Organization in the Real Food Kitchen: Menu Planning
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Organization in the Real Food Kitchen: Menu Planning

Of all of the things that I spend time planning, the one that I feel probably has the biggest payoff in saving me time, frustration and even money would have to be menu planning!

I’ve been menu planning faithfully for about 3-4 years now. Every once in a while I briefly slip up and go a week or two without proper plans in place. I always, always regret it and wished I had taken the time to plan.

Life has been moving at an even faster pace this year, with the addition of a 3rd baby, a new business, more homeschooling, etc. I needed to figure out some ways to streamline my meal planning even more than before. Here are a few of the things I’ve been trying out that are really working for me.

1) Creating Organized Lists of Meals


This is my list of 21 meals, downloaded from my ListPlanIt membership. Apparently most cooks/families have about 21 meals that they go back to over and over, so it only makes sense to make a list like this one for easy reference. I tend to cook with a bit more variety than that, so choosing my 21 meals was hard (which would explain why I chose 22), but at least now I have a list of our favorites for easy reference when I’m short on time and creativity!

The other thing I’m doing is something I’ve done and recommended doing before, but now I’m doing it in a much more organized manner. I will show you pictures tomorrow when I highlight the ways I’ve been revamping my recipe binder. Basically, I have made themed lists of our favorite meals/recipes, using themes like Meats- Main Dish, Chicken- Main Dish, Vegetarian, Soups/Stews, Salads, Veggies, etc.

What I love about making lists like these is that they provide me with such a quick reference for remembering meals that fit a certain need. Maybe I’ve already got beef on the menu 3 times in a week and I really need to go with poultry. Maybe we’ve been eating a lot of meat lately and I feel like we could use some good vegetarian proteins and fiber, or simply some more cost efficient meals. Maybe I’ve got my main dish selected, but am stuck on a side dish to make with it. Just a quick glance at the appropriate list and I can make a simple choice of a recipe that will work. They’re also perfect if you like to do your meal planning with themes, like Monday is beef and Tuesday is soups/salads. More on these lists tomorrow!

2) Monthly Meal Planning

This hasn’t always been the way that I prefer to do things, but in recent months it has really worked for me to have an entire month’s worth of meals mapped out all at once. It takes a little longer up front, but only a little bit, and then it’s completely done!


Here’s my monthly plan for January dinners, and next to it my breakfast plan (again, both from ListPlanIt). You can see that I’ve already crossed things out, moved things around. I tend to do that and I don’t think there’s anything wrong with it. My meal plan serves me, not the other way around. I keep this up on my fridge and it keeps me right on track.

Though I don’t usually, I’ve also been adding in a breakfast plan this month. We are currently on the Maker’s Diet yet again, and I find that the way to survive on special/restrictive diets is to plan, plan, and plan some more. Normally breakfast feels like an easy thing to do, but on this diet, not so much. Having a breakfast plan just adds to the ease in my kitchen that my dinner plan creates. Note that I only did a 2 week plan because our diet will change again in 2 weeks and I ran out of time to come up with more ideas for the change in foods that we are allowed to eat. So next week, I’ll sit down and finish up the month’s planning.

3) Try a Seasonal Plan

If you don’t like the idea of planning everything out for your entire month at once, or you’d really like to focus on eating seasonal foods but without coming up with new ideas constantly, then making a Seasonal Meal Plan might appeal to you.

I did this back in the late spring, when my husband was on a special diet and I was getting ready to have a baby, and I just needed something that really took the pressure off me for meal planning. I used Passionate Homemaking’s method to make a list of 3-5 meals for each weekday, based on themes (chicken, vegetarian, Ry’s favorites, ethnic, etc.). Then each week I only had to glance at what I had around, choose meals from the list that appealed to me and worked with what I had on hand, then write a short grocery list with the missing items. Sometimes I did it 2 weeks at a time, which was even easier.

For a few other ideas/methods of meal planning (including another method of mine), see my Healthy Homemaking: Meal Planning Primer.

What’s working for your menu planning in this season of life? How have you streamlined your process?

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  1. I’m loving this post! I especially like the tip on seasonal planning. I tend to do more heavy and real cooking during the fall and winter, but in spring and summer I find myself more of an “assembler” – salads, cheese plates, fruits and veggies in pastas. Not as “real” of cooking, in the sense of a stovetop or oven.

    Looking forward to applying some of this to my own kitchen organization this year.
    .-= Kara´s last blog ..Plough Monday: Back to Work =-.

  2. Great post! I plan my meals out monthly. You are right, it does take a little bit more time up front, but it is worth it! I have found I stick to the meal plan so much better than when I was trying to plan meals weekly. I think that while it takes more time up front, it actually saves time in the long run.
    .-= Country Living Mom´s last blog ..Meal Plan Monday =-.

  3. I plan out for the month too…that way I usually only need to go shopping one time. I would like to do more couponing, though, and that is going to mean a shift in how I usually do it. But we’ll see.

    Great tips!!

  4. I am doing an A to Z menu plan. Last week I started out with A….Apples, Appetizers, and Apricots. This is week B–Beef, Broccoli, Beans, BBQ, and “Big Cheesy” mac and cheese.

    I would LOVE to do monthly menu planning so what I have started is a list A to Z of possible recipes. I figure this way we can try new things–ingredients and recipes, and work through the list twice a year!

  5. I basically do it the way you explain in your meal planning primer.

    Two things that have helped me a lot is having a day per week when I always use the crock pot, and a day per week when I either use the crockpot again or have a planned freezer meal. It gives me a break. This is outside of also using the crockpot or freezer meals for times I really need to like if we are out during the day or if I am sick or something.

