Frugal Living » How to Plan a Menu & Free Printable Menu Planners

How to Plan a Menu & Free Printable Menu Planners

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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 is Meal Planning? Meal planning is essentially just figuring out what your meals are going to be in advance. It’s a simple concept, but it can have many benefits for both yourself and your family if you stick with it.

It might seem like a hassle at first, but once you get into the swing of it, you’re going to wonder how you ever lived without it.

Choosing the Right Menu Plan

  • 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 and loss leaders.
    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 the 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 over again (hence the “rotating” menu). This type of menu works well for families with very picky eaters.

How to Plan a Menu in 3 Easy steps:

  1. 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 at how much food you actually have on hand.

    If you have a fully stocked pantry of basic items, congratulations, the battle is nearly won!
  2. 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 it’s 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.
  3. Scan through the sales ads of your favorite grocery stores, 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.

Free Printable Menu Planners

Each meal planner is editable via pdf and can be printed.

Weekly Menu Planners

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Weekly Meal Planner – Includes room for breakfast, lunch, dinner in a colorful floral design. The planner includes room for a grocery list as well Weekly Meal Planner
Menu Plan Monday- Free Printable Menu Planner for 1 week
Menu Plan Monday – Meal & Grocery list planner Menu Plan Monday
Weekly Menu Planner includes breakfast, lunch, dinner, snacks, as well as room for an alternative meal plan  Weekly Menu Planner
teal weekly meal planner
Weekly Menu Planner– A weekly dinner planner in teal with a grocery list on the right hand side. Weekly Meal Planner- Teal

Bi- Weekly Menu Planners

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Bi-Weekly Menu Planner – Plan breakfast, lunch, dinner, and snacks for 2 weeks, plus an area to write in necessary groceries Bi-Weekly Menu Planner
Bi-Weekly Dinner Planner-Plan Dinner & Enter your complete grocery list on this Edit & Print Pdf Planner Bi-Weekly Dinner Plan
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 Bi-Weekly Dinner Plan & Groceries

Monthly Menu Planners

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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). Monthly Menu Planner
dinner theme planner thumbnail
Themed Dinner Menu Plan– this menu plan is entirely theme-based. It’s one that kids tend to love, and it can easily turn into a family fun night.Here’s how to Use it! Dinner Theme Menu Planner

Why Plan a Menu: 20 Benefits of Meal Planning

1. It saves money by reducing impromptu visits to the grocery store, which often results in impulse spending.

2. It 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.

3. 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?

4. It also reduces food waste, as you’ll know exactly what’s in your fridge/pantry, so you won’t have to throw out ingredients that are past their best before date or are rotting away at the back of your vegetable drawer.

5. You can prepare future meals in advance by cooking/baking more if you know you have a busy week coming up or freezing extra portions for a future meal.

6. Planning your meals in advance can help you eat more home-cooked meals and avoid eating out at restaurants.

7. One way to save money on food is by eating less meat and more vegetarian-friendly foods, like beans and cheese. When you meal plan, it’s easier to substitute these alternatives in recipes so that you’ll save money on groceries.

8. In addition, if your family ignores leftovers and often throws them away, another way that menu planning is beneficial is that it helps with portion control, ensuring that you choose recipes where there will not be leftovers.

9. In addition to saving time, it prevents having to make additional meals to compensate for bland ones, i.e., where only one or two family members are willing to eat it.

10. Meal planning can help you to control the size of your portions, as you will be able to plan out your meals in advance and know exactly what you are going to be eating.

11. You can make ‘do it yourself’ bakes or desserts for kids’ lunches, which are healthier and cut down on the expense of paying for lunches.

12. You will save money if you plan your menu around items on sale at the store. This will assure that you only buy what is on sale during that week and will ensure that you do not buy more than you need.

13. Menu planning will help you avoid wasting expensive ingredients, such as cream or fresh herbs.

14. It helps reduce stress at mealtimes by ensuring that there is a good variety of food on offer for kids who may be fussy eaters. This means that everyone gets a decent meal that they enjoy.

15. If you plan your menu around loss leader sale items at the store, you will save money by only buying what is on sale for the week and not overbuying.

16. Moreover, it will reduce food waste as well, as you will be able to monitor what exactly is in your fridge/pantry, so you won’t have to throw out anything that is past its best before date or that is rotting away at the back of your vegetable drawer.

17. If you’re making slow cooker meals, you won’t be faffing around trying to decide what to make when you get in from work and will be able to relax more knowing that there is something hot and yummy once again to eat.

18. Meal planning helps with weight loss by providing a structure for your meals. It also helps you to avoid eating unhealthy foods or overeating.

19. You can save money by looking at the deals of the week and buying things that are on clearance.

20. If you plan out your meals ahead of time, you won’t be forced to spend extra money on groceries in order to accommodate last-minute cravings or unplanned circumstances.

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

View More Frugal Living Ideas

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35 thoughts on “How to Plan a Menu & Free Printable Menu Planners”

  1. thanks so much for the free planning sheets. people do not realize how much money this will save not to mention your sanity.

