Menu Planning 101, Part 1 | A Dinners-Only Menu Plan

Welcome to Menu Planning 101! To manage my Type 1 Diabetes, I eat a Paleo diet and follow healthy lifestyle habits. A Paleo diet requires extra thought before grocery shopping and time in the kitchen. To make that more feasible with a busy family, I’ve become a serious advocate for menu planning. Today kicks off a five week series on menu planning with various levels of intensity to accommodate your life. Let’s learn how to menu plan so you can feed yourself and family whole, nutritious meals and stay on budget!

If you fail to plan, you are planning to fail. ~Benjamin Franklin

Not 100% sure Benjamin Franklin said that, but it is a true, wise statement. The way to success in any diet, budget endeavor, or new year’s resolution to eat healthier is to plan.

In this series, I will be sharing the following:

  1. How to Create a “Dinners-Only” Menu Plan – This is a good method to ease your way into being more purposeful with what you put on the table. Menu Planning Lite, if you will. Plus free printable weekly menu plan included!
  2. How to Make a Grocery List – The Menu Plan doesn’t work if you forget to buy key ingredients! I’ll share my method to effective list making and shopping. Plus free grocery list!
  3. How to Create an “EveryMeal” Menu Plan – How to execute planning for each and every meal you put on the table. This is the method I use, and I’ve found I have to plan to this detail due to our new diet. Plus free printable weekly menu plan!
  4. How to Shop and Stay in Budget – It’s all well in good to have a menu plan and an organized list. But how should you get your shopping done, and how do you keep your budget intact while you shop?
  5. How to Avoid Burnout – Taking on the commitment to eat healthy takes hard work. How will you stay the course?

Let’s jump into it!

Healthy Menu Plan


How I Used to Menu Plan

As a newlywed, I jumped whole-heartedly into buying and preparing food for my husband and myself. My mom had given me a recipe box full of her recipes as a wedding gift, so I felt fully equipped. I would write a list on a sheet of paper with what “necessities” I should buy, estimate how much those would cost, adjust my list as necessary to meet our budget amount, then head off to the store. (Note: I did not look at any recipes in this process.)

My list would consist of things like:

  • Ground Beef – 3lbs.
  • Onions
  • Celery
  • Flour
  • Cream of Chicken soup

When it came time to make dinner, I would flip through my recipe box and figure out which recipe I had most of the ingredients for, and I would make it.

There were so many flaws in this plan, but I didn’t see them. That bunch of celery? It rotted in the fridge every. single. time I bought it. I never had as use for it, but I thought my job as a wife was to have a well-stocked kitchen, and everyone knows, a well-stocked kitchen has celery. Right?

My mom shopped with me once during this time and she even questioned my purchase of said celery. “What are you going to use that for? Do you have a plan for that?”

Over-zealous, defensive newlywed responds with “Of course!”

The truth was I “of course” did not. That bunch of celery rotted in my vegetable drawer just like the last one had, completely untouched.

Fast forward a few years, and money is tight. I beginning looking on the internet for ideas on how to tighten our belts. Finding my first blogs on how to be thrifty, menu plan, make your own soap, etc. opened my eyes to a whole new world of managing my grocery budget differently. I realize I need to plan the meals I intend to make BEFORE I make my list and go to the store. What? Seriously?

Please laugh with me. My logic was so flawed, and I didn’t even realize it, for years.

At this time, I refined my “Dinners-Only” Menu Plan strategy.

My husband and I did not have any dietary restrictions, so the variety of food I will describe is very different from how we eat now. You can easily adjust these concepts to fit your dietary needs.

The “Dinners-Only” Menu Plan

As working professionals, we barely left time for breakfast, and we packed our lunch everyday from dinner leftovers or simple sandwiches. This made for a nice routine for those to meals. We didn’t mind a lack of variety, so I would purchase the same items for these meals each shopping trip.


  • Oatmeal – which needed raisins, cinnamon, and brown sugar
  • Eggs & Toast

I wasn’t kidding when I said little variety! We basically ate the same two things for breakfast day in and day out. The only time I’d make something different would be on the weekend. Makes for easy shopping though!


  • Leftovers from dinner the night before
  • Meat & cheese sandwich or PB&J sandwich
  • Sides of fresh fruit, nuts, or sweet treat

Lunch was primary leftovers. Lunch meat rarely fit into our budget, so it was purchased only as a special treat. Peanut butter and jelly was tolerated by me alone. I guess when you only eat peanut butter and jelly when saving for an engagement ring, it sort of turns you off for a VERY long time. (I do mean VERY long time. Dan bought the ring 12 years ago, and he still doesn’t like PB&J.)


Dinner was the only meal I really planned. I loved variety at dinnertime, and I could not stand eating the same thing for more than 2 days in a row.  Remember, I wanted leftovers for lunch? So I did not cut recipes down even when just feeding just the two of us. I would make the full recipe, whatever it was casserole, tacos, soup.

I would pick 8-10 meals for a two week period. Since I didn’t cut recipes down, and most recipes fed 4-6 people, this would be enough for dinner plus lunches for both of us for two weeks.

Now, let’s chat how this method could work for you! If you’d like a free printable weekly menu plan, click on the image below to download your copy. Otherwise, you can easily do this on a scrap sheet of paper.

Dinners Only Plan

Downloads for weeks beginning Monday / Tuesday / Wednesday / Thursday / Friday / Saturday

  1. Use the “B” box to write out a few breakfast options. Add those items to your grocery list.
  2. Use the “L” box to write out a few lunch options. Add those items to your grocery list, along with any snacks, fresh fruit, or sides needed for packed lunches.
  3. Select recipes for the dinners for the week. Write each one on the appropriate day of the week (plan in leftover meals as necessary). As you write each recipe on the menu plan, add to your grocery list too.
  4. Repeat for as many weeks as needed.
  5. Go shopping!
  6. Eat 3 meals a day for the time period you planned!

I used this method right up until my Type 1 Diabetes diagnosis. At that time, we had added 2 kids, but I kept our menu largely the same: simple breakfast, leftovers for lunch, and new meal at dinner.

Super simple, right? It’s a good place to start if you aren’t in the habit of menu planning yet. Give this method a try for a few weeks before jumping into a more detailed plan. If you don’t have strict dietary needs, this amount of planning will be enough for you. This is the end of “What’s for dinner?” and resorting to take out! You will be able to feed your family healthy, nutritious meals consistently and efficiently.

Next time I will share my current, more detailed menu plan (The “EveryMeal” Menu Plan) and grocery list method (with a free document and printable for you to download!). It’s not rocket science either, but most things in life aren’t. You just need someone to point out the simple way to do things, and I hope to do the same for you.

How do you plan out your meals? Have you given a more formal menu plan a try? Did you stick to it? If not, what went wrong?

Menu Planning 101


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