    I have made a list now and am working on finishing it of all the meals that I can throw together last minute in case I don’t have a freezer meal ready to go. Having the list makes it brainless. Just look at the list. No brain thinking required LOL

    Oh and also, I try to double or triple at least one or two (or more) easily doubled meals per week for the freezer while I am making the meal to eat. Takes very little extra time.

  6. Great post! I’ve been keeping up with your blog lately, and it’s fun to see other women who are doing similar things. It’s affirming really.

    My meal plans are very similar to yours, and it varies with seasons. We’ve just started a NEW season that seems to be much slower.

    After you reviewed ListPlanIt, I was hooked. My hubby gave me the go ahead to get my own membership. It’s great to see how you utilize the menu plan portion of it. Can’t wait to see what works for me!
    .-= Leigh Ann´s last blog ..Fun in the Snow =-.

  7. I just started trying something that I hope is going to work, it’s really helped already. I sat down and put together a basic dinner plan of 5 weeks. All it is is dinner themes, chicken, beef, soup, pasta, pizza, mexican, chinese, ethiopian….all the fun stuff we like to eat. It’s very general, but it gives me a direction for the evening meal and still allows creativity 🙂

  8. I try to plan weekly menu’s as well. I started doing it when I had 2 toddlers and was pregnant again.

    These days, we belong to a CSA so meal planning is harder in the summer since I don’t know what vegetables I have to work with until Thursday. And then I don’t know whether I’ll have bushels of tomatoes or corn to put up either.

    But having some sort of plan is so helpful. It keeps us from making last minute decisions about dinner or spending excess money on take out. And I think it’s easier to look for recipes when I want to try something new when I’m not panicked about dinner in 30 minutes!
    .-= Noelle´s last blog ..vacation pictures =-.

  9. I recently finished planning out 3 months of meals. I am so glad I did. It definitely makes my life easier. A few things that have helped me with meal planning:

    1. Making a list of anything I can make with chicken (enchiladas, soup, salad), then I move onto ground beef (spaghetti, meatloaf, meatballs, etc.), then fish, and so on. One can easily come up with 100 meals!

    2. Have a “theme” for certain nights of the week. We have breakfast one night a week and also pizza & salad night.

    3. Make double batches of meals and freeze!!

  10. I get a produce box from the farmers each week so planning more than a week ahead is not feasible. We eat what is in season and available that week. However, I’ve found that they publish the contents the night before on their website. I’m using this to help plan before going to pick up the box – that way I can round it out at the grocery store.
    .-= Amy @ River Rock Cottage ´s last blog ..Multitude Monday #40-#47 =-.

  11. I tend to plan that we will have the same thing for breakfast for a week (usually beef mixed with eggs, fried potatoes, sometimes gluten-free muffins, fruit, etc.), and the same thing for lunch all week. We spend a lot of time cooking on Sunday and putting away the food for the week. Then I plan only dinners (and lunches on the weekends). It saves me time and it works most of the time. Occasionally I get bored at lunch and I use up something in the pantry. I’d like to hear more about your current diet because we are attempting to follow GAPS and it’s so easy for my husband and daughter but so hard for me. Why are you following it? What do you eat?
    .-= Kate´s last blog ..Mama Cloth =-.

  12. I try to take my daily/weekly schedule into account when I make out my monthly menu plan. For example, I have two days a the week (regularly) that require me to be away from home, so I have it planned to either use the crockpot or have leftovers on those days. I also know that I am usually home and seem to be feeling nestled in on Saturdays, so I like to do a slow cooked meal or one that requires extra steps on those days.

    When I first heard about people making a monthly menu out, I thought it was crazy….but about 2 years ago, I realized I was no longer enjoying cooking, because I couldn’t decide what to make last minute, or didn’t have the appropriate meat thawed, etc. so I decided to give it a try. Menu planning has helped reduce stress and has also minimized the time I spend pacing around and opening the freezer and cabinet doors while trying to decide what to make!

  13. This 21 meal list is really great idea, I sometimes just forget good foods.
    I will make a list and then slowly lengthen it.

    Only new to a meal planning

  14. I’m working on something similar to keep me organised myself… I LOVE that you are ok with changing things around etc… I always feel slightly bummed that my nicely printed and written menu plan gets all messed up, but you are so right.. it is supposed to work for me not look pretty!

    .-= katepickle´s last blog ..Once a Month Scrapping – Februrary! =-.

  15. i have been meal planning since before we were married (now almost 5 years ago). 90% of the time it has been very helpful and budget savvy, but sometimes being a chef gets the better of me and I go on a splurge. It is the only way to go if you want to manage more of your food intake.

  16. Stephanie,
    Any possibility of you sharing those 21 recipes? My biggest obstacle to recipes and menu planning is always that I do not have a repetoire of recipes that we eat regularly. I have to find something in a cookbook or wherever and then try it. So many of them are not good enough to do again. I want to tap into someone else’s tried and true recipes but it’s hard since not that many people eat the way we do. . . So just an idea for another post 🙂

    1. @Theresa, I’d actually like to re-do my 21 recipes, since I find that our tastes and favorites change over time and I made this list quite a while back. Plus, we’ve just gone back on a grain-free diet for the next several months. But, if you look here, you can see the list up close to see the recipes I’ve included.
      Quite a few of them are on my site, under Recipes (
      A few others, like Bierocks (I think she calls it Beef and Cabbage Filling) and Crockpot Chicken Quinoa are from The Nourishing Gourmet blog.
      Hope that helps a little!

  17. Good info. Lucky me I recently found your website by accident (stumbleupon).
    I have book-marked it for later!

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