P365 – Day 121 (Menu Planning)

I’m NOT an organized person. I love lists and charts but I rarely follow them. I am more likely to finish a job, then make a list so I check everything off. Terrible.

Now, however, Tim and I are trying to get our finances in order. We have a budget – this multi-faceted Excel spreadsheet that tracks EVERYTHING – and new priorities (actually living on what we make – revolutionary, I know). We are currently going on our second month of Budget Life. It’s been interesting to be so careful and responsible with our money. Do people really live this way all the time??

joshua hides

Joshua can’t believe we’re actually sticking to a budget!

I am tremendously thankful for our friends, Colin and Julee, who have helped us think, discuss, plan and get going on a real, workable budget. Colin sent me a copy of his amazing Excel spreadsheet Budget Wonder and I’ve been tweaking and adjusting it to fit our family ever since. If only adding income were as easy as just changing the numbers on my worksheet. Ah well, I tried.

I have many friends who regularly plan out their meals. Several of them even post them on their blog. Yikes! That’s crossing the line into Super Organized. Still, even while cringing, I have to admit I think meal planning is a great idea. I love the concept of having meals planned out and the ingredients in the house, ready to go. I would love to know what we’re going to eat before 5 pm in the day. I’m sure planning out meals could also help stretch our budget.

So, I decided to try it. I was determined to get some sort of a plan together by the end of the weekend. I can’t believe I never figured this out when Tina lived near by. She’s very organized in this area and could have tutored me. Tina, time to come home and help me!! Without you, I was stuck looking through 6 years of back issues of Taste of Home.


I took notes (chicken, beef, breakfast, lunch, sides, bread, etc) and included the year and page number of the magazine reference. Next I went through and photo copied the recipes. I figured that would be easier than writing it down by hand or trying to keep the magazines open to the right page. With Joshua drooling over my shoulder, I managed to come up with a nice collection of recipes. I think I ended up with something closer to two weeks than one. All the better!

Another thing I did this weekend, in my quest for Organization (with a capital O), was make up grocery lists for the major stores I frequent. A friend told me about a nice grocery list available in Word on Donna Young’s website. I used the basic form as my starting point and modified it to fit our shopping needs.

I created one for Target, Costco, Trader Joe’s, the produce store nearby, and two of the grocery stores where I mainly shop. It took me a little while but I think it is going to be an excellent resource in my meal planning (and ordinary life). I love having everything separated out as I definitely shop at different stores for different things (even within the grocery world). Now I can have the lists in a central area and people can check off what they need as they think of it. Instead of the more typical scenario where I’m standing in the middle of the grocery aisle, starring blankly at canned goods, while frantically trying to remember what it was we so desperately needed. Or trying to track down that little slip of paper that has my list on it.

I went through all of the recipes, highlighted the titles (to make them easier to find on the page), and marked the appropriate grocery list. This morning the kids and I went to one of the grocery stores (the nearby one where I do most of my shopping). This evening, after a Y workout, I went to the produce store and stocked up on fruits and veggies. Now I just have a few things to get at Costco and Trader Joe’s and I’m set (hopefully for longer than a week). I should (emphasis on should) have enough ingredients in the house to make healthy, varied meals (including some lunch and breakfast ideas).

joshua studies my recipes

After dinner I realized loose sheets of paper weren’t an effective way of keeping the recipes together – too easy for things to get lost, ripped, or spilled upon. I pulled out some page protectors and put all of my recipe copies behind plastic. Perfect! I found a little folder that had 3 ring binder tabs. I put the plastic protected recipe pages into the notebook. Now I have all the recipes for the week (or two) located in one spot. The kids can all help me with the meal preparation if they have time.

I’m excited to see how my new plan/organization attempt plays out. We tried several of the new recipes today. The tropical tuna melt we had for lunch was a big hit (tuna on English muffins topped with a bit of pineapple and cheese, then toasted in the oven). I wasn’t crazy about the hash brown beef pie for dinner but the cornbread muffins were delicious and everyone ate up the casserole (even with the “hearty” addition of vegetables in the mix).

All for now or I will definitely be sleep blogging here. I’ll post some more blogs along the way, to update and share how the meals are turning out. I’d LOVE to hear tips on how you plan meals for your family. If you have any good ideas, please leave a comment! If I am missing something significant, let me know!


