Monday, October 27, 2014

Menu Planning for a Month in 10 Minutes

Menu Planning for a Month can be done in just minutes!

Many home cooks recognize that menu planning has huge advantages- it saves time, money & frustration:

1. Menu Planning saves time, because it saves unscheduled trips to the grocery store. It also allows the cook to do a lot of advance preparation for meals later in the week, thereby reducing time in the kitchen.

2. Menu Planning saves money because a well-planned meal that's ready to go at home makes it a lot less tempting to go out to dinner when we're tired just to avoid cooking. It also makes it a lot less attractive to just throw an expensive steak on the grill to make a quick and easy meal.

3. It saves frustration because, well, there's very little more frustrating than knowing that dinner time is an hour away and I have no idea what to cook!

But a lot of home cooks hate menu planning. 

It can take a lot of time to do, and it's a disruption to sit down once a week and have an undisturbed half hour or forty-five minutes to plan the week's worth of meals. So, it gets neglected, and we "wing it" until we've noticed that every meal for the past week has been fast food or that we've been eating the same "easy" meal day after day. Then, we make ourselves do it again . . . and the cycle starts over.

Well, I have a new system that makes menu planning for a whole month take just a few minutes. I clocked it at less than 10 minutes!

I have a monthly meal chart, with re-shuffle-able menu cards.  At the beginning of each month, I can simply "deal" the cards into the pockets in a sensible order, and I'm done : )

It takes a bit of planning to set up (about the same amount of time as planning a menu the old fashioned way), but then it works perpetually.

An Entire Month of Planned Meals

First, get your supplies:

A Package of Rainbow-Colored 3x5 Cards
A Package of White 3x5 Cards (optional - this is only to give you 6 colors instead of 5)
A Jewelry Organizer Similar to this one
A Marker to Write With.
A Pair of Scissors to cut cards with. 

This is what you do:

1. Make a list of the meals your family eats.

2. Organize those meals into categories. For instance, you could categorize by Ethnicity (Mexican, Korean, Greek, Italian, Indian) or by Main Ingredient (Beef, Pork, Pasta, Beans) or some other way that suits you. You can also sort by preparation method (Slow Cooker, Oven, Stir Fry or Grill, Simmering) Personally, I categorize my Vegan meals by texture (Soups, Stews, Casseroles, Pilafs & Pastas, Burgers & Wraps). I put meat-based meals on the white cards. These meals offer a variety of dishes and are a complete meal for Omnivore and Vegan alike.

3. Assign a Color to each category. This makes it much easier to see at a glance that your menu has a proper amount of variety.

4. Write Each Meal on a 1/2 of a 3x5 card in the Appropriate Color. (They sell pre-cut 1/2 cards if you really hate the idea of cutting them) You will need at least 28 cards. Many American families are said to rotate through the same 9 to 12 meals over and over again. If you're one of those families, you'll want to duplicate your favorite meals onto cards so that you have at least 28 meal cards.If you like, you can even put the names of favorite restaurants on some cards, if that's where you know you'll be going on occasion.

5. Sort your cards into the pockets of your Jewelry Organizer. The top row will be Sundays, the second row Mondays, the third row Tuesdays, etc. Put  Slow Cooker, Easy, or Pre-prepared meals on the nights when you are very busy. For instance, if you have Church on Wednesday nights, you might want to plan all Slow Cooker Meals for Wednesdays.Generally speaking, you'll just want to make every day a different color - the row for Wednesday might all be green, and the row for Thursday might all be pink.

6. Double-Check your family calendar, and see which cards need to be moved or removed. If you're going out for your Anniversary in two weeks, remove that card. If a Lenten Season Starts at the end of the month, move any meat-based menus you might have put there. (I know most people check the calendar first, but then they're trying to think of too many things when they first arrange their menu. I find it's easier to arrange it all, then just make a few small adjustments. I'm a sequential thinker : ) Put any extra cards in the bottom row of pockets, still sorted by color, for next month's planning. Check to make sure you don't have too many similar meals too close to each other (like if every meal all week involves chicken ; )

7. Don't leave any blank, to be decided, family's choice, etc. The purpose of menu planning is to have a plan for every day.  You can always take a card out & change it if your family really wants take-out pizza one night. Similarly, if you decide to try out a new recipe, you can easily move a card from its place. But, if you put a card in for every day, when the time comes to prepare dinner, you have a plan if nothing else came up.


