Beginner Menu Planning Tips


What is 7 days long and helps you save money, stay organized, and eat more nutritious food? I hope you said a menu plan and not some weird detox diet. If not, then we might have some work to do – just kidding….but seriously!

Incorporating a weekly menu plan, along with other systems, has made all the difference in keeping me mindful with the food I prepare and serve my family. Without it my days would be spent stressed and probably eating more cereal than one should consume for dinner.

If making healthy changes to your diet is one of your top goals this year then I strongly recommend giving menu planning a shot.


When you are just starting out with menu planning it can seem a bit daunting – believe me I understand. I remember the first few times I create a menu plan I felt completely overwhelmed. Then I realized that a menu plan can be as easy or complicated as you make it. You can simply write out dinner for the week on a sheet of paper or use a color coded picture calendar system. You can make 5 star gourmet meals every night (if you do please invite me over for dinner) or you can make it as simple as sandwiches. My point is to create a menu planning system that works for you.

Even though these are various ways you can put your menu plan together there really in no right or wrong way to plan. If you start out with one menu planning system (ex. themed days) and after a few weeks find that is not going to work then try something else. Or if you find that your menu planning is stressing you out more than it is helpful take a step back and figure out why. Remember what works for one person might not work for another. It is all about create a menu planning system that makes your life easier.

If you are brand new to menu planning or maybe just need a little motivation I put together some beginner tips to help out. These tips are to get you started. Once you get the hang of things then you can add and change up your menu planning routine. Remember, do what works for you!

#1 Look at your schedule

In order for your menu plan to be functional it needs to reflect your schedule. The whole point of  a menu plan is to make your life easier. Therefore, if you know certain days of the week will be busier than others then on those days you would schedule simple recipes or maybe a slow cooker meal (check out this freezer cooking slow cooker ebook for great recipes). If on other days you can spend a little more time on recipes then your menu plan can reflect that. Looking at your schedule ahead of time provides the framework for the types of meals you will to make.

#2 Use familiar recipes

When you first start menu planning you will get the urge to research and print out a bunch of brand new recipes (thank you Pinterest). My advice as a beginner menu planner is stick to familiar favorites (even if it is mac n cheese) at first. Once you get familiar and comfortable with the process then slowly add on new recipes. Learning to menu plan takes some focus in the beginning and you don’t want to become overwhelmed with a bunch of new recipes. Baby steps.

#3 Don’t over complicate

Just like with the desire to find new recipes is the desire to completely overcomplicate the menu planning process with color coded charts, DIY menu boards, binders, and a million other menu planning organization “must haves”. These are all fun accessories to put in place eventually but they are by no means necessary. Honestly I have really seen this need to make the perfect pretty visual menu board hinder people from following through with creating their menu plan. Down the road, as you become comfortable, sure make a cute DIY menu planning chalk board but when starting out just grab a pen and paper. Keep it simple!

#4 Write it out and make visible

After you put together your menu plan, write or type it out, and stick it to the refrigerator. It is important for your menu plan to stay visible. In my experience, when the week starts to get busy I very easily forget about what we are having for dinner. I usually can just pull up my menu plan on my blog but it is easier when I have it stuck on my fridge. This way my husband and kids can see it as well – surprising they usually don’t read Organize Yourself Skinny 🙂

#5 Purchase ingredients

Now I know this seems like common sense and I almost did not even add this to the list – but I thought it is worth mentioning. I remember when I started menu planning and I would write out all these great recipes to make and then forget to put some of the ingredients on my grocery list. Then I would be ready to make the recipe and have to come to a halt because I was missing ingredients. Not fun and I will admit sometimes I still do this. Although now I use the menu planner and grocery list generator on Plan to Eat which has greatly reduced these mistakes. My advice is to write down all ingredients and double check your list before going grocery shopping.

#6 Plan for prep

A menu plan is useless if you forget to take the meat or pizza dough out of the freezer, need cooked rice, or have to chop a ton of vegetables for a recipe. Now I am not saying your menu plan will always goes as plan (believe me it won’t) you just don’t want it always getting hijack because you are forgetting to take the chicken out. After a long day at work I need to get dinner on the table within 30 -45 minutes. For me to do this all of my prep, for the recipe, needs to be done ahead of time – I try to make and prep as much of a recipe as I can over the weekend. Also, because I am very forgetful, I try to schedule reminders in my phone the day before if I need to take food out of the freezer for dinner the next day. The more you prep beforehand the easier it will be to carry your menu plan out during the week.

What are your menu planning questions? Or if you are a seasoned menu planner what are some beginner tips you can offer?

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  1. I’ve tried planning out meals for my family, but I never stick with it long enough. I’m going to try your tips and give it one more try. Does your family ever not want what you are making for dinner? If so, what have done?

    • I’ve gone back and forth on menu planning as well. When I do plan, everyone knows what’s going on so even if I can’t get something started, the kids or hubs can. It also saves so much money. I’m not at the grocery store, looking at the isles, saying, “that looks good for dinner!” to something that wasn’t thought out.