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16 thoughts on “P365 – Day 121 (Menu Planning)”

  1. Kathy, you are much like me, love the idea of being organized, interested in the end result, but sometimes the execution of such a plan is where it breaks down. hahaha. I find I am best organized when there is no other option, or when all my ‘advance’ prep time has run out and it is get organized or bomb at whatever I am doing. Fortunately for me, it does give the appearance of being organized to the outside observer, but if they were to question my family, I am sure they would be met with roars of laughter! hahaha
    Thanks for chatting so long with me! I am impressed that you still managed a wonderful blog. See, you are organized!

  2. Congratulations on the menu planning! I’ve been doing the Dinners Served meals since January because I didn’t even have time to shop much for groceries let alone cook anything and certainly no plan to plan anything. However, by the end of May (after graduation and our trip to Denver) I will hopefully be able to get back to our menu planning as well. My “problem” with menu planning is trying to convert everything to WW points and makeover some of our calorie and fat loaded favorites. Anyway.. long story short. I signed up for Weight Watchers again so I could be on the members-only website for awhile. There I can send in my recipes and they will calculate the points and make them over for free which will be a big time saver for me.

    So, again, congratulations on all of that planning. That’s 3/4 of the battle, imo. I LOVE spreadsheets you know!

  3. Nana would be so proud of you, dear Katherine!! She tried forever to get me to make menus. To make a month’s, week’s etc. menus. She knew how I hated thinking about cooking and figured this would take the agony of the 4pm ‘what’s for dinner’ away. I miss her.

    I love you. AK

  4. I love my Taste of Home magazine! My grandma gets me a subscription. In fact, I am making some cookies today from a recipe in the magazine. I am proud of the fact that you want to be organized and save money. I hope you will be able to get into the habit and keep doing it. I also am like you in that I start on a project gung-ho and then don’t finish. Keep up the great blogs, I love keeping up with your family.

  5. Way to go, Kathy! I can’t believe you are not organized. You look so very, very “together”! I am the queen of list making, chart making, you name it, but very lacking in follow through.

    Is your Excel plan something that could be shared? (Not the numbers, but just the blank.) I would love to see it. We were always able to be pretty flexible with our budget, but now adding three more people to our family has made it very interesting!

    So glad you are working hard on getting more organized. I think you will be so glad of the results.

  6. My hubby & I went “Dave Ramsey” a year or so ago & are really seeing the results. It’s tough to stick to but keep your eye on that goal. :-) I’m just starting to figure out how to do more menu planning. It is a huge time saver. My moment of truth, so to speak, was when I went out to buy burger & rolls the day after I went grocery shopping so I could make it for dinner. Sad I know…. :-)

  7. Cynthia – what a great idea! I didn’t know Weight Watchers offers that possibility with their membership. How awesome! I must admit the things I am feeding the family these days are a little more than I can eat. I usually stick to the salad and veggies portion of their meal and let them eat the casserole dishes.

    How many meals are you doing with Dinners Served? We have Dinners Done and Dinners Ready here (same concept). I think they sound wonderful!!! My friend LOVES them and uses them regularly for her family. It’s too pricy for us right now.

    I have to be careful because I don’t eat flour or sugar and if I start baking bread for the family it’s nearly impossible for me to resist. :)

  8. Amy – do you get the Quick Cooking ones as well (or whatever they are called now)? I have both and have been getting them for more years than I would like to admit. :)

    Hey, we’re going to be in Mich this summer so let’s be sure and plan a day when we can get together. I want to see your new house!!

  9. Debbie – dh says we can definitely load a link to our Excel spreadsheets. I need to learn how to do that. I LOVE these current set of spreadsheets we’re using. A friend developed them and I adjusted them to fit our budget/recording lifestyle. I’ve already shared them with another friend (who is also using them). Very fun (in a horrible, budgeting sort of way).

  10. Lisa – okay, I know people LOVE Dave Ramsey. Can you share more info? What are you doing differently since you started studying his materials? I’ve been meaning to read more from him. Does he have a book or website I can check out? We are in a good budgeting groove right now but that doesn’t mean we wouldn’t benefit from some further help.


  11. Kathy,
    I’d LOVE to see the spreadsheets, too. You can NEVER have too many KEWL spreadsheets, imo.

    As for the WW meal makeovers. It’s only available with the online membership. I’m planning to pay for that extra membership for only a short time – long enough to transform our favorite recipes.

