Reader’s Request: Weekly Menu Planning

Hi guys and happy Tuesday! Keep those entries coming for the Chobani giveaway until midnight EST tonight and I’ll announce the winners in tomorrow morning’s post.

I have a little favor to ask of my readers. If you love me (or just like me), will you please nominate Beth’s Journey for the Women’s Health Mag Blogroll?  As you may or may not know, this is my favorite magazine of all time, and I would be beyond honored to be on their blogroll! I can be entered as a weight loss or health blogger, which ever you like, and I would be so appreciative!

To address some of the questions from the giveaway, I’m going to do a Reader’s Request Mini-Series on the blog, addressing Weekly Menu Planning, Staying Motivated, Navigating Social Situations, Getting Back on Track, Tips for Other Bloggers, and any other topics that come up/I feel like deserve their own post. Feel free to leave a comment or shoot me an email if there’s any other ideas you guys would like me to address in the series.


I’m going to kick it off with Weekly Menu Planning, because that’s one of the things I get asked about the most.

  • How do I go about approaching my week in terms of eating/meal planning?
  • Do I plan out all my meals and then go shopping?
  • Where do I come up with meal ideas?
  • Does it take a lot of time to plan?

Because my approach is pretty simple/straight forward as it applies to menu planning, it doesn’t take up a lot of time for me at all. I have enough else going on in my life that I don’t want it to add too much to my to-do list and make it feel like a chore. I don’t really do things “right” per say because what you should probably do is plan and then shop, and I do it the other way. It works for me though!

I only started doing any meal planning at all over the last couple months, and its made a huge difference in staying on track, keeping my food budget low, and cooking at home more. When I make a list of dinners for the week that I’m actually excited about, I have less of a desire to go out to eat and feel a lot less stressed when I get home and am hungry since I have a semi-plan in place. Some people are much better than I am at meal/menu planning because what I do is very, very basic, but the strategy I use helps me to get the benefits of meal planning without adding any stress to my plate. Here are ten key things for me:

  1. I take a look at my week and what I have going on and plan accordingly. This week, for example, I have stuff going on every single night after work, so I only need to plan 1-2 dinners for the week. Because I’ll be out to dinner a lot of nights, I also pulled out a few frozen calzones to bring for lunches (these ones are artichoke and spinach stuffed, but same recipe). Since I’m not cooking too much, I also am going to try to only go to the store to pick up some fruits and veggies for snacks, since I already have tofu and tempeh in my fridge and that should cover protein for the week’s meals. Most weeks I have a lot less going on though, so I am looking at 4-5 meals at home rather than 1-2.
  2. I go grocery shopping at least once a week. I always check my fridge before I go to see what I already have/what I need to use so it doesn’t go bad before I get to it. At the store, I try to focus on the perimeter, usually spending most of my time in the produce section finding the best deals. I also try to pick up 2-3 sources of protein – tofu, tempeh, beans, shrimp, or other fish that’s on sale. Besides protein and produce, I also pick up some staples like CHEESE (always), greek yogurt, cottage cheese, and skim milk. You can see my Food Staples that I recently updated if you’re looking for specifics.
  3. I keep a draft in my gmail inbox with the subject Menu Ideas/Meal Planning, so that I can go in there and update it and its a living document. Some people would do better with an excel spreadsheet, but I have my blog to reference back if I’m looking for ideas or want to reintroduce things I’ve recently tried. At the top of this draft, I list a few ideas for both dinner and sides that I’m interested in trying that week based on what I’ve purchased at the grocery store and/or have in my freezer/pantry. Below the dinner ideas, I have each day of the week listed with breakfast, lunch, snack, and dinner slots to fill in. At the beginning of the week I just clear the day plans out as well as the meals I’ve made from the top section, and start again. Sometimes I’ll have an idea that I don’t put into action, so I’ll just leave that on the list. This week I have soba noodles with peanut flour sauce that carried over from last week’s “plan”. (If you’re looking for a sample of this super sophisticated document, you can click here to see the one I’m currently working with).
  4. I don’t plan exactly what I’m going to have for dinner each night – I usually just have a three-four dinner ideas mapped out and then make whatever one I feel like that night when I get home.
  5. Dinner ideas come mostly from my head/what I’m craving/what I buy at the grocery store (which is 99% what I can find cheap/on sale). I normally sway towards Asian or Mexican themed dishes because those are what I like the best. I also read a lot of healthy living blogs and will get ideas from those and add those to my list of meal ideas. I am really bad at following recipes, so I don’t write them down in my gmail draft, I just put an idea and then bring it to life in my kitchen. For others, it might be helpful to print out recipes you see that you want to make if you’re better at following them than I am.
  6. I pack my breakfasts, lunches, and snacks the night before so that it’s one less thing to do in the morning. Lunches are almost always leftovers from dinner the night before, and I plan accordingly when I make dinner. A lot of times I’ll portion out lunch along with dinner so that I make sure to have lunch ready to go/don’t go back for seconds.
  7. For breakfasts – I’m pretty boring. I usually have the same thing for most of the week. Currently, I switch weeks back and forth between doing Heat n Eat Steel Cut Oats with peanut flour and a banana or frozen fruit, or this week I’ve been doing greek yogurt with wheat berries and frozen berries. I measure out the wheat berries and greek yogurt the night before as well as add the frozen fruit to the container so it thaws out overnight and I can just grab the food bag in the morning. If it ain’t broke…
  8. Lunches, as I said above, are almost always leftovers from dinner the night before. If I’m not going to be making dinner, I try to plan ahead and pull something out of the freezer, or make sure I have a few staples on hand for a simple lunch like a mashed bean sandwich (so good!) with veggies and fruit or a sweet potato with black beans and salsa, and a salad on the side.
  9. I usually use Sundays as a day to make some things that will last all week. I love making a batch of black beans that will change your life (they really will), freezing half, and then keeping half in the fridge for a quick protein kick during the week. I also like to make a few servings of a grain – like quinoa, wheat berries, or bulgur – and keep a tub of that in my fridge for a quick option. Finally, I try to chop up some fruit and veggies on Sundays so that I can just grab them anytime and they don’t require any prep.
  10. I always have ingredients on hand for a few quick and healthy meals that I love that I can have ready in 10-15 minutes or less. This way if something comes up and I have to stay late at work/am starving by the time I get home, I can be eating very shortly after walking in the door. Besides the sweet potato black bean combo mentioned above, I always have ingredients on hand for quesadillas (corn tortillas + cheese + black or pinto beans and veggies with salsa on the side), linguini with white clam sauce (whole wheat pasta, canned clams, parmesan, red pepper flakes, evoo), or an open-faced banana, peanut butter, and chocolate chip sandwich (love this any moment of the day).

