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How to Create a Menu Plan – 5 Tips for Getting Started

Looking to save money? Get organized? Trying to make your groceries go further? Learn how to create a menu plan with these 5 tips for getting started.

Calendar with pen and cookbooks

Menu planning can be a life saver when you are trying to become organized. It is also a great way to help your family save money on groceries. I have been menu planning for years and it’s one of the first things I suggest to others when they ask for tips on how to save.

Starting to menu plan can seem difficult, but it isn’t. Check out these tips to learn how to create a menu plan for your family (no matter how big).

Inventory

woman looking into fridge

The first step in any good menu plan is to see what you have on hand. Take an inventory of what is in your pantry, freezer, and fridge. This can be as simple or as elaborate as you want. You can do this on paper, via spreadsheet, or mental note.

The idea is to see what you have on hand to make meals. Start with recipes your family loves already. Then find a few new ones. Here on our Dinner Recipes Page is a great place to start, also Pinterest is another great source.

Write down and plan for the recipes you can make with what you have on hand. Make a list of additional ingredients you need to create your meals so you can add those to your grocery list.

Questions to ask yourself

  • Can you imagine some dinners you could pull together with what you have on hand?
  • Do you have some ingredients that you need to use first?
  • Are there a few things you need from the store? Make a list.

Grocery Sales

grocery store aisles blurred

The next step is to take a look at those grocery sales. Depending on your store you could find Buy one Get One Free sales, meat sales, seasonal produce sales, or clearance.

I always try to pull one or two meals together from sale items. This really helps in reducing your weekly food bill.

Tip: Looking to drop your grocery bill even further? Try adding in one meatless meal a week. Beans are a great place to start. I love these Instant Pot Black Beans you can use some of the leftovers for this yummy Black Bean & Cheese Bake Recipe.

Start Small

If you have NEVER menu planned before start small. Start with only dinner. Plan just 3-4 dinners for the first week. You can always build up to a more long term plan or planning lunches or breakfasts too.

Don’t forget to pencil in pizza nights, leftover nights, dinners out, etc. These give you something to look forward too and can be added to your menu plan as well!

Plan meals that you know your family will enjoy. I have some of our family favorites that are our go-to’s but also love to spice things up with at least 1 new to us recipe each week.

Cook Once, Eat Twice

shepherds pie on plate

I love shortcuts (Hello! A Few Shortcuts!). Prepping ahead for future dinners is the name of the game in my house. I love to cook once and eat twice.

For example, last week we had Shepherds Pie for dinner. I doubled it, and put one in the freezer for another time. It makes me so happy when I know I have a full home cooked meal waiting for me that I don’t have to dirty the kitchen for.

This is great to do with beans, soups, stews, taco chicken and more. There are so many meals and recipes that you can easily double and then freeze for another night. Work smarter, not harder.

Be Flexible

Just because you made a menu plan does not mean you can’t be flexible. I am forever adjusting or rearranging my menu plan if I need to. The idea is I know what meals I have the ingredients for on hand. This makes that “What’s for dinner?” question so much easier to answer.

Be flexible, move things around if you need to, but don’t give up on menu planning. Learning how to create a menu plan is one of the easiest ways to help make the most out of your grocery budget, and take the stress out of making dinner.

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