Kitchen Table · Whole Health

The Ultimate Menu Planning Guide

For all those who want to eat healthy, but have to do so on a schedule and a budget

Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links, which means I may receive a percentage of the proceeds if purchases are made after clicking on the links. 

Many of us have made health related New Year’s resolutions this year. Even if our goals aren’t specifically diet related, eating healthy makes a large impact in helping us reach our health related goals. We all know not to go grocery shopping hungry; that’s just asking for disaster. But there’s a lot more we can do than eat a snack before grocery shopping to prevent stocking our cupboards with Doritos and soda. Menu planning can help us make intentionally healthy food choices.

Benefits of Menu Planning

Menu planning has several benefits such as saving money and reducing waste, saving time, reducing stress, and eating healthier.

Save money. With menu planning, we’re able to feed a family of four on $100/week. That’s just $400/month! And exactly 0% includes junk food or fast food – it’s all home cooked meals. Menu planning helps us ensure we buy only what we need.

Reduce waste. Reducing waste goes hand in hand with saving money, but it’s about so much more than just that. Since we buy only exactly what we need for the week and nothing more, much less food finds its way to the trash can. Who knew menu planning could have a positive effect on our environment?

Save time. Better organization equates to more efficient use of our time. With meals planned and grocery lists organized, trips to the grocery store go quick and only happen once a week. Greater efficiency in taking care of our “to-do’s” means more quality time with our families.

Reduce stress. Saving time alone can reduce a lot of stress. With menu planning, you also have fewer nights scrambling to find something to make for dinner and can avoid the frustration of indecision over what to eat.

Eat healthy. Menu planning helps you make intentional choices about what you put into your body. If you don’t put soda and chips in your grocery cart, they won’t end up in your cupboard to taunt and tempt you.

There are a lot of great articles and tips out there for menu planning. However, many articles focus on just one benefit, for example, either saving money, or else eating healthy. Most guides you find won’t discuss how you can achieve multiple goals in menu planning. My personal goals in menu planning are to intentionally eat healthy, save money and reduce waste, as well as to be more efficient in my “to-do’s,” so that I have more time to spend with my family. The tips I share today reflect all of these goals. I simply select my favorite recipes from cookbooks, Pinterest, or what’s in my head, and try to incorporate the following tips as I assemble my menu for the week.

Tips for Menu Planning

Eat seasonally. Your produce will be fresher, more nutritious, and more flavorful. You’ll end up having different recipes you cycle through once a year, every three months. You’ll never get board with what you eat.

Pick a soup or salad for dinner at least one night a week.

Include fish in your diet at least twice a week. Eat mainly chicken, fish or vegetarian protein sources, and include pork or beef only on occasion.

Involve the entire family in the process. Just ask them if they have a favorite meal they’d like for dinner this week. That means less brainstorming for you and you know everyone will be happy with what they’re eating.

Be aware of your schedule for the week and keep that in mind as you make your menu plan. Plan easy meals like leftovers or crock pot meals for busy nights. This is another great way menu planning can reduce stress.

Make sure you’ve finished off your left-overs before shopping for a new menu, to reduce waste. Left-overs are safe to eat for three to four days at most, so a mid-week leftover night is a great way to clear them out of the fridge before they have to be tossed.

Have a couple of go-to meals you always have ingredients on hand for, that you can throw together in a pinch. That way if you get stuck between menu plans and haven’t made it to the grocery store yet, you still have a healthy back-up option. You don’t have to stress or resort to eating out, which can get expensive. For example, we always have ingredients on hand for a homemade chicken soup.

Be intentional in selecting snack foods and include them into your menu plan. Select healthy snacks, like carrots and hummus or apples and peanut butter, instead of potato chips and dip.

Stick mainly to the perimeter of the grocery store while doing your shopping. This includes produce, meat and dairy.

Buy the Dirty Dozen* organic. As much as we might like to buy only organic, it can get expensive quickly, and may not be a realistic option for most families. However, I’ve found if I purchase the Dirty Dozen organic, and the rest of my produce non-organic, my weekly grocery bill only increases by about $10-$30.

*The Dirty Dozen are fruits and vegetables that are more likely to retain pesticides, and include apples, celery, cherry tomatoes, cucumbers, grapes, nectarines, peaches, potatoes, snap peas, spinach, strawberries, and bell peppers.

Be critical of buzz terms like all natural. The term organic has a specific definition and guidelines. There is no official definition for all natural, but food with this label is none the less often more expensive, and not necessarily any better quality.

Shopping List

Organize and write your shopping list as you create your menu plan. This saves time creating your shopping list; if you’re already looking at recipes while choosing them, you don’t have to go look them up a second time to make your list.

An organized shopping list also saves time at the grocery store. I divide my shopping list into categories, including produce, meat, dairy, and miscellaneous. My miscellaneous category usualy includes the few items I need from the middle of the store, like chicken broth or tooth paste. Order your categories logically according to the path you’d walk through the grocery store.

Keep a running tab on the fridge of staples you run out of, like coconut oil, carrots, or spices. Then when you make your shopping list, you have a consistent check point to make sure you don’t forget anything at the grocery store.  Just grab your notepad as you’re making your shopping list, add those items to the proper category, and you’re good to go.

When you’re at the grocery store, be sure to stick to your list. Allow yourself one splurge, but don’t impulse buy. Otherwise, you’re less likely to achieve benefits of menu planning like saving money, reducing waste, and eating healthier.

I hope you find these tips useful. If you have your own menu planning tricks, I’d love to hear them!

Eat right. Eat slow. Eat as a family. Guten Appetit!

For Further Reading:

For more inspiration on creating healthy lifestyle habits, check out my post My 2017 Resolutions.

A couple of my favorite reads that have influenced healthy eating habits for me are In Defense of Food: An Eater’s Manifesto and The Omnivore’s Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals, both by Michael Pollan.


7 thoughts on “The Ultimate Menu Planning Guide

  1. wow this is such an amazing post! I learned a ton. Your pictures are also fantastic! I love to meal plan I really need to devote a little more time to it.

  2. I love meal planning! I actually started a series on my blog all about it! If you would like to collaborate get in touch! I love all of the fresh produce!

  3. Thank you for the tips! Sometimes I find it tricky to meal plan for just myself. I tend to make too much of certain meals but planning is so helpful because then you always have something healthy to eat!

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