Whew! Sorry for the super wordy post – guess I  had more to say on the topic than I thought!

So what about you? Do you do menu planning or what is your approach to eating? Do you shop and then plan, plan and then shop, or just shop without a plan?

38 Comments on Reader’s Request: Weekly Menu Planning

  1. Stacy @ Every Little Thing
    February 22, 2011 at 8:39 am (10 years ago)

    I tweeted you about this too haha, but I definitely meal plan. I plan 3-4 dinners a week for my boyfriend and I, count on one night being leftovers, and two nights out. We enjoy eating out and right now can afford it, so I’m OK with that.

    I’ll go through a recipe bookmark folder, my cookbooks, and magazines, to see what I want to make. I’m trying to make 1-2 non-meat entrees a week, and so far it’s working out well. I also try and not do pasta every night, or mexican every night. I’m using this as a learning experience so I wouldn’t be learning much if I made spaghetti every night!

    Then, I check out my coupons. I try and match those up with store sales on a weekly basis and buy my dinner ingredients that way.

    It really helps to know the stores you regularly shop in. For example, I know that WF and TJ’s tend to have way cheaper canned organic beans and tomatoes than my regular store, so I try and get there for those.

    I usually end up going to 2-3 grocery stores within a week. It truly doesn’t take THAT much extra time, but the planning part does a bit.

    I also eat local food as much as possible, so in the spring I plan to get all produce, eggs, meat, and bread from the farmer’s market. I’m going this Saturday to the winter one and will probably come back with a haul!

    I’ve been thinking about doing a meal-planning post coming up soon, so thanks for the inspiration! If anyone has any questions, I’m always up for answers!

    • Beth
      February 22, 2011 at 12:38 pm (10 years ago)

      Wowza you are way better than me! I’m impressed Stacy!

  2. Jennifer
    February 22, 2011 at 9:34 am (10 years ago)

    I submitted a nomination for your great blog. Good luck!

    Throughout the week, I think of things I want to make / new recipes I want to try for the next week and add the things I’ll need to buy to an ongoing grocery list. Then I go to store, usually on Saturday. Most of my cooking is done on Sundays so I have leftovers for the week / to freeze. I also make my lunches and breakfasts the night before, so I can just throw them in my lunch bag and go.

    My biggest problem is my pantry/freezer. I live alone and I have enough food in there to feed a family of 4 for months! I need to work on a plan to use up some staples.

    • Beth
      February 22, 2011 at 9:35 am (10 years ago)

      Thank you!!!!

      And I agree – I want to do a pantry challenge to use up all the things in my freezer/pantry. I have enough in there to last several weeks – especially with frozen veggies. Maybe I’ll do that in March!