      Crystal, when they don’t eat what I make, they GO HUNGRY. Period. I post the meals and they can see and prepare themselves ahead of time. I am the one planning, shopping, preparing, cooking, and cleaning (sometimes they clean for me), so quite frankly, I’m not a happy camper if they don’t want what I’ve worked so very hard for. Missing a meal or two has never starved anyone. Including hubby. If they don’t want dinner, I tell them they can go to their room to do homework and stay there for the evening. It’s happened twice. 🙂 You have to stick to your guns on this one, otherwise, you will become a short order cook and miserable yourself. And if momma ain’t happy …

    • I know not every meal is “a winner”, so I ask everyone to just try and get through the meal and I promise to never make it again. I don’t want to waste my time cooking if no one is going to eat it! However, my kids (ages 6 & 9) get cranky when they are hungry. So they have the option to make themselves a sandwich if they would like. This way I don’t have to do any extra work and they aren’t hard to deal with!

    • We always had a family meeting, once a week to plan menu’s.
      The children each had a say in one meal and all worked out.

  2. This is such great advice! I liked it so much I gave you a shout out on my blog today! 🙂

  3. That’s really helpful. My family pretty often complains about the meal that I’m preparing for dinner and I cannot explain that sometimes there’s just not enough time to prepare anything. I think that with your tips and if I could make my family to help me with planning the week menu the things might get better. Thanks.

  4. I am so thrilled that I ran across this site. I can see it has loads of very useful info. Just by seeing all the information available to research, I’m finding myself feeling overwhelmed. I too am a very busy mom of 3 youngens, full time job, and farming and so need to find and implement a meal planning/making system like this. I fear it will take me too long to read all the info to get started. I’m not complaining here, I’m giving great praise and to say that so far I LOVE this site and have made it my home page so it is always there for me to do some quick reading. I am so looking forward to starting this new lifestyle and a big shout out THANK YOU!!!!

  5. I have an 8-week menu for dinners and usually sticks to it, we have 5 kids so it’s so much easier and i think they all like knowing what’s for dinner any day. But with that being said, sometimes i dont even eat, just cook for them, so the hardest part is to actually do it for me.

  6. WHen I was young I had to eat what was on the table, period! WE all did it. I don’t play that game either of intolerance with children, they eat what is provided… We don’t eat burgers and fries like most parents I know who leave in in the freezer for the kids. That teaches kids that they can have anything as long as they cry and whine.

    Menu planning i Try all the time! It doesn’t stick. I will keep trying. Making life healthy is difficult because of my 7pm sweet tooth.

    Thank you for this site. It is the encouragement that I need.

  7. I am so happy I found this blog! I can see how much thought you have put into making such a helpful tool for those of us who are trying to get the “freezer meals” thing down. Thank you so much for all the incredibly helpful information you put in your blog. I am making it my “go to” blog to help me conquer the “freezer meals”. Please don’t stop posting!

  8. How do you make meal planning work when you have young kids who won’t eat most of what mom & dad eat, and eating what they eat (Mac & Cheese, hot dogs, etc. ha ha) doesn’t work for Mom and Dad’s new healthier lifestyle?

  9. i would love to try your tips but im kinda worried cuz were 2 my husband and i. and i just have a baby shes 9 month old. My husband was whole day working person. and i want to make breakfast for him and try to make lunch that he can bring at work hes not a work office guy his in out side working on dirt cuz his telecommunication so his dirty all day.and sometime he come home having a headache cuz he didnt it no time to off from work cuz he need to pack up all tools that out from hes working vehicle so he just continue working.and i was thinking maybe if i try to make something for him to bring that would be a very big help.and here i am searching for something that i can make it just that i dont know where to start.and worried that if i make some thing. its just get waste cuz were just 2 of us going to eat. and i find all your recipe they are all very good but im guess its for 5 or 6 person. and i cant make a lot like that. i was hoping that you can help make recipe that good for 2 person only somehow.i would love to try to start learning new step to weight loss and good health for me and specially for my husband.AND I LOVE YOUR BLOG BTW..

    • Charlene says:

      I am at the opposite side of the timeline- my kids are grown and have families of their own, but in the same situation. My roommate works 12-14 hrs a day driving a truck, and if it isn’t something he can eat in the truck, he buys junk food, or doesn’t eat at all. He gets home long after I have eaten dinner.

      I cook with an eye towards leftovers. Last weekend I made pulled pork (4 lbs!) in the crock pot. We had pulled pork sandwiches, then for a couple days I used the pulled pork in his breakfast burritos w/eggs and cheese. I froze the rest-some in individual portions for breakfast burritos another time, and a larger portion for sandwiches another time.

      I do the same with a large ham; or even stew. With stew, I don’t use too many vegetables, and I toss what we don’t eat the first time. Then I shred the leftovermeat, and it can be French Dip sandwiches later, etc.

  10. Love these ideas. I have found that making lunch and protein packs and having fruit to snack on during the day has helped keep me on track. Evenings are the difficult part for me so I decided to make a soup every Sunday for a quick dinner meal during the week and it has worked for me! I don’t always have the time and energy to make something good for me so this is a great ‘go to’ meal.


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