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Weekly menu planning, how do you go about it?

Hello all at CH this is my first official post after lurking forever and ever, I just love this site! I've finally broke out of my shell enough to make this post because I am desperate for input lol.

I know some of you do weekly meal planning and it is something I've been wanting to get started for quite some time now. I was just looking to see how some of you do it and hopefully gleam good tips from people that know the ins and outs of meal planning. I want to know your thought processes that go behind planning your meals, how do you utilize your books and online media, do you have tools such as software or a notebook to help you plan it out, what are your main go to resources, what factors have an impact on the menu you plan, do you ever incorporate themes, do you plan once a week or more, how often do you deviate from your plan, etc. I will take any info you're willing to share! My menu planning will consist of a hybrid of make ahead batch meals and individual nightly meals depending on my schedule. I expect to be getting less hours this time of year so I should have time to cook more (and desire to). I'm a decent (average) cook but I've reached a point where I want to expand my horizons and step it up to the next level. I am looking for an organized way to track my plan week by week so very curious to see what you all use to track yours, wether it be software, an app, paper, notebook, calendar, word doc, or a combination of more than one. What is your system and how does it work for you?

Also, I've amassed a lot of cookbooks in the past year (is this a diagnosable illness? Lol) and where I used to have like 20 cookbooks I am now approaching 200. Any chowhounders out there with some advice/tips on how I can incorporate them more into my menu planning? I know it sounds a little odd, but I just feel like I have so many now in such a short amount of time I don't even know where to begin.... I did join EYB (learned that from a discussion on this site as well :D ) but I just need a kick to go from just browsing my books to actually USING THEM.

Thanks again in advance!

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  1. I have a spreadsheet that I use every week with columns for the days and rows for the meals, including b/l/d, snacks and any speciality seasonal baking I want to do each week. I start a new spreadsheet for each week and then once the week is over I store it in a folder on my laptop designated for weekly menus so I can look back and see what seasonal dishes I made this time last year.

    My husband and I both work full-time, so during the week we eat simply: on M,W,F we eat salmon and seasonal veggies and on T and TH we eat roasted chicken thighs with seasonal veggies. I only really use recipes that take more time on the weekends. Every Sunday I decide which seasonal dishes I want to cook/bake on the following weekend and I pull out my cookbooks and online recipe files (I have folders on my laptop for each season with recipes that I've stored online). I look at my calendar and see if there are any holidays or special occasions, or fun things like football games when I make chili and incorporate those events into my menu planning spreadsheet.

    I love menu planning! I hope you find a system that works for you!

    1 Reply
    1. re: amyatkendall

      Oh nice, I love your idea of keeping track of your recipes by season, great idea. I'm pretty bad about remembering what is what at times, so I think I will adopt your idea where you keep a past record of seasonal recipes so you can go back and check and also already have a repertoire for each season ready to draw from. Thanks!

    2. Well, right now it is the two of us at home...(daughter may have a job transfer which will be bringing her back home for a while)...so I try to plan my weekly menus around two things--our schedules and the "weekly" shopping on the weekend.
      I'm a huge Wegman's fan. My fiance loves pork. I'm not that crazy about it. So...I pick up the "big" pack of about 9 bonless, thick pork chops--that's about two weeks worth of pork.
      I'll pick up some fish and chicken. Our staples at home are always Cous-cous--and Rotel-canned tomatoes with chilis. Pasta. lots of veg. Eggs. We both have one day of the week where we work later--it just happens to be the same day for us. So..on that given day it is eggs for dinner. He usually has 'em fried while I just make an egg-white omelet with veg. I save the yolks for creme caramel or a custard based dessert later on in the week. When we roast a whole chicken--we will have "rests" or leftovers from that. I will usually serve the chicken cold and have a salad with it. Our Friday meal is usually a make-shift thing I kind of devised. I get fresh pita bread from a local persian cafe, and mix up some chicken with spices and saute onion and top with cheese...put it in the oven to heat--kinda like a persian pizza of sorts. Saturday is always a special meal. Appetizers...full dinner..maybe a roast or something that we can have during the week. During the winter I like winter veg roasted...like squash, brussels sprouts....as we get further into winter, I like to do one-dish things like tagines or a beef bourgineoun (my spelling is atricious) or a gumbo. This way during the dark days of winter, when I come back from work..I can just eat and hibernate. One thing we do plan though..we ALWAYS have dinner together. During the week, we will casual it out in front of the tv but on weekends we always sit at the dining table with a fully-dressed table.
      It's funny--but I have so many cookbooks and the only ones I use time after time after time are Joy, Martha Stewart, Ina Garten, and this french cookbook I picked up at Borders years ago. I actually ended up spotting the french book recently at another store and bought it b/c the original one is soooooooooo messy from use. Oh..and I use America's Test Kitchen book for reference and good tips.
      Best of luck--I hope I helped you in some sort of way.