  3. Stephanie @ The Cookie Battle
    February 22, 2011 at 9:54 am (10 years ago)

    Most of the time I shop then plan, unless I find a meal that I am literally dying to try and then I go out and buy the ingredients for it…but usually I go to the grocery store on Sunday mornings, do my bulk cooking, and then plan my meals around what food I have in the house. I do this because I like to buy what’s on sale and because I get random cravings, so it’s best to buy the stuff I crave up front 🙂

    • Beth
      February 22, 2011 at 9:55 am (10 years ago)

      sounds like we have a very similar style of planning.

  4. Lisa @ I'm an Okie
    February 22, 2011 at 10:17 am (10 years ago)

    I’m about to be living alone again so I feel like my meal planning system is going to have to change a little bit! I’ll get back to ya on how I do it once it gets tweaked! Great tips though.

    • Beth
      February 22, 2011 at 10:21 am (10 years ago)

      Ohh yeah I’ll be interested to see how it evolves for you! I mostly cook for one myself.

  5. Victoria (District Chocoholic)
    February 22, 2011 at 10:29 am (10 years ago)

    Numbers 6, 8, and 9 are important for everybody, and I also implement number 1 and 10 because of business travel. So nice to have frozen stuff on hand when I come home so that I don’t have to hit the grocery store right away.

    Microwave in bag frozen veggies are key.

    • Beth
      February 22, 2011 at 10:32 am (10 years ago)

      You know I only recently started packing my breakfast/lunch the night before. It used to take me so long int he mornings that I’d always be late to work, but this way it’s one less thing to think about!

  6. Amy @ Second City Randomness
    February 22, 2011 at 10:38 am (10 years ago)

    I have a general meal plan- not a strict one. Because if I plan every single thing out, I know I’ll end up eating pb sandwiches every other night. Just because. It also helps that I make mini trips to the grocery store- gives me more flexibility if I want to switch it up a little instead of being tied down to the large amount of food that just HAS to be used before it goes bad…

    • Beth
      February 22, 2011 at 10:41 am (10 years ago)

      See the thing for me is that I LOVE grocery shopping. If I allow lots of little shopping trips, I end up spending a ton of money, unless they are pointed trips just to pick up a few things (like last night – I just went for fruit and veggies and spent $20 on lots of stuff).

  7. Holly
    February 22, 2011 at 10:39 am (10 years ago)

    We eat the same things for breakfast every day — and lunches are usually leftovers so I’m good there. For dinners, I try to plan that all out on Sundays — that way I can get to the store and get most of my shopping done. Then, in the middle of the week I can finished planning the rest of the week and go to the store for a 2nd time — plus I can pick up extra produce, etc.

    Great tips Beth!

    • Beth
      February 22, 2011 at 10:50 am (10 years ago)

      Yeah I don’t mind going again if it’s for something specific. i get into trouble if I go to the store without a list or a plan because I could browse and buy things for hours!

  8. Jamie
    February 22, 2011 at 11:02 am (10 years ago)

    I nominated you Beth- I love your blog! It is actually the first healthy lifestyle blog that I ever read and now I am addicted to them LOL!

    I usually search for recipes that I want to make and then print them out and shop accordingly. I am not as good at just throwing things together as you are- I need more structure.

    • Beth
      February 22, 2011 at 11:04 am (10 years ago)

      Aww thank you Jamie!! It’s funny how addictive the whole blog world is, isn’t it?

      I’m sure I’d do well WITH more structure, but I am too scatterbrained to plan things well.

  9. Katie Photiadis
    February 22, 2011 at 11:25 am (10 years ago)

    Beth, what a cool graphic! I love how the food looks like it’s popping out of the planner. I think you have a lot of great suggestions here, from cooking on Sundays to keeping important staples in the house. I really need to get better at this!

    • Beth
      February 22, 2011 at 11:26 am (10 years ago)

      I think I have a lot of areas for improvement in this area too since I just started, but I know I’m doing some things right.

  10. Tina @ Faith Fitness Fun
    February 22, 2011 at 11:46 am (10 years ago)

    You’re nominated! 😀

    And I do menu planning as well. Although my process isn’t near as well put together as yours.

    • Beth
      February 22, 2011 at 11:48 am (10 years ago)

      Thanks Tina! It’s funny you say that because I don’t consider my plan well put together at all!

  11. Andrea @ Vegvacious
    February 22, 2011 at 12:52 pm (10 years ago)

    When I meal plan, I tend to spend a lot less on food, have less wasted food that ends up in the trash and stay on the healthy eating track rather than falling victim to fast food or pre-packaged, not so healthy convenience items.

    I am like you as I cannot have a really strict schedule as to what I am going to eat when because inevitably I don’t want that meal on that particular day.

    Planning with some flexibility works best (for me anyways!)

    • Beth
      February 22, 2011 at 12:54 pm (10 years ago)

      Same here! If I have TOO strict of a plan, I want to rebel against it and not make what I have planned. Having a loose plan is what works best for getting the benefits, but still being able to stick to it.

