Menu Planning, Revisited

Heather says:

I have a confession.

I fell off the menu wagon.

I can’t remember exactly when this cycle started, but I think it was just before we left for our trip to Minnesota. Some of you have noticed that the recipes slowed down, others were happy about that. –I can’t please everyone, which drives my approval junkie side crazy.- Our grocery bill has been creeping up, right along with my stress level.

There have been casualties, too.

Black beans for burritos, a bag of green beans, a head of lettuce, all died sad, neglected deaths in my refrigerator. Each day I’d promise, as I threw together some sandwiches, I’ll use you tomorrow. Yesterday evening I hummed Taps as I tossed them into my compost pile. –My neighbors already think I’m weird, why not be entertaining, as well?-

I hate wasting food. It’s a big, messy pile of guilt for me.

The kids? Oh, they’ve been thrilled. There’s nothing in this world they love more than sandwiches or breakfast for dinner. The problem is those things became the norm rather than the treat.

There’s a reason I host the Sunday Confessional. I try to demonstrate a good example in some areas, but that human condition always bites me in the butt. I screw up; I’m fallible. If I let myself get hung up on the idea that I always had to live a perfect example. I’d drive myself and everyone else crazy. I’m annoying enough without being a complete control freak. There is no perfect; it only exists in magazines, romance novels, and TV.

Just like a diet, exercise, or weekly chore schedule, menu planning only works if you follow through with the plan.

Today I’ll be inventorying my refrigerator, freezer, and pantry and creating a new menu. If I have to squeeze in a trip to the grocery store, it will only be for produce, but I’m going to try to hang on until the Farmer’s Market on Saturday.

I’ll be switching the personal weekly menu plans to my personal site, I know some of you enjoy them, but it feels more appropriate to host them over there. In the future (January is my plan) I will be publishing weekly menus with a full shopping list on this site.

What about you?

Are you a menu planner?

Do you want to be?

I have written a series I refer to as the menu planning primer. If you have never tried menu planning, it’s worth a read. Would anyone like this in another format? Trimmed down, prettied up, and placed into a pdf for easy referral, perhaps? Just let me know and I’ll do my best.

Send your questions to


  1. @MusicCityFoodie on October 6, 2010 at 6:14 am

    This is so funny I just did post 10 Meal Planning for Slackers and the Really Busy. I was so into meal planning for a while and then I fell off the wagon. I'm usually planning a day to two ahead at this point and that's fine with me. I may get bak on the wagon when thing slow down for us next month but right now we're winging it.

  2. caryn verell on October 5, 2010 at 8:02 pm

    the only time i actually "plan" a menu is when we have company coming or we are hosting a holiday meal/sunday dinner (which is not as often these days)…when i do the menu thingy it all gets done. doing this menu thingy is just not in our everyday life…i decide what to cook and just do it. then we have days where it is just a matter of deciding which leftover to warm up and consume. and of course we also have " honey, you're on your own this evening" meals. leftovers and "on your own" does not mean that anyone goes undernourished or underfed, or overfed, or get out the junk food, or even take out meals…an on your own night might be soup for me and breakfast for dinner for someone else…and as far as leftovers in my house..if they were good the first night- and stored properly-that means they probably taste better the second time around.

    • HeatherSolos on October 5, 2010 at 8:10 pm

      That works when household members are capable of assembling their own meals. That's just not the case here… yet.

      That said, we do highly value the sit down dinner though. Our lunches our casual. When my husband is on day shift, dinners tend to be a little less formal. It's annoying to prepare foods that is begrudgingly eaten. When he's off or on night shift I put a bit more effort into it.

  3. Stacy on October 4, 2010 at 8:10 pm

    I agree that it's important and everyone should try to do it….but that said, I'm a total loser in this area and have never seriously tried to do it. I'm generally weak in the area of planning anyway, so menu planning falls into that weakness. Every time I see a post like this, I have two feelings: 1. I really should finally do this, and 2. Ugh, it just feels like a big project I don't have time to do. I do something like Keter though–I sort of plan it out in my head a day or so in advance and usually think about how I'm going to repurpose leftovers…well, sometimes. Oftentimes I just get home and figure out what to make.

    Okay, I'm in a good place this week and need to shop within a few days, so I'll work on doing SOME kind of plan. This really should be in the "Sunday Confessional"!

