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 [download id=”574106″]
Menu Plan Monday- Free Printable Menu Planner for 1 week
Menu Plan Monday – Meal & Grocery list planner [download id=”574108″]
Weekly Menu Planner includes breakfast, lunch, dinner, snacks, as well as room for an alternative meal plan  [download id=”574110″]
teal weekly meal planner
Weekly Menu Planner– A weekly dinner planner in teal with a grocery list on the right hand side. [download id=”603546″]

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 [download id=”574112″]
Bi-Weekly Dinner Planner-Plan Dinner & Enter your complete grocery list on this Edit & Print Pdf Planner [download id=”574114″]
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 [download id=”574116″]

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). [download id=”574118″]
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! [download id=”603630″]

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!

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