      1. I always plan my week around what I can find fresh in the market. I love those meals that leave a left over that can be turned into a carriable lunch next day. I usually pick two types protein for the week. Then try to vary the carb and veg around them. I plan while I shop. Like, hey this salmon looks good. I'll make some carpaccio with this tonight while it's still fresh. Poach some tomorrow, bake/roast some on wednesday. Instantly like that. It didn't help much, right?

        1. I do all of the mean planning for my family of 4. We do the shopping only once a week, so I try to be very organized to plan ahead, and make sure we have everything we need. My planning document is a #11 envelope. I buy a box of 50, and then run them through my printer. On the front, I've created lines organized into areas of my favorite grocery store. I use this side for my grocery list, and I write down the things I need by department so I do need to do a lot of backtracking and don't forget anything while I shop. On the back of the envelope, I have the days of the week, and an area for breakfast items, and lunch items. (you can also use the envelope to hold coupons if you shop that way) Using my calendar as a guide, I plan the meals around our schedule for the week, and somtimes even check the weather forecast if I think there is a chance to cook outdoors. Some tips I've learned... plan your means with the fresh ingredients earlier in the week. Plan subsequent meals to use up leftovers or ingredients from previous meals, plan lunches around left overs, and plan for flexibility. I know things tend to change, so I usually leave one day unplanned. Invariable, our schedule changes, and I don't cook everything in the order it was planned. If for some reason, the week goes entirely as planned, I'll grab carryout or go out to dinner at the end of the week.

          To decide what meals I want to prepare, I have a list of many of our favorites. These are the ones that we go back to over and over again. For the rest of the week, I usually have ideas in my head from watching TV, reading a mag or chowhound, or seeing some seasonal item that I just want to use. By planning out the whole week, I can also try to incorporate variety. Mix up the proteins, mix up the ethnicity, etc so that dinner time doesn't become boring. It's very systematic, but I don't have a lot of free time, and enjoy cooking, so I try to make sure I have a plan for the week so I don't spend a lot of time at the store, and know what needs to happen as soon as I get home from work.

          1. What meat is on sale? What veggies are on sale? Then I get creative.

            3 Replies
            1. re: Passadumkeg

              this is what i do too. years ago, because of the variability of what may be found in market, i stopped planning weekly menus. yes, world-wide year-long shipping means i can still have tomatoes in february, but they are so craptastically flavorless i don't want them.

              generally i'll cook a package of chicken thighs each sunday, flavored various ways, for my b/f to munch all week. he works from home so i stock him up. this sunday i also made him a big pot of sausage and peppers/onions and a pile of heartily seasoned taco meat, some of which went in the freezer. also a bowl of basmati rice. so with all this, he can make chicken salad, have a sausage sandwich or scramble some eggs over the sausage and have the taco meat over a salad or in a tortilla. we also eat lots of eggs.

              i do lots of braises in winter, so we get several meals out of those.

              about 6 years ago, i moved from a 3 bedroom house to a loft and donated over 800 books to charity, many of which were cookbooks. most of them were simply collecting dust. if you enjoy having them, reading them as food porn, that's one thing, but if you don't use them, or if they are in a niche that's not for you, you may want to reconsider and edit. also, there is SO much on the net now, i find cookbooks are often superfluous. i use them for baking and some old favorites as references.

              however, i do keep word documents and files of every party i give, including guests attending. i keep recipes attached to that too and try not to repeat except for certain things my guests howl when i don't make them, lol.

              1. re: hotoynoodle

                I do much of the same. It makes the work week easier.

                1. re: hotoynoodle

                  LOVE the idea of buying one giant pack of chicken but flavoring them in various ways- that will be added to my methodology on the weeks where I work a lot of hours and won't have time to make something complicated every night. I love the concept of batch cooking, but I like variety and that takes care of it nicely.