Life is hectic.

Michael and I both work full time. We both CrossFit. Our kids are in daycare. Nora has speech therapy twice a week at home. I’ve been in physical therapy for my hamstring injury. We’ve had pre-kindergarten stuff going on, early intervention evaluations for Vivienne. We are gearing up for Nora’s dance recital so we’ve had photos, extra rehearsals, and more. I’ve traveled twice for work in the past two weeks—one was a quick overnight to Toronto, but the other was a Tuesday-Friday haul to San Francisco. And I’m turning right back around and heading to Seattle for another trip in a couple of weeks. Add in plans with family, friends, birthdays, graduations, and the regular hustle and bustle of this time of year to everyday responsibilities and life can be downright overwhelming.

But also really fun.

My state of mind is so much healthier and happier in these warm weather months that I can’t even complain about any of the above, except for maybe a teensy bit about the work travel. I don’t even really mind except for the fact that it’s just a lot of time away from home in a short period. Thankfully, it’s not the norm so I am looking forward to July when things should calm the heck down for a bit.

Anyway, menu planning has been hard for me lately. Ever since Nora was born, we’ve done a week’s worth of meal planning at a time so that we can (usually) limit the trips to the grocery store to just once a week. We make a big trip on Saturdays and then Michael might run to grab a couple of things on his lunch break on maybe Tuesday or Wednesday—perishable stuff that we’ve already gone through (like bananas, or berries these days!), or a random thing we may have forgotten. It’s a system that has worked really well for us the past ~5 years. But lately, the combination of a lot of stuff on my mind and our busy schedule (therefore necessitating a lot of quick, easy meals) has been rough. I HATE the meal planning task right now.

For a while, I’ve been meaning to formalize the system somehow. Currently, I sit down with a piece of paper on Friday night or early Saturday morning and start jotting down a list of running items we need. Then I turn it over and write down the days of the week, and start slotting meals into those days. I turn the paper over, front and back, figuring out meals on the back and then adding all of the ingredients for those meals onto the front. I use the recipe index on this blog to help me come up with ideas, and of course, we have favorites. We don’t try as many new recipes these days, but I’d like to get more into that habit again. And I want a more organized system.

I’ve taken to Pinterest to solve my problems. And I have gathered inspiration.

Most simply, I’m at the very least going to do something like this:

(Source: Coupon Closet)

It’s obviously just a menu board to help keep things clear for the week. I like these and have been meaning to make one for a while. However, this doesn’t really help with the menu planning aspect. It doesn’t help us come up with the different meals we want to make.

So, I’ve also come across systems like this:

(Source: Our Home Sweet Home)
(Source: Sarah Potter Photography)

So in these versions, you’ve got pre-printed or written cards with recipe names on them and then you just sift through them each week to pick your meals. That would definitely help matters when we’re drawing a blank about what to have, right?

And then I came across this one, which is like the mac daddy of menu planning boards:

(Source: RobbyGurl’s Creations)

This person menu plans FOR THE MONTH, y’all. First of all—I can’t even. Sometimes, I just have a hankering for Mexican. Or I eat like crap on a weekend and feel horrendous and need to eat relatively cleanly through the week to make myself feel better. How am I supposed to know weeks in advance if those things are going to hit? I guess this system would still be highly adaptable—no one is saying that you need to stick to it in stone. Which is maybe why I kind of love it, despite its flaws.

And it would be kind of interesting to see “a month at a glance,” although I would definitely need multiple magnets for some recipes because there are things that are in our rotation once every 2-3 weeks and I actually like it that way. I can’t imagine going a whole month and not eating the same thing twice!

Anyway, the Type-A organizational geek that lives inside of me is THRILLED by this last concept, or at least a version of it. Those cards hanging off of the bottom are THE RECIPES, you guys! No more checking my phone a zillion times to look at each ingredient and the instructions as I cook. But how practical is this, really? And how much time would it actually take to pull this all together? And how likely would I be to actually make new cards/magnets for new recipes we find? Hmm. I suppose my fear is that I wouldn’t be able to keep up with this.

So, in all my spare time, I’m trying to come up with a plan.

Does anyone have a system resembling any of these that you use successfully? Or that you’ve tried and has failed? Any other suggestions? Menu/meal ideas or recommendations for me to add to our rotation?


13 Responses to Meal Planning / Weekly Menu Inspiration

  1. How about just simple….use Google Calendar, a different color for meal planning and plan weeks at a time. It’s there in your hand when you go to the store and takes out the step of writing a menu. You can even use an app for writing your list. Then…you have your calendars already built and can drag and drop from a previous month to a current month.

    • Hi Brooke! Although that’s brilliant in theory, I’m a freak in that I think I need something tangible for this. I love electronics and all, but for a few things in life — like my to-do list/planner at work, my grocery lists, etc. — I need good old-fashioned paper! I tried to do my grocery list on my phone for a while (Wegmans has an AWESOME app for it) but I found myself migrating back to paper. It was awkward to hold my phone and have to keep “waking it up” throughout the grocery trip. And that’s what I don’t like about using it for recipes, too — the constant need to keep waking it up and entering my PIN when my hands might be wet or whatever.

