Monday, September 12, 2011

Menu Planning

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One of the most rewarding aspects of motherhood is feeding my family. Putting meals on the table that will nourish and satisfy my husband and children bring a sense of joy and fulfillment to my heart. But it can also be challenging and overwhelming keeping a family fed three times a day, every day!

Growing up, my mom would write down meals for the week, and then compose a coordinating grocery list. So, when I got married, I did the same. Each week, for years, I would sit down and think about what we were going to eat for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. As my big girls got older, they too would help in this area.

But it was still a big job! Especially as our family grew. Often times, just sitting there thinking of what to eat was mentally exhausting.

One day it occurred to me....why not put this menu into a database, with the coordinating shopping list, and hit "SAVE"!!   And, each time we write a new menu, we'll do the same and eventually accumulate many menus from which we will rotate. Then, all we have to do is print off a menu and coordinating list and shop! 

So that's what we have done for the last seven to eight years. We now have about ten menus that rotate every two weeks. If we get tired of a particular meal, or want to incorporate a new recipe, we simply change it out on the database and adjust the ingredients on the list.  Done!  So much easier than starting from scratch each time.

For us, two week menus work best since my husband gets paid every two weeks.  In addition, I only have to 'big' shop twice a month instead of four.  But plan your menu according to what works best for your family schedule.  Whether weekly, bi-monthly, or monthly, having an organized menu plan will save time and money in the end.

Here is the menu we are currently using.  Click on image to enlarge.

And here is the coordinating grocery list.  (click on image to enlarge)

As you can see, this list contains only food items that we need for every recipe on the menu. If we need to restock other items such as cleaning supplies, paper products, or toiletries, we simply add them to the end of the list where it says "Other Items Needed".

The night before we shop, we print off our list and go through the freezer, fridge, and pantry and cross off anything we do not need.  For instance, we have yeast on the list because we bake breads, rolls, etc.  But since we buy yeast in bulk, we don't always need to restock it.  Same goes for Chicken Stock.  I almost always make my own, so I rarely have to buy it.  But, I have it on the list just in case I don't have any in the freezer.  It's always best to include all ingredients on your list, and simply cross off what you don't need.  The key is ensuring you have all the ingredients you need to prepare your meals so that you're not running to the to the store in a pinch.

What if I don't want to prepare or eat what is planned on that particular day?

Because we've shopped for everything on the list, we're free to swap dishes as we please.  If we've had a hectic day and there is a more labor intensive meal planned that day, we just switch out for something faster or easier to prepare.  Or, if another meal sounds better that day, we switch.  The important element here is that you have everything on hand, and you don't have to think about what to eat.  This also helps us to look ahead and get meat out of the freezer and into the fridge for thawing.

We try to balance our meals.  Some require a little more prep time or cooking time.  Some are quick and easy.  Some are cheap and some require more costly ingredients.  We like variety in the meals themselves, as well as the work involved.

What is FFY? 

FFY is Fend For Yourself.  Since we usually eat a big lunch on Sunday, dinner is usually clearing out leftovers, or making a sandwich, or snacking on fruit and crackers.  Greg and I tend to the little ones, but the older, capable kids fend for themselves!

In our family, life is so busy and there's much work to be done.  This menu system has saved a lot of time.....and gas.  Since we've shopped for everything we'll need, I'm not running back and forth to the store.  If we need milk or fresh produce, we make a stop while we're out running other errands.  The best part is...I never have to stare into the fridge, ominously trying to decide what to make for dinner. 

So how about you?  What are your favorite tips for feeding your family with efficiency?  Do you have any questions about my system?  Please leave a comment...I'd love to hear from you!

Photo Credit


  1. What a fantastic idea! Since I've been married (almost 7 years) I do as you used to do, planning eaching meal through each week for every day. I am only now starting to tire of this because as you said, just thinking about it takes a chunk of time and I do not as many chunks now that we are doing school each day and the baby doesn't nap as much. I think I will start to work on something similar to what you do now. Once again...fantastic idea! Thank you!

  2. Thanks Candice! This really is a great idea. I often get home and just don't know what to fix, having not gotten any meat out of the freezer. Some days I'm organized and get the crock pot going, but it seems that there are more days I'm at a loss. I will certainly try this out and see if it changes things for me.

  3. Anonymous2:59 PM

    Hi Candace. I googled how to feed a large family healthy foods on a budget and stumbled across your blog. I'm thrilled because I fully expected whatever I stumbled upon wouldn't consider "big" big enough. Most think 4 kids is a lot. I'm blessed with 6. You're at 10 and that's impressive. And having the boys is key to my search for how to feed my teenage boys healthy foods and keep them happy and satisfied! Thank you for your meal planning tips. I also homeschool my girls and think I'll incorporate the meal planning into our school days. Why not, right? Why am I opening my fridge or freezer trying to figure this out every couple of days and why in the world am I at different grocery stores several times a week? I'm such an organized person and this is an area I've failed at. So you've given me inspiration and I will try to visit your other blogs as time allows. Thanks for now! Shannon, blessed mom of 2 boys and 4 girls, and 3 angels that never made it to live in our day to day life but are preparing the way for us in heaven! :)

    1. Shannon,

      Thanks so much for stopping by and commenting! I agree....many "large family" posts don't usually apply to families of our size. I'm so glad you found my tips helpful! I hope you'll stop by again and let me know how the meal planning is going!


  4. Anonymous4:44 PM

    This is fab! I was wondering if you could publish exactly how to make up the database as I'd love to try and do that myself with some of my own recipes?

    1. Hello...let me first apologize for just now responding. I'm terrible about going back and checking comments on older posts.

      As far as making up a database, I just used Word and typed it all out. Even the lines. lol I'm sure there is a much easier way, but that's how I do mine. I hope that helps! :)

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