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Right before Thanksgiving, I posted an Instagram story about using Fred Meyer’s Clicklist. I received a few questions and DMs about how we menu plan not just for special occasions but for our everyday life too.
So, I wanted to write a post about how I do it. I will tell you, I don’t shop at Fred Meyer’s that often, we really shop mostly at Trader Joe’s. But I will show you how to menu plan and shop both ways.
When my husband and I first got together I taught him the ways of menu planning. I was so surprised that he and his family had never done this growing up. We were actually talking about why his family never did and why my family did, just the other day. He thinks the reason his family didn’t really menu plan was that they weren’t really on a budget or financial restriction when it came to food and groceries.
When I was growing up, on the other hand, we lived in a single parent household with 3 kids. My mom often working 2 jobs to make ends meet. To say we lived on a shoestring budget would be putting it lightly. Every week my mom would sit down and plan out the dinners we would have for the next two weeks. It was customary to have meals that would lead to leftovers (I don’t understand people who don’t eat leftovers) and we would often have the same dinners every few weeks. I didn’t realize my mom was menu planning. Now looking back I see my mom was menu planning as a way to save money and not buy things that 1. we wouldn’t eat, 2. buy things we didn’t need, and 3. would break her budget. I loved that my mom was so organized and that I always knew what we were having for dinner.
This is something I definitely took in to my adult life. Even when I was in college I would make a list of what meals I wanted to have and I would go grocery shopping specifically for those items. This is how I was able to stay on budget and still eat pretty healthy, considering I was a college student.
Let me show you how I do it with my family.
Step 1: Picking out the Menu:
With a new baby a really helpful tip to start you off schedule the time you are going to menu plan. I can tell you from personal experience if you don’t schedule a time to get your menu down on paper it can easily slip through the cracks. Then you go the store because you have no food and come home and have no idea what you are going to make for dinner. It is a vicious cycle. Really try to schedule a time to menu plan. For me, I do it while M is down for his big afternoon nap. The house is quiet and I can drink my tea and plan in peace.
When I am menu planning I always start by putting a few “meal night” ideas down. Examples: taco night, crockpot meal, sheet pan meal, meatless Monday, casserole, etc. I like to plan “meal nights” because it helps narrow down the millions of options and it helps cycle through recipes. Meaning we won’t have 3 taco-y meals or 2 different pasta meals in one week.
After I pick out the “meal nights” I get out my calendar and I look at what special events we have going on for that week, two weeks, or month (whatever timeframe I am menu planning for). For example: on book club night I do not make dinner, this is really a fend for yourself night. Or if my husband is out of town I don’t usually cook a large meal I might get something out of the freezer or from a restaurant.
Tip: If you have a day everyone will be home for dinner but the day is crazy busy… Most likely the last thing you are going to want to do is cook. Think about these things when you are making your menu and plan for an easy meal or for that day to be a leftovers day.
Step 2: Recipes
When I menu plan I like to include old favorites but I also like to try new recipes too. My husband and I both get burned out on the same meals month after month, which is really easy to do. So you will usually find me at my desk with my planner, my recipe binder, and my computer open to Pinterest.
I usually ask my husband what meals he feels like this week or this month while I’m making the menu. He isn’t always helpful and sometimes gives me an “I don’t know/care” shrug. But other times he will tell me that he feels like cooking something, or he feels like my blah blah. I always make sure to include his suggestions because I want him to keep making suggestions, and I like him to feel included.
So, I pretty much just scroll through Pinterest and my recipe binder and decide what I want to make.
Tip: I like to make things with similar ingredients. For example, if a meal I’m going to make only needs 2 cups of chicken broth, but the container I buy is 4 cups I will try whatever I can to make a recipe that will need those other two cups of broth. This is a huge budget saver!
Another Tip: Print out the recipes you’ll be using for that week. This will keep the meals from getting lost in the million other pins you have on Pinterest. And it will keep you prepared for the week in meals. And a 3rd great thing about printing out your recipes… If you like them, you can keep them and have them again.
Step 3 Keep Your Menu Where You Can See It:
For me, I write the menu in my planner and then I write it on my dry erase board so everyone knows what we are having for dinner. There is something about having things written in my planner that just makes it feel real and helps me feel more put together. If you don’t want to write it twice, you could find some great Menu Planning printables on Pinterest and only write it once. Then just hang the menu on the fridge so you can refer back to it that week or month.
Step 4 Grocery List:
With Fred Meyer Clicklist:
If you are going to use the Fred Meyer Clicklist (or Walmart, Kroger, etc) I would make my list on their website.
I am a million tab user when I’m on the internet, which is how I menu plan. I have one tab open with the Clicklist, and a few tabs for my Pinterest recipes that I chose for the week. Then whatever the recipe calls for that I don’t have I just search it on the clicklist and add it to the cart. That simple.
With a Regular List:
I have an Amazon Echo so I use the Alexa app to make my grocery list. Before Alexa, I would make my list on paper, which was fine. But when M was born and I had to start remembering the diaper bag, reusable grocery bags, wallet, keys, car seat, baby, etc. I found myself losing the list constantly. I have a pretty good memory, but even I can’t remember 25-100 items that we need for this week/month’s meals.
When I first started menu planning I didn’t include side dishes, breakfast, or lunch. It was too hard and I felt like we could sort of fend for ourselves with these things.
Now that I have a little more experience and I know what we like, it is much easier for me to include these things. For example, if dinner is going to be Chicken Tacos, I will also write down that we will have Spanish rice and chips and salsa to go with it. This allows me to have the whole picture of what I need to make, buy, and to ensure we have a balanced meal.
I really enjoy menu planning. It helps me feel more put together. I know what I will be feeding my family and I know how long the meals will take. It also helps my grocery budget stay on track.
If I don’t menu plan I walk aimlessly around the store, buy a little of this and a little of that. Then I come home and think to myself. Well, shoot, “what the heck am I going to make for dinner tonight?” Now that I have M it is even more important to menu plan. I don’t have hours and hours to decide what to make or give up and say “that’s it we are just going out for dinner.”
I hope these tips really help you with menu planning. I know some people will still be fly by the seat of their pants people. And that’s ok, this post isn’t for you. But if you are looking for a way to stay more organized, feed your family healthy pre-planned meals, spend less time fretting over what to have for dinner, and stay on a budget, menu planning might be for you.
Please let me know if this was helpful, or if you menu plan and you do something a little different I’d love to hear it.