Weekly Meal Planner Hall Of Fame: How Readers Plan Their Family Meals
Below you'll find the weekly meal planner hall of fame, where I've gathered ideas from readers who have shared how they plan their family meals each week.
You may be wondering why its even important to plan meals. Well, the short answer is that if you fail to plan, you plan to fail.
It may not be quite that harsh when it comes to meal planning, but if you don't plan what you'll eat with your family each day you will either not eat as well as you could, or it will take you way too much time to prepare meals each day.
There are lots of ways to plan for this daily task, cooking and eating, and none of them are right or wrong, it just depends what works best for you.
If the ideas you see below (scroll down to see them all) inspire you -- and I hope they do -- I urge you to take the Healthy Meal Planning Challenge yourself, which is part of the 52 Weeks to an Organized Home Challenge.
Close up of two cards; meal. Notice the week A marked in the top corner
Close up of two cards; ingredients.
All of my menu cards.
Debra has shared her system for planning meals, using menu cards, and I have to say it is a pretty awesome idea!
I started this system a little over a year ago and it's worked really REALLY well for my family. Did I mention that it works? And it's easy to boot!
First off, I am a coupon diva. I go shopping every week and only hit up deals with coupons and the rare exception to get a few missing ingredients for dinners.
For example, this week I will feed my family of 3 humans, 1 dog and 1 cat for less than $30. And we will have left overs for lunches or in case a friend drops in.
I made weekly planner cards. These are 3x5 cards that have every meal my family typically eats on them.
I pick out a weeks worth of cards (they rotate, see below), from that I pick out each night's meals the day of. Here's the steps I took to make them.
1. I decided that I would have my cards repeat every 4 weeks. DH and I decided that we would eat out only 1 time for dinner each month. And I decided that I may want to try 1 new meal a week. That left us with 27 dinners that needed accounting for. I filled in these with our staple dinners and repeated favorite ones, like spaghetti a couple of times. I wrote these all on a list.
2. Then I transferred my list to 3x5 cards. One meal on each card. I wrote the ingredients for each meal on the back of it's card. Even the small ones, like needing butter for grilled cheese or salt for mac&cheese.
3. I broke them down into weeks. Each week gets 8 cards so there's even more built in flexibility. Not repeating on one week (no grilled cheese 2 times a week). And trying to keep perishable ingredients that don't freeze well all on one week (Enchiladas and tacos on the same week since they both use sour cream). Also, one big meal (ones we usually have left overs) per week. This is cooked early in the week so DH has leftovers for lunches.
4. Once the weeks were broken down I marked them with A, B, C and D so that one week doesn't fall into the other.
5. Each day, pick one meal from that week's cards. By the end of the week you only have one or two meals to pick from, but it gives lots of options early on in the week.
This gives me the flexibility that we needed. If I ran out of time for the enchiladas one day, that's ok, we still have tacos. Or if we don't feel like spaghetti, that's ok we can pick the mac & cheese with fish. If Aunt Sally drops by and wants to take us out to dinner, as long as she's paying, I don't have a problem with that. I'm not getting off of my meal plan.
I also save a TON of money doing this. It lets me know exactly how much of any given item I'm going to need for a year. For example, I know that my family is going to eat about 6 lbs of pasta a month. That means that when pasta goes on sale and I have coupons I know my family will eat about 70 lbs of pasta in a year (pasta has a long shelf life and I've got the space for it). So I can get up to 70 lbs of pasta for free or nearly free.
It saves me a TON of time because I don't have to make up a new menu every week. I did it one time and it's done. Some things have changed, but mostly stays the same. Like when we find a new meal that I tried and we really like it. It will replace a meal that we eat a lot or don't like as well.
Thanks so much for sharing this awesome method for making yourself a weekly meal planner Debra.
It sounds like you've got a great system going for you, and that you've coordinated it with your recipe organization and your couponing.
I especially like the aspect of this system that you did the majority of the work once, and then it is easy each week to repeat it. Meal planning can take a lot of time, if you let it, so this method is great for those who need to save time.
Comments from other readers on the card menu planning method:
Julie says: I think Debra's method is brilliant. Putting the ingredient list on the back of the card will be so helpful. Thanks for the great tip, I'm gonna try it.
Sue says: I love your idea with the cards. This makes it so simple and easy to shop for. I also shop with coupons and stock up on items I use a lot. I'm going to try this myself. Thanks so much for sharing!
Mini Clipboard To Hold & Display Meal Planning Sheet For Week
Jennifer from Life of Reilly shared how she displays her meal plan for the week.
She explained, "I love this mini clipboard - I got it a few months ago at Michael's in the dollar bin and it is just the right size to hold my recipes and my menu planning sheet. I take this with me along with the current week's recipes when I do my grocery shopping."
She does her planning weekly, and explained that she uses "a printed version of my iCal monthly calendar that includes our family schedule so I can plan around various events."
Megan is a prime example of someone who combines meal planning with other activities we've also done in the 52 Week Organized Home Challenge already, because as she plans meals she also clips coupons and makes her plan based on what items are currently on sale for the week.
She also explained: "Meals are penciled in to allow for flexibility within the schedule."
I think planning which still leaves flexibility is key, because life happens. Your meal plan is supposed to make life easier, not harder, so being able to move things around a bit as events occur is important.