  2. 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!

  3. 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.

  4. 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!!!:038:

  5. 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.

  6. 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!


  7. 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.

  8. 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. :coffeebath:

  9. 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.

  10. 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.

  11. 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.

  12. 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!

  13. i haven’t seen this addressed-there are just 2 of us & its hard to get into the groove of cooking smaller,:cook2: 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. :cook2:

    • I haven’t seen this addressed-There are just 2 of us & its hard to get into the groove of cooking smaller,:cook2: 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. :cook2:

      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

    • There’s only 1 of me and I do successful menu planning always. Some of the paring down includes these things:
      1. I have learned to do a lot of repackaging into 1 or 2 meal portions as part of putting away groceries.

      I do the math on favorite recipes and cut down how much I make.
      3. When I make a full recipe it’s because I plan to do it rather than allowing it to happen by chance. I call them planned overs.

      I rely heavily on planned overs because I have an illness that can make meal prep impossible. So I regularly make the full recipe on good days and immediately put the planned overs up into meals for the freezer. Others buy prepackaged meals from the grocery store, so why not put up the things I love instead of eating the commercial stuff that I do not like?
      I love Lock n Lock for doing that, but use all sorts of freezer containers, including things like ZipLock or Gladware, and glass jars filled properly (plenty of headroom).

      I even use freezer bags for things such as beans that I make in larger batches.
      4. I use the “freezer to crockpot” ideas regularly. Get one chicken or max pack of ______ and set up multiple meals, complete with seasonings and sauces into freezer bags for future use in the crockpot.

      I’m making one of those today. My Tuesdays are terrible, so no meal prep.
      So I think the key is the advance planning.


      I haven’t seen this addressed-There are just 2 of us & its hard to get into the groove of cooking smaller,:cook2: 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. :cook2:

  14. 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???

  15. thanks for the info! planning meals and grocery budgeting are the biggest challenges for me. i’m desperate for a plan that works!

  16. i love the idea of meal planning, i just never did it. i never realized what a procrastinator i am, and this might just get me on track to save more money on our grocery bill. i definitely love pulling something out of the freezer that was prepared ahead of time, and i also want to try making out an actual menu/meal plan to see how it works.

    thank you for your ideas!

  17. i can relate to every issue posted here. just mdh and me at home now. been a stay at home mom, working mom, career mom, grandma etc.

    gone from poverty line to “comfortable” but i still love to be a wise shopper. some of you are just so smart you blow me away. ground beef was my favourite standby.

    hamburgers, meat loaf, meatballs (swedish and italian), quick ground beef stew, ground beef meat pie, ground beef and biscuit spirals, cabbage rolls, lasagne, i still shop at the big box stores and buy my fresh ground beef already formed into patties. i freeze a portion as is in individual baggies,
    some i cut into meatball size and i might cook them up right away and freeze them cooked in tomatoe sauce or cream sauce. i’ll do this as im unpacking groceries.

    not bragging, just a lunatic. im a big fan of “the big cook” cookbook. similar to what judy mentioned in a previous post. cook as if 20 guests were coming, serve your family and freeze the rest in your family size portions.

    eg. I fill my freezer baggies with a serving for two. so, I would have 18 servings left the first night.

    I would reserve 2 servings for the next night but freeze 8 bags with 2 servings each.
    i love this web site. I just wish it had been available years ago. I was going to say that Women are wonderful but I really have no idea how many guys are checking in.

  18. it’s surprising how few people actually sit down and plan a weekly menu before shopping, then come home with things they don’t need and have to go back for others. the weekly (or bi-weekly, depending on the pay cycle) menu planning got my husband and i through the early years of our marriage, when we literally didn’t have money for any extras. we may not have had lots of snacks, but our kids never went hungry either.

  19. i found a book on amazon for making freezer meals. i haven’t gotten into the habit yet and i do need to clean out my freezer. i would like to start preparing foods and dividing them up into portions and then freezer.

    it suggests taking a day for preparing foods or even having a “coop” day with other people. there was a place that started this in a retail setting. i don’t know if they are still open but they had classes where you would prepare several meals to take home.

    i might have to get off my butt and start trying this.

  20. Love the Monday Menu Planner, Fantastic I can type straight in. Being a full time teacher and mother it means I can write 3 months worth of menu and put it into my freezer every school holidays. Thank you!:party1:

  21. I wish I had a printer to print these off 🙂 Oh well I can use paper and pen and put it up somewhere. These print outs are amazing! Thank you for the time put into the files 😀

    • I did not find this site helpful at all , i could not download any of the items.

      Did you try posting in the Tech Support forum for assistance with your device? Also, it could be because you’re not an active member on the site. Downloads use a lot of bandwidth (which is quite expensive) so they are reserved for Members.

      There are several levels of registration. Currently members with very few posts have limited access to the features within the forums, you may have reached your limit based on your lack of activity as a member.

      You can view more information regarding the levels of registrationand additional available features here.


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