One of the best ways to ensure you are preparing healthy meals that stay within budget on a regular basis for your family is to plan your meals ahead of time. As the old saying goes, if you fail to plan then you plan to fail. This holds true with menu planning, too. Planning your meals allows you to use up what you have, shop according to what’s on sale and avoid those last minute pizza delivery calls.
There are many methods of meal planning out there, it’s just up to you which works best for your situation. Some people like to plan a week at a time, others plan for one or even several months at once. I like to plan two weeks at a time, since we get paid every two weeks. This keeps it simple for me to grocery shop and keeps me from being in the stores any more than necessary.
So, what tools can you use to help with your meal planning? There are plenty and I’m happy to share what has worked for me before and what works for me now.
Use a paper planner:
There are all kinds of paper meal planners to be had on the internet for free and for a fee. They are made for planning your meals a day, a week or even a month at a time. Many of them are just beautiful, which makes meal planning fun. Here’s a bunch of sites with free printable menu-planning forms to download:
Make a Menu Board:
If you’re even a little bit crafty, you can make your own menu board. You can use old photo frames, chalkboards, dry-erase boards and even cookie sheets and decorate them with ribbons and scrapbook paper. Then use magnets for the days of the week and stick your meals up on there for each day.
I made one with a magnetic white board that I got at the office supply store, a business card holder, magnets, ribbon and colored cardstock. I typed up each meal that we make and printed the lists on cardstock in different colors: orange for chicken, green for pork, blue for beef, etc. Then I cut them out into 1″ x 3″ rectangles and laminated them. I bought a business card holder and glued magnets to the back of it to hold my little cards and stuck it to my white board. After that, I printed a day of the week for the front of each of 7 round magnets and use them to hold my meal card onto the board for each day. (I’m sorry for the lame picture-less description, I couldn’t get any good pictures of it before my cat stole my magnets. Thanks to him, this is not the method I currently use.)
You can totally use your imagination and create an awesome, decorative menu board that would really dress up your kitchen. Here are some menu boards that other people made to help you get an idea for your own:
Use a Meal Planning Website
Meal planning on paper isn’t for everyone. Thankfully, there are some sites that help with meal planning in a big way. They all work differently, so you would have to just check them out for yourself to see which ones fit your style, but I am amazed at what’s available online to help busy homemakers with the task of feeding their families well.
Plan to Eat is a website with a browser extension that you install and when you are out doing what you do online and run into a recipe that looks good, you just click the button and import that recipe directly into your recipe book. It imports the photos and location where the recipe came from, too. You can go to your Plan to Eat account and type in all your own recipes, too, and the interface is easy to use. They’re even easy to scale, with a click of a button.
Once you have your recipes there, just drag and drop them onto the calendar and print out a shopping list right from the recipes you’ve planned. You can also print out your recipes to use while you’re cooking, complete with photos and nutritional information, if available. This has completely transformed meal planning for me! You can sign up for a 30 day free trial here.
5 Dinners 1 Hour is another subscription site I love. The idea here is that you spend an hour on Sunday (or whichever day you wish) and do all the prep work for the week’s dinners at once. Then all you have to do in most cases is just toss it in the oven or crockpot on cooking day, cook up a veggie or two, and you’re good to go. Dinner’s served! She has Classic, Clean Eating, Gluten-Free and Paleo menus, plus a Prime menu option where you can mix and match recipes to create your own menu. Once you choose the menu, you print it out, complete with shoppinglist. The recipes we’ve tried have all been tasty and it really is as easy as it sounds. You can check out the sample menu to see how you like it before you dive in. I subscribe to this site and use it in conjunction with Plan to Eat for fast and easy meal planning.
Menus4Moms is another amazing site where you get already prepared menus with recipes, pictures, nutritional information and a shopping list. What I really like about this one are the sample menus they offer for free and the two-week trial for a penny. They offer a Busy Mom menu and a Frugal Mom Menu which has estimated meal costs figured in for you, plus a Living Gluten-Casein Free resource that’s worth taking a look at. I don’t currently use this site because I’m enjoying making my own menus with Plan to Eat, but I have used it in the past and loved it.
What do you use to help you with meal planning at your house?