      • Erin says:

        This is exactly what I do – Google Calendar, different color for meals and we have the URL for the recipe in the appointment for easy access. I wrote about our ‘system’ if you can call it that, a few years ago:

        I am for sure all-in on using the phone, for everything – grocery list, calendar, to-do list, etc, so it works for me. Also, I have my phone screen set to not auto-turn off, ever (I just manually lock it when I want to turn it “off”, and I don’t have a PIN either which is probably kind of dumb but oh well. It’s always basically attached to me so whatever)

        • LOL, Erin! I use the PIN mostly to keep my kids (mainly Vivienne) from deleting stuff when I’m not looking. But the auto shutoff thing is good to know. Looking into those settings now!

  2. Jenna says:

    We have a Menu board similar to the middle ones in your post with the little cards. I LOVE it although it would be nice to find a way to incorporate the actual recipes in it. Not a huge deal though. The board was a game changer for us a few years ago and it makes meal planning and grocery list making so much easier! Best of luck in figuring out what works best for you!

    • Nice to hear, Jenna! One of the versions above actually has the recipes ingredients written on the back of each meal card. Although it’s not the full recipe, that definitely still helps with the shopping! Did you make your own board? Curious to know which tutorial you used, or even if you can share a pic of your board! I’m still collecting inspiration.

  3. Lena says:

    I know what you mean by wanting something tangible. I’m the same way. My husband once said “I bought you a $200 phone with more notepad and calendar capability and you still use paper and pen?” Not everyone gets it.
    Last year I stumbled upon that Mega Board you posted, with the full month. In my eyes that looked so incredible (I’m also OCD and hyper organized). It seemed a good idea until I realized how overwhelming it would be to plan a month out and we frequently like to mix things up with eating out or order take out.

    I came up with a 3-ring binder approach that really solved a lot of the problems/road blocks you’re mentioning. I’m going to bed now but will take some pictures of it tomorrow and write up a description of it for you.

  4. Catherine says:

    I use a small spiral notebook for my meal planning. On one side of the page, I list out five meals for the week. I only plan on five solid meals since we do tend to order out, have leftovers, get busy, etc. that I never actually cook all seven nights. So on one side, I have five meals listed, and the other side I have a grocery list for what I need to make those meals, and what else I need at the grocery store that week. I divide up my paper for shopping in categories – Dairy, Meats, Canned goods, Produce, etc. Then what I do when I fill up an entire notebook is start a new notebook, but use the previous one and just copy those old menus. Because I too have two small children, and my husband and I work full time, I try and keep it simple as possible. Every Tuesday, for example, we just have Taco Tuesday. So simple and my kids both LOVE tacos. The other nights I do cook more detailed meals since I do like to cook quite a bit. I love cutesy things, but every time I tried some other more elaborate and creative menu planning format, I just didn’t have time to keep it up. I also do often change the days I plan to cook something, so it just wouldn’t work out for me to be so precise in a set weekly menu for what we will eat each day.

  5. Catherine says:

    Oh, and to address the other issue – I plan one new meal once a week from either Pinterest or whatever cookbook I am using. I actually rotate my cookbooks each week to change things up. So one week I will only pull from recipes out of my Barefoot Contessa book, another week it is a different cookbook, etc. That way I change things up and we aren’t in a rut.

  6. Melanie says:

    I currently do exactly what you do. We sit down once a week, on one side of my paper goes the shopping list, and on the other side is a list of meals by day. But we also have what I call a ‘master list’. It lists all the major meals we make. So if we’re drawing a blank, we refer back to that to give us ideas. It’s currently just a big list, but I’ve been meaning to expand it and break it down into stuff the kids will eat with us, stuff they won’t, and one-night meals (we tend to eat the same thing for two nights in a row).

    Another thing that helps us is whenever we cook something freezable, we make a double recipe, eat one, and freeze one. And we have cooking weekends every 4-8 weeks where my in-laws visit to help out and we really stock up.

    For meal inspiration, we love these little meatloaves!

  7. Lena says:

    Heather I just did this quickly (with the help of a 5 month old) so it’s not perfect but hopefully it shows you the system that works for me. (let me know if you’d rather I not post my blog page on here)

  8. Britton says:

    Try It is a family meal planning/recipe organizer. It’s made for computers, smartphones, and tablets, but also lets you print out a shopping list. Everyone in the family has their own login but share one password. So handy to be able to access anywhere. You can add recipes yourself or import from online, and you can add the ingredients to your shopping list with one click. You can view your family’s calendar side-by-side with your planned meals. You can save lists so you don’t have to reenter frequently bought items each week.

  9. Kristen says:

    If you get stuck and need ideas for menu planning, I suggest the Fresh 20. You do have to pay per month or year, but I have found it to be extremely helpful. What’s great is that you buy 20 fresh ingredients per week and make 5 meals that serve 4 people. All the ingredients are consumed by the end of the week so there’s very little waste. I know you were looking for display option, but I had to mention Fresh 20 because it has been a lifesaver for us.

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