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Menu planning is one of the best ways to stay within your food budget and alleviate the everyday stress of not knowing what to cook. The idea of menu planning, like food budgeting, may sound complicated and overwhelming, but after you do it once or twice, you will find it is easy. In fact, you will wonder how you ever got along without doing it.

Why plan a menu?

Planning a menu will help you avoid:

  • Going to the grocery store, loading up your cart, spending $100.00 or more, returning home to put all the food away, and then realizing you still have nothing to make for dinner. Let's be honest, we have all done it.
  • Spending about 30 minutes or more every night trying to figure out what to eat for dinner. Menu planning means you spend 30 minutes or less per week figuring out what to eat. That is quite a time savings.
  • Spending $40 on take out because you couldn't figure out what to make with ingredients in the pantry.
  • Throwing out leftovers you forgot about in the back of your refrigerator.

Many people may think they hate to cook, but often find that what they actually hate is not knowing what to cook. When the plan is in place and you have all the ingredients you need to create a fast, easy, delicious, and nutritious meal, you may decide you actually like to cook!

How to plan a menu?

The hardest part of planning a menu is making time to do it. It works best when you schedule a time each week just for menu planning.

Use these simple and easy tips along with the menu planning template to make a menu in just minutes!

1. Schedule a time that would work for you to plan your weekly menu. Make sure it is realistic when you will have a few minutes to dedicate to the task.

2. Plan your menu around food items you already have on hand. This will not only make your grocery bill less, but also use up products before they spoil.

3. Choose a variety of meals that include family favorites, budget stretchers, and quick-fix meals.

4. Cook once, eat twice. Plan to use your leftovers. Putting leftovers into your menu plan will reduce the amount you have to cook and reduce the amount of food waste.

5. Picture your plate as you plan each meal. Remember to include veggies and fruits in the menu. Ideally half the plate will include vegetables and fruits, a quarter of the plate will have grains, and the other quarter will have protein. With a glass on the side for dairy, you will have all the food groups suggested by MyPlate: choosemyplate.gov

6. Have the local store circulars available when you are planning. Always take advantage of sales on products you know you will use.

7. Create a thorough shopping list.

New IDEAS to try!

  • Two to four week cycle menu. Use the same basic menu. Great for families with picky eaters. (click here for an example of a cycle menu)
  • Theme nights. For example: Taco Tuesday, or Saucy Saturdays, or breakfast for dinner Wednesdays.