Menu Planning




(Updated 5/13/13)  

Ever since my oldest was 2 (he’s now 12!), I’ve used a 4 week rotating menu plan.  The recipes in the plan I have today look nothing like the ones in that first plan, but the concept has changed very little since then.  This is definitely something that works for me!

It takes a bit of work to set this system up, but once you get all the information together and organized you will find it is easy to maintain and even change to suit your family’s evolving tastes.

First, gather 28 of your family’s favorite dinners together.  Don’t forget side dishes!

Next, create a 4-week calendar and figure out what day each meal will be on.  You can organize this any way you’d like.  For example, I like to have a different theme for each day of the week: Vegetarian Sunday, Pasta Tuesday, Fun Thursday, International Saturday.  You get the idea.  I like to experiment with new dishes, so I built that into my calendar as well.  It’s a good idea to record where to find each recipe on the calendar as well.  Most of my recipes come from Food Network Magazine so I put the series:volume and page# under the corresponding recipe.  You could also use an abbreviation of the cookbook along with the page number.  For example “The Joy of Cooking” could be JOY with the page number.

I made my calendars using my word processing software and the table function.  I chose to do it that way because I’m comfortable manipulating the tables there.  The key is to use whatever program is easy and comfortable for you.  I would love to have a downloadable, fill-in-able template for you, but I’m not that computer savvy!

Since we homeschool, I feed my kids all their meals so I’ve created calendars for breakfast and lunch (on a weekly rotation) as well.

When it comes time to go shopping, I just look at my calendars for the week, pull out the recipes I have planned and make my shopping list from them.  In the past I’ve tried to create a recipe book of my monthly plan, but I find I change it too often to make that practical.  Maybe a 3-ring binder with page protectors so I can change out the recipes when I need to.  I’ll let you know if I ever get around to it!

If you’re really ambitious you could enter all your recipes at  They have a cool calendar feature that will also create a shopping list for you from the recipes you enter.  It requires a lot of data entry though unless you can find your recipes on the site already.

I find that when I’m organized I feel like I have more time and patience to do the important things, like teaching my kids to cook!  I have a lot of different ways I organize my life and home, but this one is the one I’ve used the longest and changed the least over the years.  Hopefully it will work as well for you!

Do you plan your meals ahead?  What works for you?

Update: 5/12/13

Still using this system!  And I’ve changed the menus quite a bit since I wrote this post.  I thought it might be helpful to explain the process I use to update the calendars.  The calendars are stuck inside one of my cabinet doors, the one containing my cookbook collection (see the photo at the beginning of the post).  If there is a change I want to make, I’ll just pencil it in.  If it’s a big edit, I use small sticky notes.  I also put meals we are auditioning on small sticky notes; you can see them off to the side.  When the calendar is so full of edits that I can’t read it anymore, then I go to the computer, transfer the changes to my master copy, and print out a fresh calendar.  Ah, nice clean calendar, for a few days anyway!  Yeah, not very fancy but hey, it works and I use it, which is the important part anyway.  No sense in having this great organizational tool if you never use it.

Looking for more ways to organize mealtimes?  Food Network has a great app for iPad: Food Network in the Kitchen.  It has all the recipes you’d find at, plus access to your recipe box (you have to set it up on the website), how-to videos, a shopping list, and a great meal planner.  A more limited form of the app is also available for iPhone.  You can see screen shots for both here.  If you use recipes from Food Network often (and I do) you will find this app indispensable!  No, they are not paying me to say that. (I wish!)


10 responses »

  1. I have no organization. I mostly go for easy stand-bys or when I really have no idea I skim through the cookbook and look for the one that takes the least time that I have most of the important ingredients to. Yeah, I’m a lazy cook. I should try your system. WINK

  2. You’ve inspired me before, and it really does work well. But you’re right – I need to redo my plan as our tastes/recipes change. Thanks for the reminder!

  3. I was listening to Terri Gross interview Ruth Reichl (who is or was the editor-in-chief for Gourmet magazine) and Ms. Reichl was saying that the hardest part of cooking dinner is the deciding what to have. Once you decide, and do the shopping, the actual preparation is usually short. I think your system would really cut down the deciding and shopping time and make the whole process a lot more doable.

    • Liz, that is so true! After years of doing it this way, I’ve finally got enough of a handle on dinner that I don’t feel too overwhelmed to try new dishes every so often. Although maybe my kids getting older is a bigger factor. 😉

  4. Pingback: Baked Carrot and Potato Fries {Perfectly Seasoned}

    • Good question! My husband usually takes any leftovers we have to work the next day for lunch, but if there are a lot then yes, I just leave out a meal. That doesn’t happen very often anymore since I have two teenage boys to feed! I don’t view my plan as set in stone, and I frequently change it if there’s something that doesn’t work for my week (i.e. holidays!).

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