  12. lucky girl@confessionsofafattywithnoself-control.blogspot
    February 22, 2011 at 1:11 pm (10 years ago)

    I just started meal planning last week, so far so good!! I love already knowing what we are having for dinner. I think I will probably shop and then plan, but we will see.

  13. Lisa
    February 22, 2011 at 1:30 pm (10 years ago)

    Meal Planning was not something the bf and I did until recently. We started out of a desire to go to the grocery store less often. And it’s helped!

    It was rocky at first but now we have a system that works really well. Whenever I find recipes I want to try, I email them all in one email to the bf who converts them to PDF files in Google Docs. We share the recipes and then once a week plan our meals and go shopping once that week.

    We often have to make 1 more trip to the store to get last minute things but that’s ok.

    • Beth
      February 22, 2011 at 1:32 pm (10 years ago)

      Almost all of my planning is done for one, so its kind of nice not to have to consult with someone else! I saw that when you first tried it Michael was offended that you didn’t include him in the planning process – I bet it goes much more smoothly when you both are on the same page!

  14. Jacqueline Lewis-Lyons
    February 22, 2011 at 2:00 pm (10 years ago)

    One more nomination for you – I look forward to your blog everyday. Especially the recipes. Thanks for the meal planning ideas, that’s an area I need to work on.

    • Beth
      February 22, 2011 at 2:10 pm (10 years ago)

      Aww thank you Jacqueline! New recipe coming soon! 🙂

  15. Ang
    February 22, 2011 at 4:36 pm (10 years ago)

    I sort of have a mental plan going on. I make a list of must have items on Sunday and hit the store. Then I fill in the gaps based on what is on sale, new, or just looks good.

    Monday mornings I bring a large container of yogurt, a bag of frozen fruit, and a bag of almonds to work to keep in the fridge for breakfasts all week. For lunch I pack leftovers the night before because I’m terrible in the morning. I have a general idea of what I’m having for dinner each night but have quick items like GF frozen pizza crusts, eggs, bread, ect. in case I don’t feel up to cooking or have to work late. It could be more organized but it works.

    Nominating you! 🙂

  16. Lisa (bakebikeblog)
    February 22, 2011 at 5:33 pm (10 years ago)

    I am a HUGE planner when it comes to meals. I generally prepare our menu plan and shopping list on Friday – and hit the shops on Saturday or Sunday. AS Mr BBB and I both work full time, I find that it works for us – and helps make sure we eat balanced meals!

  17. Shannon [Tropical Eats]
    February 22, 2011 at 9:18 pm (10 years ago)

    great tips! love the gmail draft idea.

    I usually scan food blogs Sunday afternoon for easy/cheap recipes the next week. Love the leftovers!

  18. Jackie SMaSH
    February 22, 2011 at 9:36 pm (10 years ago)

    I just found your blog and I love it! You are so honest and thoughtful. I’ve sent the link to all of my friends. Your tips are super easy and you always seem to blog about the things I want to know! Keep it up!

    • Beth
      February 22, 2011 at 9:55 pm (10 years ago)

      Aww thank you so much Jackie!! Glad you found me!

  19. Lynne
    February 22, 2011 at 10:18 pm (10 years ago)

    Hi – new reader here…..I just started following Every Little Thing, and you are on her blog roll.

    I do try to plan my menus, because it saves money by keeping me from giving up and getting takeout. I look at the grocery ads every week. We buy what’s on sale, and plan our menus around that. I get recipes from blogs, and from cookbooks that I’ve collected over the years. I am looking forward to getting recipes from here too!

    • Beth
      February 22, 2011 at 10:19 pm (10 years ago)

      Hi Lynne! So glad you found me! Check out the Top Recipes page for some ideas. Make the Quinoa Burgers and the Egg Souffle – those two are my favorites!

  20. healthyteacher
    February 23, 2011 at 1:04 am (10 years ago)

    Love this. Our process is very similar!

  21. Malikah
    February 23, 2011 at 2:56 pm (10 years ago)

    LOVE this post. I’m really trying to get back to the basics and start losing on WW again. Eating out and lack of planning are my biggest issues. Thanks for the tips.

  22. Liz
    February 23, 2011 at 4:42 pm (10 years ago)

    I nominated you, I hope you win!

  23. Monica
    February 23, 2011 at 5:23 pm (10 years ago)

    I would be happy to vote for you on Women’s Health! I love your blog!

    Very fun post, it is always cool to hear how others handle meal planning.

    I am a meal planning kind of girl, and then assemble my grocery list, and stick to it pretty closely for the most part. I tend to only plan dinner though as lunch is typically leftovers or a typical salad, and breakfast I go with whatever I am craving and keep all sorts of options on hand.


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