Complete guide to menu and meal planning includes printable menu planners and weekly $50 menu plans for families

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  • Free Printable Menu Planners

    Planning a weekly Menu can seem a bit overwhelming at first, after all, that's 3 meals a day, 21 meals per week, 1,092 meals per year and if you have a family of 4- that's a whopping 4,368 meals! There are numerous ways to plan menus, the evening before, a week in advance, 2 weeks in advance, or monthly.

    What kind of Menu?:

    • Planning Weekly Menus - This method allows you to take advantage of weekly loss leaders at your favorite grocery stores. It is the best method to use if you have a very limited budget as it allows you to take advantage of seasonal offerings.
      • Loss Leaders are items that stores sell (at a loss) in order to draw consumers into the store. The premise is that the consumer will be so overwhelmed with the great store layout and offerings that they'll fill their baskets with impulse items while they're there.

    • Planning Monthly Menus: This is a bit more difficult (unless you use a rotating menu) and requires a bit more preplanning as the menu is not based on the weekly sales, but bulk purchases. If you have a garden that produces well and you home-can or freeze your own vegetables and fruits, then this style of menu may be the easiest for your family.

    • Rotating Menus- This is the least time consuming method of menu planning, but also the most boring. Generally speaking, a rotating menu consists of 15-20 meals that are within the family's budget. These same meals are eaten and over again (hence "rotating" menu). This type of menu works well for families with very picky eaters.

    How to Plan a Menu:
    • Start by taking an inventory of what you have on hand in your pantry, fridge and freezer. (I'm not talking about a physical list, just a general overview so you know what you have available to use). This serves several purposes, first, you may be surprised that you have more food on hand then you thought.

    • If you have a fully stocked pantry of basic items, Congratulations, the battle is nearly won!

    • Make a list of what your family absolutely WON'T eat. I know that lots of menu planning articles like to focus on what you will eat or want to eat. I feel its imperative to have an idea of what they won't eat. Generally this list is considerably smaller. For us, I have a 2 choice option on our menu, take it or leave it. I've always been this way with my family and my children are not picky eaters by any stretch of the imagination. I've found that this is quite helpful when it comes to trying to figure out what to feed the family.

    • Scan through the sales ads of your favorite grocery stores (this can be done easily with our helpful grocery guide), and jot down several meal ideas based on those specials. Since you already know what you have on hand in your freezer, fridge and pantry, you know what items you have to accompany the meals or to create main dishes.

    Printable Menu Planners: Each meal planner is editable via pdf and can be printed.

    Weekly Meal Planner - Includes room for Breakfast, lunch, dinner in a colorful floral design. Planner includes room for grocery list as well
    Menu Plan Monday (55 kb) - Meal & Grocery list planner
    Weekly Menu Planner (207kb) includes breakfast, lunch, dinner, Snacks, as well as room for an alternative meal plan
    Bi-Weekly Menu Planner (227kb) - Plan breakfast,lunch, dinner and snacks for 2 weeks, plus an area to write in necessary groceries
    Bi-Weekly Dinner Planner - Plan Dinner & Enter your complete grocery list on this Edit & Print Pdf Planner
    Bi-Weekly Dinner Planner B - Plan dinners for 2 weeks as well as jot down the necessary groceries, divided into 3 sections: Fridge, Freezer, Pantry
    Monthly Menu Planner - this one works well if your breakfast consists of the same type of item each week, for example cold cereal/oatmeal/fresh fruit and lunches are taken care of elsewhere (such as school lunch programs).

    Why to Plan a Menu:

    • Planning a menu saves money by reducing impromptu visits to the grocery store, which often result in impulse spending.

    • Menu planning also improves your family's nutritional intake as it forces you to be more aware of what you are serving, rather than staring into your fridge or pantry at the end of a long day and grabbing the first thing that will fill the gnawing hole in your belly.

    • Time Saver- as mentioned above, despite the fact that it takes a few minutes of time to plan a menu, it's also a considerable time saver. How many times have you stood staring into the fridge after work wondering what to serve your family?

    For a little fun, Check out these Top 10 reasons why you SHOULDN'T have a menu plan!

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    Comments 35 Comments
    1. jhartbarger's Avatar
      jhartbarger -
      Thanks so much for the free planning sheets. People do not realize how much money this will save not to mention your sanity.
    1. JanetA's Avatar
      JanetA -
      This is exactly what I need. My schedule changes so frequently from night shift back to days off...I need all the help planning I can get!
    1. angelsvn24's Avatar
      angelsvn24 -
      I use my outlook calendar to plan meals, that way I can plan around my family's activites. I can plan either a week or a month at a time. I don't plan breakfast and lunches during the school year except for vacations, because I always have the basics for sandwiches and cereal in stock. We use our leftovers for hot lunches too.
    1. Kermitdafrog!'s Avatar
      Kermitdafrog! -
      I really like the bi-weekly calendar with the list!!! I try to his the Door Buster type stores every other week to stock up and then during "off weeks" I go to the dollar style stores to get basics and paper products. The biweekly one really helps me visualize that strategy!!!
    1. farfinoogle's Avatar
      farfinoogle -
      I love menu planning and this is so easy. I think I am going to try to use the bio-weekly calendar.
    1. cetaylor94's Avatar
      cetaylor94 -
      Thank you for these forms. I normally plan out my weekly menu on the family calendar. But there is so much other stuff written on there, that many times, I just not write it.
    1. LeslieB's Avatar
      LeslieB -
      I love weekly meal planning and I do save tons of money when I do this. I like to get the Sunday ads & coupons out - then sit down & plan out my grocery list & menu. I love these printable menus you have here - I'll see which one works out best for us! Thanks!
    1. countryhicks's Avatar
      countryhicks -
      We also use themes sometimes when meal planning. Like meatless Mondays, pasta Tuesdays, casserole Wednesday, grill out Thursday, crockpot Fridays, mexican Saturdays and breakfast for dinner sundays etc. the themes help me get creative with whatever I have on hand.
    1. shay7's Avatar
      shay7 -
      My goal while I am recuperating from surgery is to pull out aids like this and get my November meals planned. I have to learn not to stress about doing it and just get it done. Thanks for all the good information and forms.
    1. CouponGranny's Avatar
      CouponGranny -
      Normally, (when and if) I plan my menus, I inventory (usually only mentally, but sometimes actually write down) whatever

