Menu Planning Basics

Menu Planning Basics

When it comes to successfully pulling off delicious, healthy-ish meals during the busy week, it all begins with THE PLAN. It seems like a lot of work, but I promise it makes life so much easier during the week if you’re already planned, stocked, and ready to roll. I did the same thing when I worked because I knew I wouldn’t have the mental or physical strength to whip something up on-the-fly during the week.

I make a plan using our calendar first. I see what nights we’ll be home, what nights I’ll probably be too exhausted to cook, and what nights we want to possibly go out to eat. Then, from that, I decide how many dinners we’ll need.

menu planning

Before I keep going with the “how-to” of our menu planning, lemme tell ya about our kitchen situation.

There are a few things we always have in our pantry + fridge:

a ridiculous amount of spices (just keep the ones you use all the time – I cook A LOT, so I’ve got more than any human should frankly)

yellow onion (I use this for almost every recipe minus Mexican cooking)


canned, diced tomatoes + Rotel + green chiles

good spaghetti sauce

rice + pasta + egg noodles

EVOO (extra-virgin olive oil) + unsalted butter

soy sauce + Worcestershire + BBQ + Sambal Oelek + Dijon (basically – all the good condiments)

cream of mushroom/chicken + chicken/beef/vegetable broth

For us, it’s important that we have meals that are quick, able to be prepped in advance, and healthy-ish. I say healthy-ish because life is all about balance: a little veggie here + a little carb here ain’t never hurt nobody. I save the really elaborate meals for the weekend or a special occasion. I also use A LOT of freezer friendly meals. Like, A LOT. Our freezer is stocked for the apocalypse if I’m being honest.

Here are some things you can find in our freezer right now: 

homemade chicken stock (I label the tops – just forgot to before I took this pic)

Homemade Chicken Stock

cooked, shredded chicken

cooked shredded chicken

Pioneer Woman’s Meatballs

pioneer woman freezer meatballs

premade Mexican Tostada Casserole (recipe coming soon!)

mexican tostada casserole

easily-thawed + already cooked breakfasts

Hash Brown Quiche

hash brown quiche

frozen meat + seafood (chicken, ground beef, shrimp, pork chops, sausage, etc.)

frozen green peas + individual vegetable servings (the Green Giants Just-for-One Steamers are our fave)

I also have a lot of meals that are leftovers that I’ve frozen. These come in handy, too, because they’re something I can pull from the freezer, thaw for a couple of days, and then serve hot with some sides.

[ — Click here for some freezer friendly meals — ]

I save Crock Pot meals for Wednesdays because Hump Day seems so much happier when dinner’s done by 9 a.m. I usually do all the laundry and crazy errands during the day, too. I know I’ll be pooped in the evening (more than usual), but at least I don’t have to cook on top of it all.

[ — Click here for some of our favorite Crock Pot meals — ]

So, here’s the breakdown of how I menu plan: 

1 – Check the calendar for days we’ll be home for dinner and days that we’re very busy (and unlikely to cook).

menu planning basics

2 – Look at the recipes I’m wanting to cook that week. I always save recipes I really want to eat for the end of the week. That way, I know I’ll still have the desire to cook. If I try to save the healthiest, most difficult recipe for a Thursday, 9 times out of 10, I don’t make it.

menu planning basics

3 – Go through the recipes and write down ingredients I’ll need to purchase.

menu planning basics

4 – Re-order the grocery list so that it’s in the order of how I walk through the store. I usually start in the produce aisle, make my way to the deli + meat + cheese, and go from there. Re-ordering the list just makes my life so much easier, especially when Corey’s with me.

5 – I go to the store on Tuesday mornings when it’s super empty. That way I can browse and not feel like I’m bumping into 28 people down every aisle. I know that’s not possible for everyone because of work – I totally get that. I would also recommend ordering recipes based on the day you go to the store. What I mean by that is, for example, if you want to cook seafood, you should plan to cook it on the day you go to the store or the day after. Just think about the ingredients and how long they’ll last in the fridge.

6 – I prep what I can either days in advance or during nap time. For example, if I know I’ll need to chop a bunch of stuff, I’ll chop it during Corey’s nap. Or, if I have something that’s a little time consuming like making a sauce or meatballs, I’ll do that a day in advance.

7 – I also write down and set reminders to pull things that need to thaw from the freezer. I always forget to do this unless I make sure to intentionally remind myself!

And that’s it! Of course, there are days when my plan goes to the pooper, and we’re left with frozen pizza or Chinese delivery. Life happens, but we try to always stay a step ahead with this plan.

Just as an example, here’s our menu plan for this week:

Sunday: Michael Symon’s Skirt Steal Pinwheels with Garlic + Rosemary, Corrales Casserole, and Asparagus Caprese Salad (recipe also coming soon) — see: fancy for the weekend AND FOOTBALL!

Monday: Leftover previously frozen pot roast + roasted green beans

Tuesday: The big man starts preschool, so Mama ain’t cookin’! We’ll probably get something to-go or just have leftovers again.

Wednesday: CROCK POT WEDNESDAY!!! Slow-Cooker Beef Tacos with Salsa Verde + Mexican Vegetable Medley

Thursday: Cumin-Dusted Chicken Breasts with Guacamole Sauce + Cheesy Cauliflower Rice + some kind of veggie

Friday: “It’s the freakin’ weekend baby, and I’m ’bout ta have me some fun”

How do y’all menu plan? What’s important for your family when it comes to weeknight dinners (nutrition, time, ease of recipe, etc.)?

Happy Football Sunday, my friends! GO TEXANS!

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