    I make 12 meals each time I go to our Dinners’ Served place. It’s about $16-18 dollars per meal and it feeds all 6 of us with a few left overs for lunch the next day most of the time. I know I can make meals more inexpensively myself, but the thing is when I don’t have time to make a meal at home we pay MORE than that to eat out or order take out. Even purchasing 2 Papa Murphy bake at home pizzas costs me more than the nutritious, home-made meal from Dinners’ Served… So, while it is a little more expensive than cooking from scratch, it’s STILL saving me $$ because I’m faithful to use my meals instead of grabbing chicken, fast food, or pizza on my way home. I simply don’t have time to cook like I used to right now so this service is a blessing to us and since I would have ordered out anyway.. it’s also cheaper.

  12. Kathy,

    I forget sometimes about how many great recipe books I’ve collected over the years. If I can find an afternoon in which to do this, I’ll sit on the sofa with them all spread around me. Then the I start to go through them and make a list of all the meals I know my family love, I’ve just forgotten them lately.

    Next, I arrange them with my diary (schedule) in front of me, making sure I don’t pick anything too complicated for busy days etc.

    Then I add in the vegies I want us to have, so brassicas x 2 weekly, red/orange vegie x 2 weekly, green leafy vegies x 3 weekly etc until I can see we have a very balanced diet over the course of a month. Yep, if I have the time I can do a month at a time.

    Next I go through my cupboards to check what I already have, what I need to buy and make a note in my diary about when to buy fresh stuff.

    That’s more or less it. I don’t always stick to the meal plan, it depends. I like to be flexible. When you plan for a month ahead, it’s easier to have a number of options if something unexpected crops up.

    Oh, and I like to plan a couple of meals in a month that are for hospitality and another couple planned to easily make double so I can take one to someone. There’s always someone with a dh in hopstial or a new baby or something.

    Hope that helps!

  13. Congrats on your menu planning, budget and organization! WAy to go! I also LOVE Taste of Home Magazines . . the recipes are great but easy too.

    I love collecting recipes off the internet and from others. I had sooooooo many that they were just piling up. One day I brought them all and sat them on the floor in front of me. I then got 3 binders and a ton of sheet protectors. I then put them all in the proctectors in the binders. Now, when I try a new recipe – - if we like it – -it stays in the binder- – if we don’t like it – - in the trash it goes!

  14. You all are so awesome!! Thanks for sharing tips, ideas and thoughts.

    Emily, you’ve inspired me to pull out my stack of magazine clippings and computer printouts and try to make something organized of it. I have some breakfast recipes that I use ALL the time. I need to get them into page protectors and put them into some sort of a small binder. I also want to throw away recipes that I’m not EVER going to use. They don’t take up too much space but they are clutter and unnecessary. I need to go did around in the garage and see if I have a box of extra page protectors on hand.


  15. Dorothy – I LOVE, absolutely LOVE the way you figure veggies into your regular meal planning. I am doing great with the main dish things (casserole or other main dishes) but I am usually behind on veggies. I tend to throw a salad together at the last minute and call that good enough. I would like to bring some more vegetable dishes into our daily meals. I need to go back and look through the recipes on your list and actually print out the ones I like (and already commented on and promised to make – ha).

    Thanks for taking the time to write and share your tips!!

  16. Okay, well I thought I would reply later but there are so many good comments here that I couldn’t NOT comment! How interesting that someone mentioned Dave Ramsey because at our MOPS meeting yesterday we used some of his principles!! Also a “coupon queen” shared her tips, sale paper websites (sites that coordinate your local sale paper with the sunday coupons) and helped us make coupon organizers. One of her suggestions was to go into your pantry and plan a menu using what was in your pantry – ha! how boring is that but hmm….it might actually save me some money by using what I have. Anyways, I try to plan a week at a time before I shop. I always leave a day for being lazy/rushed schedule, etc…that way I don’t feel pressured to have a meat/veggie/salad meal everyday. I also do the coupon thing and stockpile so that I’m not always going to the store for that day’s dinner..I may not have a need for the 8 bottles of name brand soy sauce but since we use it quickly, it was worth the ten cents a piece that I paid for them (after coupon of course). I also do my majority of shopping at 3 different places: meats & veggies at Kroger, household stuff at Walmart (don’t do coupons there, it’s a pain) and bulk stuff at BJ’s… Buy meat in bulk and freeze and I buy lots of ingredients for fast and easy side dishes… It’s trial and error but stick with what you find most comfortable and within your budget…I tend to take after mom though and I cook for more than our family and I try to do meat, veggie, salad and bread…Maybe if I simplied our meals I wouldn’t be cooking for so long….ha! Good luck!!

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