      1 - I consider the main ingredient of an entree.

      2 - Then see what I have in the pantry to make a recipe. Usually I have enough in my pantry because I fill it from whatever is on sale using my coupons. If I don't have what I need, I'll usually find a different recipe using items I actually do have.

      I rarely have to pay full price for anything except produce, while I drool over y'all who have your own gardens. Items in #1 might be either canned meat (chicken, tuna, beef) or fresh. Of course, I prefer fresh, but sometimes just can't pass up the bargain for canned. I know, I know, they are full of sodium etc.
    1. bamo72's Avatar
      bamo72 -
      I have a calendar like the two week dinner, but I also have a column to list all the prep work I need to do on the weekend for the week ahead. We are crazy busy during the week (like most families) and having the prep work done in advance for the weekdays help.
      I also post a blank one and encourage the kids to write in meals they might want--and then I try to plan using their ideas.
      At least I know some meals will be eaten without compliants.
    1. Wathenmom's Avatar
      Wathenmom -
      I am super organized. I plan my menu yearly, clip hundreds of coupons and make money at the grocery store every week...NOT. In reality, I do read Sunday Coupon Preview almost every Saturday night to look for great coupons on things I regularly buy. If I can't find more than $2.00 in coupons I need, I don't even buy the paper, it's not worth it. I try to plan ahead and I have a decently stocked pantry because I have to prepare meals for a family of 9. Thank you for all of the suggestions and forms.
    1. JuneWeaver's Avatar
      JuneWeaver -
      I love this!! It really helps to organize my brain!
    1. julran1994's Avatar
      julran1994 -
      I can't wait to try this.
    1. momsuzyq2002's Avatar
      momsuzyq2002 -
      I love this. Will probably help so that we don't eat the same thing all the time!! Big problem here we are in a meal rut. Will help us be more creative in meal prep. Thank you!
    1. KatLeo's Avatar
      KatLeo -
      printing now and will be able to use as we start to change our diet - thank you
    1. rockin grandma's Avatar
      rockin grandma -
      I haven't seen this addressed-There are just 2 of us & its hard to get into the groove of cooking smaller, Like homemade veg. soup or spagetti sauce. We both like leftovers but sometimes when I fix something else...I end up throwing little containers away. Does anyone have smaller meal planners ? We do eat out at least once a week.
    1. CAMcGuire's Avatar
      CAMcGuire -
      I love all the different layout options, especially the 2 week planner and the monthly one. Thank you!
    1. JudyColeson's Avatar
      JudyColeson -
      I use a basic wall calendar for my families menu. This works great cause I can do a month at a time but I only do a 2 week grocery list. some time during the last week of the month I take the calendar down off of the wall (which hangs right beside my refrigerator) and bring it to the dinner table. I then take turns getting a meal a day from each member of the family. It is a lot of fun to see what they come up with, plus it ensures that everyone in the family gets something they like at some point. Also the kids like it because during the month if a day comes up they picked then its their day to help me cook!! The only issue that I have with this way of menu planning is that my children and hubby have no idea what is already in the fridge/freezer/pantry or what is on sale. So that makes saving money at the store a little harder for me. Any suggestions for improvement???
    1. JudyColeson's Avatar
      JudyColeson -
      Quote Originally Posted by rockin grandma View Post
      I haven't seen this addressed-There are just 2 of us & its hard to get into the groove of cooking smaller, Like homemade veg. soup or spagetti sauce. We both like leftovers but sometimes when I fix something else...I end up throwing little containers away. Does anyone have smaller meal planners ? We do eat out at least once a week.
      My brother and his fiancee have been a childless couple for 6 years now and she has mastered the art of small meals with big savings. What she does is still buys in bulk for optimum saving potential, but then once home separates everything into smaller portions. Then my brother takes it a step further by actually preparing awhole meal to put in the freezer! for example she found a sale on hamburger for dirt cheap and bought about 30 lbs of hamburger!!! when she got home she divided it all down into small half or 1 pound portions. While she was doing this my brother was preparing other ingredients to go with it. He mixed and shaped together a couple small meat loafs, stuffed some peppers, rolled some meatballs, even shaped some burger patties. After everything was prepared they portioned it into small meal sizes and stuck it all in the freezer!! Now after a long day at work for both of them they can come home grab a whole meat loaf and throw it in the oven for an hour and its done!!! no mess or long prep time just for the 2 of them. That one day of prep work saved them an amazing amount of time stress and mess. I am hoping to start doing this but on a larger scale to suit my family of 5
      I hope this helps some
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