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Meal Planning is as easy as choosing your approach

Meal planning makes grocery shopping easier.
Meal planning makes grocery shopping easier.
AP Photo/Pat Wellenbach

Planning meals is advance is a great way to cut your grocery budget, eat better, and try new foods and recipes.

However, if you have not planned menus in the past, the task can seem daunting. Last night I mentioned on Facebook that I was going to go back to meal planning after a hiatus from being on bedrest with the twins and then adjusting to life with the twins. I had some friends ask me for tips, as they feel like they would like to start planning their meals better.

There are several different approaches.

1. Straight Weekly Meal Plan. My friend Esther does this, and she even hosts a Menu Plan Monday on her blog. She plans a dinner for every day of the week, and usually shares a tried and true recipe as well. This works well for the organized family that has a pretty good repertoire of recipes that work well. If you watch Esther's plan, she rotates in old and new tastes adn stays pretty seasonal and definitely kid friendly.

2. Monthly Meal Plan. My friend Megan plans out her meals a month in advance, as well as figures out some breakfast options and plans out baking as well. Her plan for May can be found here. This is a great way to meal plan for experienced planners, those who live far from large grocery stores, or those who do not want to have many repeats during the month. I like how Megan anticipates her baking needs as well so she does not get into a rut. Megan has an envious cookbook selection, and it shows. Her kids are also adventurous eaters, which makes meal planning a little easier.

3. The cookbook method. If you are new to meal planning, or even new to preparing meals for a family, I have a few cookbooks that I can recommend that can get you into a rhythm, of planning and cooking your meals. Both of these books are well written and easy to follow.

The first is A Dinner a Day Cookbook,  By Sally Sondheim. This is one of my all time favorite meal planning books. Not only does it lay out how to plan menus and shopping, it has a full 52 weeks of weekly menus including five dinners a week.  The meal plan is complete with shopping lists side dishes and my action plan for each meal. Form this book I learned how to finally have all of my dinner elements ready at the same. This book has some adventurous dishes, all are seasonal. We tried, and liked, many new foods. There is usually also a dessert a day, which is a bit much, so I picked a few a week.

The second is 365 Quick, Easy and Inexpensive Dinner Menus by Penny Stone. This book is great for families with young children. It has a seasonal recipe for every day of the year. Most rely on convenience foods with some cooking from scratch thrown in. Most of these recipes are kid friendly, but many will not pass muster with the health conscious.

4. The Hybrid Method. This is the method I tend to employ. I tend to plan a week in advance, and I have to include spaghetti or chili in each week (for the kids!). I then try and include one meatless meal and one soup as well. I have a pretty extensive cookbook selection, so I tend to choose one and then choose recipes for the week from  that book. 

How do you plan your meals? Do you have a favorite resource you would like to share? 

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  • Lori 5 years ago

    Thanks Pam! Since I've started meal planning I've done just dinners for the week based on what's on sale in the local grocery store ad. I then buy various breakfast and lunch items that are also on sale. So far this seems to be working. I love your ideas of using 1 cookbook a week, 1 meatless meal a week and 1 soup a week. Thanks for the great suggestions!

  • Esther 5 years ago

    Thanks for the shout out! I definitely wouldn't be saving as much on groceries as I do if I didn't menu plan. The best part of menu planning is that I don't have that "What are we having for dinner" feeling every night!

  • Megan 5 years ago

    Thanks Pam! I love my monthly system. I believe it saves me SO much money. It allows me to do more bulk shopping and it allows me to stock up on things when I see a good deal. I have a blank menu that I just work on whenever I get a minute throughout the month or I see/read/hear about a good recipe, so it isn't ever
    overwhelming either. So, I have 1 big 'ole shopping trip a month and a few very mini trips (for produce and milk). It is AWESOME.

  • Megan 5 years ago

    You rotate chili and spaghetti, we rotate homemade pizza and tacos;-) It is our Friday night meal that the kids really look forward to.

  • Angie 5 years ago

    Great article, Pam! I use a different approach: I have a standard generic weekly menu that I change as needed. For instance, Tuesday night is chicken night--it could be soup, casserole, roast, whatever, but it's always chicken. Some weeks I choose the recipes for each day before I shop, some days I just pull the meat out of the freezer and wing it with what I have on hand. And if I don't make pizza on Friday nights, the sky falls (so my kids think).

  • Pam, Bismarck Budget Meal Examiner 5 years ago

    I love hearing everyone's meal planning approaches. It helps me figure out what I will be like when I grow up!

    In the meanwhile, I never did get my plan made for this week, though I forsee popcorn for dinner at least one night as we will have key players away during dinner time! Tonight I invented a new recipe and I'll post it is a skillet meal take-off on my Italian Wedding soup and it was FABULOUS!

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