes mealtimes), which means basically, Martha Stewart doesn’t live here. Some nights we have breakfast for dinner. It’s not perfect, but it’s good enough.

    I don’t buy organic food or shop at Whole Foods, but I have started to buy organic milk for my girls (I don’t want to risk flooding their bodies with growth hormones) and I am going to try to hit a farmers’ market since we have added a lot of fruit and veggies to our diets as part of our weight control plan. I’m also concerned about rising gas prices and excessive shipping costs, so shopping locally is important to me.

    As part of my coping strategy, I have an index card with my ‘standby meals’ listed on it. Sometimes my brain just doesn’t have any more creative ideas in it, so I need a reminder of our favorite meals. My husband loves spaghetti, so that is usually the ‘I didn’t get the store, let’s eat what we have on hand’ meal. Or a homemade pizza with Pillsbury dough. (But I will give that pizza dough a try — I have a bread machine and that is a great way to save $2.50 at a pop.)

    I used to pick up a rotisserie chicken when I did my grocery shopping, serve it for dinner one night and use the leftover chicken in something another night. But a whole rotisserie chicken is $7 at my grocery store, and I can get two whole chickens for $8 (discounted price for buying 2 at at time), I started doing that. It really doesn’t take much work, but I just need to prep it ahead of time since it needs to cook in the oven for 45 minutes or so. I also have a recipe for “20 minute chicken” from The Pampered Chef if I’m in a crunch for time. But it works pretty well if I prep the chicken and put it in the oven when my girls are taking their afternoon naps.

    BTW — my standby recipe sites are and . I print the recipes and slide them into my cookbook holder — so I’ve got most of my favorites all in one spot.

  24. Menu Plan Monday has been a lifesaver for keeping me out of the menu planning rut…join us!

    Org Junkies last blog post..Monthly Organizing Round-Up – Organizing under the bathroom sink

  25. Thanks for the inspiration, once again!
    Some weeks I am very ‘good’ and some very ‘bad’ with meal planning, but a 2 week turn around and basic themes for each meal makes it easy. We also eat very similar meals to your family, so I may just cheat and use your posted 2 weeks as a trial run!

  26. Wow! What a great list. Thanks for posting.

    At Home Redesignss last blog post..A little amour for the armoire please

  27. @Org Junkie – I can’t believe I forgot to link to your Menu Planning Monday! I’m going to add it to the post. Thanks for the reminder. :)

  28. I love your menu rotation. I’m going to have to try this. I just checked out your etsy shop too!

  29. I’m glad somebody else out there loves Recipezaar. I’m a non-cooker and even I love it!

    Peppers last blog post..Zane is 15 Month Today

  30. Thank you simple mom! This is fantastic and something that I struggle with. Just reading this post makes me think that meals might be manageable.
    So my question is what do you do with leftovers? Do you have very much when you cook and then do you use them for lunches?
    Whenever I cook we seem to have a bit of leftovers and we have been having them for dinners but then the family tires of them more quickly it seems.
    Thanks again!
    darcy

    Darcys last blog post..A Little Vacation

  31. @Darcy – Our leftovers are almost always our lunches. Our family is two adults, one 3-year-old, and one baby, so our situation is a little different, in that we can cook for 4-6 people and typically have plenty left over. But as I also mentioned, when I double or triple cook, that gets frozen for a whole other complete meal.

    Hope that helps!

  32. I have fallen in love with your site! I will visit daily as I try to live the life of a “simple mom!” Thanks for all of your wonderful ideas, downloads, etc. :)

    Lana’s last blog post…Fireproof Your Marriage

  33. Cook Once, eat Twice is the motto of this website. You will find a list of recipes that you cook one night and use the leftovers in a whole different spin. The recipes are fantastic and you are only paying for 1 meal yet getting 2 meals. Save big $$$.
    Crysta, mother of 4 daughters

    Crysta Swindell´s last blog post…Selecting Champagne for New Year’s Celebrations

  34. I just came across your site. Thank you Simple Mom.
    You are so informitive. I just Love the Ideas.
    I am a single mom of a 11 yea old boy and going to school.
    So I am always looking for ways to simplify my life. I will recommend this site to everyone.
    Stormy

  35. This is indeed very useful. Thanks a lot for sharing these menu planning resources! You have really helped me. I hope that there will be more posts soon. I am looking forward to it!

  36. Hi to all, how is the whole thing, I think every one is getting more from this web page,
    and your views are nice in support of new people.

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