    • HeatherSolos on October 4, 2010 at 9:04 pm

      Not everyone needs the amount of structure we do. If I don't have at least a loose plan, food gets wasted. Throw in some stuff from growing up and I just feel more secure with plenty of food in the fridge and pantry.
      For us, menu planning keeps our costs lower and help us to eat a varied and nutritious diet. There are those out there who use coupons and buy food for pennies on the dollar. That doesn't work for me and Lord knows I hate it when I accidentally end up behind them in line, but I don't judge their methods.
      And of course there are those who don't mind a large or varied food budget.
      I'm not saying you specifically fall into any of those categories, just that there isn't one way to do things.
      I just offer the menu plan guidance for those who need something to get started.

      • Stacy on October 4, 2010 at 10:04 pm

        I'm not sure where we fall in those categories, exactly. What I do is buy things that have some flexibility and that I know I will use. And I'm really into reusing leftovers–either for lunches or dinner another night. Even though I don't plan ahead, I sort of plan as I go, if that makes sense, and I rarely throw out much. I seriously work on making sure we have fresh food every night, usually a salad with several vegetables. For side dishes, they're pretty simple, and I pick one for the night. Potatoes, rice, or pasta, along with one or more cooked vegetables. It's not fancy, but it works for us. I look for some interesting way to make whatever I have on hand. Anyway, I'll try it this week.

        • HeatherSolos on October 5, 2010 at 7:57 am

          That's totally a sort of menu planning. It is flexible and works for your family.
          Is it the same as the person who makes a monthly chart? No, but it's still planning and both are valid methods.
          Yours is just more intuitive and based on your habits than one calculated to match all the sales.

  4. AsimUsta on October 4, 2010 at 5:39 pm

    Menu planning is really important and everyoneshould give it a go. Will check back here regularly to see the new ideas.

  5. julie on October 4, 2010 at 5:17 pm

    I'm a "try to be" menu-planner LOL….I've tried before…..given up and quit LOL…..and am starting again fresh…this is the first week I'm hoping to stick to my menu plan again. I recently got a new organizer (which I LOVE) and it has a space for menu planning—love it-so I'm giving it a go again………..wish me LOTS OF LUCK!!!!

  6. Tinkerschnitzel on October 4, 2010 at 2:52 pm

    I haven't been too bad about menu planning, per se, but the follow through is what's killing me. How I have meals I planned out 3 weeks ago still in the pantry is beyond me. The great news: since Target expanded their grocery area, I've been saving a lot of money on stuff that isn't fresh meat and produce. I haven't been to the regular grocery store in weeks!

  7. Keter on October 4, 2010 at 2:07 pm

    I plan as I go, typically 2-4 days in advance. I cook with the intention to create leftovers that can be repurposed, and I keep on hand sufficient staples to switch to a Plan B if I run out of anything before I intend to go to the store. Cooking and planning for 2 of course is easier than doing so for a full house, but I have a challenge in keeping my husband out of convenience stores for lunches and snacks while I am at work and there are perfectly good foods set out for him in the refrigerator.

    BTW, Heather, as cooler weather is here, can you help me out with some hot (non wheat) cereal alternatives that are interesting and filling enough to keep him from pigging on convenience store pastries and donuts at midmorning?.

  8. @MrsBYork on October 4, 2010 at 12:55 pm

    We've fallen out of this habit, too – and the regular chore schedule, and looking after the allotment. It's been a weird summer, with various illnesses & accidents, my husband graduating from university & being promoted at work within a couple of weeks – & with the new job comes longer hours.

    I'm hoping that the new season & a new kitchen diary will help get me back on track, and I'll check back here to see if anyone's got any great ideas!

  9. Lucy on October 4, 2010 at 8:39 am

    In August our son, age 27, moved out. Hubby and I went a little nuts, eating what we wanted, when we wanted, no plan. Then hubby got pnuemonia and we ate whatever he felt up to eating. As of last week we are back on track and using a menu plan, but it sure was a drag to re-inventory everything.

  10. FireMom on October 4, 2010 at 8:21 am

    I am a menu planner. We do two weeks at a time. We went light on the menu planning right at the end of summer due to multiple vacations and general craziness. We were thrilled to get back on our plan, both money and food wise!

  11. Leigh on October 4, 2010 at 8:11 am

    I LOVE Plan to Eat – it has literally changed my life when it comes to menu planning: – it builds my shopping list for me and saves all my recipes online. love love LOVE.

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