Finally, she posts the menu plan on the refrigerator so everyone in the family can see it, and know what's for dinner.
Similarly, another reader, Ronda, keeps her meal plan for the week in a spreadsheet on the computer. She explained, "Here's the one I did tonight. We have a vegetable and fruit CSA, so I meal plan to try to use up all the goodies!"
I Meal Plan A Month At A Time & Now We Spend Way Less On Groceries
Anna B. wrote in to explain her monthly meal planning system. She said:
"I tried a meal planning system before, with planning out a weekly menu for breakfast, snack, lunch, snack and dinner. I have to admit, it was too overwhelming. Now, I have a monthly meal plan with just dinner ideas.
I am not too restrictive, if we don't follow the plan I don't beat myself up over it.
Some days I just write "chicken with veggies" or "quinoa with veggies" and just throw together what is left over.
Once a week I try a heirloom recipe of my husband's family or share with him one of my German recipes, -he loves those! ;)
We spent way less money on groceries, it's astonishing. We save about 200 USD a month since we started meal planning!
I got my meal planner from www.moneysavingmom.com because it has nice colors. I put it in a sheet protector in our family binder. My husband sometimes peeks into the binder to check out when it's finally "taco day" again."
Similarly, another reader, Maureen, sent in a photo of her monthly meal plan that she keeps in a spiral bound calendar.
We Use A Google Calendar & Plan In Six Week Cycles Corresponding To Husband's Shift Schedule
Kim explained how her family meal plans electronically. She said:
"I've always planned meals but it was a huge chore each fortnight to do the plan, make out the shopping list etc.
I realized that since my husband is on a six week cycle of rotating shifts our needs are roughly the same every six weeks.
We also already use Google calendars to synchronize our family appointments, work shifts, etc. so we decided to set up a menu plan google calendar.
This means it syncs to my phone, my husbands, the ipad (kitchen machine) and our computers.
I can check the calendar each fortnight, make any adjustments for if I want a different meal or we have different commitments (like dinners out, holidays, etc.) and it's done in no time.
I just check that we have what is needed for each meal, and if not add it to the shopping list, and add things that we've used up that are on the little whiteboard on the front of the fridge.
On the google calendar you can tell it to repeat an event every 6 weeks so my whole year (& beyond!) is already done!
You can do something similar electronically, even without Google calendars. For example, another reader, KJ, makes a note in Evernote and then send it to everyone. Here's a screenshot of her weekly plan.
Electronic Calendar Planning Can Keep Recipes Right With Your Plan
Above a reader suggested using a Google calendar for meal planning, but you could use additional types of electronic calendaring systems as well.
For example, a reader, Sarah, sent in this screenshot, saying, "I use the iPad calendar as it's synced with both mine and hubby's iPhones. If I will be using an online recipe I add the URL so I can click on it that day."
That's a great way to keep your recipes and meal plan right at your fingertips, isn't it?
I Keep A Couple 12 Week Lists Of Recipes For Seasonal Rotation
I plan a 2 week menu so I only have to shop 2 times a month except for milk.
I write the plan on our family calendar.
I get the 2 week menu from a 12 week list of recipes that I keep rotating for the winter.
When summer comes I will do another 12 week menu based on more grilling type recipes or summer fruits.
Thanks for sharing this idea Julie.
I really like that you pull ideas from a bigger list. This can be such a time saver when your creativity is just now flowing and you don't know what to plan for the week's meals.
I've created a free printable menu planning ideas form that everyone can print out and write their family's favorite meals. Then, you can use it much like Julie and reference it for inspiration while you're actually planning meals.
Another reader, Meisha, sent in a photo of how she meal plans with a spiral notebook, with the grocery list on one side of the page, and the recipes listed on the other.
Using a spiral notebook or binder just for your meal plans can keep you from recreating them all the time. Work on a few weeks worth of them, or seasonal meals like Julie mentioned above, and then just use them over and over. If you have a large enough rotation you still won't get tired of what you're eating, but after you make the initial menus your work is done!
Planning My Family's Meals With A Weekly Meal Planner Worksheet
Ferris from The Hamman Family Blog also participated in this week's challenge, sharing how she plans her family's weekly meals.
She uses a weekly meal planner worksheet that she found on the Internet. The pictures above are of some of her filled out forms. Using this form she is able to write out her meals for the week, and also has room for a corresponding grocery list so she can list the ingredients for each item that she needs.
In addition, she highlights all items on her grocery list that she has a coupon for, so she doesn't forget to use her coupons when she gets to the checkout counter.
As I mentioned above I provide some worksheets you can use for this purpose (links are above here in this article) but feel free to use any type of worksheet that works for you. Here's additional examples of other worksheets that other readers have been using successfully.
Here's a photo, below, from Adamilka. She explained, "I use a weekly shopping list (not organized enough for a monthly one, plus my refrigerator is small). I write the dish under the day and check what "extra/special" ingredients are needed. I use the list all the time but my goal this school year is to consistently follow the menu!!"
In addition, here's another form used by a reader, Leigh. She said, "I have been planning my family's meals for years, plus when I've done the list I shop online, which helps me not to impulse spend because I can't smell the aromas of the supermarket."
Once you've got your system in place (or if you already have one set up), share it with me in the Home Organization Hall of Fame. I'll feature the best ones in the hall of fame!
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