 It's so easy to plan a month worth of meals this way!

Once I have the plan done, this is how I use it:

1. On Shopping Day, I can easily shop for 7 days worth of meals, and know just what to buy. (I'm considering writing a list of non-staple ingredients for each meal on the back of the card for ease of shopping). This doesn't mean that I necessarily have to eat at home for the next seven days, or that I have to follow my plan if I don't feel like it. It just means that I'm prepared.

The Jewelry Organizer - I found it at my Thrift Store : )
2. If plans change - say if a friend invites us over for dinner, I simply move cards around. I take the card out of the day it is not needed, and use it to "bump" a card for which I have not yet purchased groceries. The unused card goes back into the deck for next month's planning.

3.Similarly, if I have a lot of leftovers one night, the next night's dinner can be moved to another day while we eat leftovers. Alternately, the if we have enough leftovers to make another entire meal, then the meal can be frozen and scheduled as an "official" meal at a later date.

4. I glance ahead and pre-cook a few meals, or pre-prepare a few dressings or sauces to make life easy on another night.

5. I can do appropriate meal preparation at the right time this way. For instance, if an ingredient needs to be thawed, or the slow cooker needs to be set up the night before so that I can have an easy morning the next day - that's easy to do! I'm not left struggling to thaw a frozen entree with only an hour to dinner time.

6. For many meals, I just write the entree down - because I know that I serve things like Bread, Salad, Pickles, Olives, Crudites and Dips routinely, as well as fruit for dessert, without having to write that down.

7. Any time I find a new meal I like to cook - I just add it to the deck!

* If you like, you can involve your family on this one- having each family member choose a certain number of meal cards that they would like to see on the monthly rotation. 

 * If you like to plan three meals and one snack for each day, rather than just planning dinner, you can use this same system to make a week's worth of meals. 


This post was featured on

Oak Hill Homestead
Home Acre Hop

This is being shared at

Menu Plan Monday
Motivation Monday
Clever Chicks
What'd You Do This Weekend
Modest Monday
In & Out of the Kitchen
Healthy, Happy, Green & Natural 
Penny Pinching Party - What's for Dinner? 
Think Tank Thursday 
Home Acre Hop
Inspire Us Thursday 
Hearts for Home 
From the Farm 
Simple Saturdays
Traffic Jam Weekend


  1. I really MUST start doing at least some sort of menu planning. My favorite part of what you did is you can easily see all the grains you have planned for the month so a nice variety is there...same with veggies! Sometimes I get on a kick where I might have Chickpeas 3 times in a week! This way I can try and push a black bean one day then a chickpea then a lima, etc...and with the grains the same thing...I can do Quinoa one day, then brown rice, then Farro, then Cous Cous and so on...I'm going to really try and do some form of this soon :) Thanks for the ideas and pointers :)

  2. Great system and one that can be easily adapted to any style of eating...Thanks Anna!

  3. Very nice idea with the menu planning for a month. Thank you for sharing with the Clever Chicks Blog Hop! I hope you’ll join us again next week!

    Kathy Shea Mormino
    The Chicken Chick

  4. That is a really cool idea!

  5. I'm afraid I'm in the no meal planning department - but I like your method - very ingenious. Cheers from Carole's Chatter

  6. Hi Anna,
    I agree that organization and menu planning is key to a healthy, nutritionally-balanced and cost-effective diet.Thank you for sharing your excellent meal planning system with us at the Healthy, Happy, Green and Natural Party Blog Hop. I am sure so many will benefit from this!

  7. What a simple but practical system. I'll be featuring this at tomorrow's HomeAcre Hop. Thanks for sharing!

    Kathi at Oak Hill Homestead

  8. What a great idea. I used to love menu planning but have found it overwhelming lately!
    Think I will get back into it for the new year :-) Thanks for the motivation!


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