Welcome to Menu Planning 101!
After making the decision to go gluten-free and subsequent grain-free and dairy-free, I knew my menu planning had to change. First of all, both of my go-to breakfasts were out. Oatmeal, although gluten-free, was out because it is a grain. All bread is out because I have no idea how to make it without grain of some kind. I’m left with eggs folks. That’s not a lot to fill up on for breakfast!
“Go-getter” Menu Plan or “EveryMeal” Menu Plan
I knew I had to start writing out a menu for each day of the week. I do not like to grocery shop more than every two weeks, so in order to not run out of food after a week, I needed to know and shop for exactly how many eggs, sausage links, apples, sweet potatoes, and bunches of kale I needed. This need birthed my current method of menu planning. It’s hard-core but necessary for my diet.
I scoured Pinterest looking for a free printable menu plan that allowed space for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. I found one by Maxine Renee Designs, but it looks like it isn’t available anymore. So sad, it is such a cute design!
I’ve created my own Every Meal Menu Plan Printable inspired by Maxine’s design. Feel free to click to download your own copy. If you shop on a day other than Sunday, look below the image for the other weeks-beginning documents.
I use the paper menu plan to write out what I will make for each meal, and while I am creating my meals, I keep a Google sheets open to create my grocery list at the same time. Click here to download my spreadsheet grocery list.)
- Make note of any special events on your EveryMeal Menu Plan first. Plan any special meals or dishes that you need for any upcoming parties, easy meals for babysitters, overnight guests, etc. This one step will likely save your budget when that special event rolls around! It won’t be something extra to buy; it will be already worked into your plan and your budget.
- Plan Breakfast Second– I plan all the breakfasts for two weeks next. Breakfast is the most repetitive meal so it is easy for me to cycle through the 3-4 options we eat for breakfast. For breakfast only, I may write down all the meals then go back through to add the ingredients needed to my grocery list. I only do this for breakfast because I have fewer recipes and options that repeat.
- Example: We eat skillet sweet potatoes, sausage links, and scrambled eggs about 4 times every two weeks. I know for this meal I need 4 sweet potatoes, 1 package of sausage links, and 6 eggs. I would count up how many time I put this meal on my menu plan then add to my list: 16 sweet potatoes, 4 packages of sausage links, and 24 eggs.
- Note: I do NOT use this method for dinners/lunch. The dinners I prepare are far more complex so I decide the meal then immediately add the ingredients to my shopping list. This way I do not miss any ingredients.
- Plan Dinner Third– I plan all of the dinners next because most of the time we eat leftovers from the night before for lunch. If I plan dinner first, then planning for lunch is so much easier because most of the meals will be accounted for with the day before’s dinner.
- This is the most time consuming section for me. So take a deep breath and dive in!
- Plan the meals with the freshest vegetables first. Eat the kale, fresh greens, and berries within the first week.
- Check the servings and double/triple as needed. I want each dinner to feed us for dinner and lunch the next day. I know our family eats 4-6 servings. Most recipes I double so I have the leftovers I want. (My kids are only 2 and 4, what am I going to do when they are teenagers?!?)
- Go meal by meal, selecting the recipes, and adding the ingredients to your grocery list as you go.
- Plan Lunch fourth– Way to go! You made it through the dinner planning which is a sigh of relief (for me!). Now work through the two weeks to make sure there is enough for lunches.
- Write what leftovers are to be consumed for each lunch. This will let you know where holes are.
- Fill the rest of the lunch meals with easily prepared meals. If you are doing this type of menu plan, you are cooking hard-core. Give yourself a breather by adding in some easy lunches.
- Our go-to’s are
Once you’ve got all the meals and their side dishes planned out, your grocery list should be mostly complete too. At this point add any snacks you know you might need (I make homemade date bars and nut mixes for most of our snacks) then organize your list as outlined in Part 2 | Making the Grocery List.
Shop then eat wholesome, healthy meals for two weeks!
This way of menu planning takes practice. I do know what I am recommending for you to do. I do it every other week! I also know the benefits:
- Grocery shopping is less of a chore – My list is complete, no guessing or wondering if I should pick up something extra. I know exactly what I need to buy. **Note: I do say less of a chore. I am not a lover of grocery shopping, but I do dread it less because I whip through each store because I am PREPARED.**
- No stress at meal time – I know exactly what meal I should be making, AND I have all the ingredients.
- Overnight guests, parties, and special events do not break the bank – I do buy more food for overnight guests, so that part does hit the budget a bit, but parties and special events can easily be worked into your regular budget. No need to go in debt for that birthday party!
What is your plan for keeping healthy meals in front of your family? What is your favorite source for whole-food, clean recipes? Do you actually make the recipes or pin or are they more of a theoretical inspiration? 🙂 Do share!