Meal Prep Step 2: Menu Planning

Menu PlanningThe second step to prepping your meals is…menu planning!

I try to plan my menus about once a week. I sit down with my planner or the calendar on my phone and look at our schedule for the week. I usually only plan about five meals because I know that on the weekend we tend to see friends and family or order out, and there’s usually at least one other night a week where cooking just doesn’t happen. I also try to include a variety of protein in our meals, including seafood at least once and one meatless meal. I really only plan dinners since we have mostly the same things for breakfast and lunch.

Now, choosing exactly which dishes to cook is always something I struggle with. Right now, I usually do one of two things: either look at my local grocery store’s online flyer (or on, the grocery delivery service I sometime use) to see what’s on sale, or look at my favorite cookbooks and think about what meals we like but I haven’t cooked recently.

In the past, I’ve also used different blogs and menu planning services. Many years ago I used Leanne Ely’s Menu Mailer, a paid service that emails you weekly menus with recipes and grocery shopping lists. There are a few different options to choose as far as your dietary preferences or needs. More recently, I’ve also used emeals, a similar service. They have a wider variety of menu options and also offer a free trial.  I’ve also used and enjoyed the free menu plans at Shrinking Kitchen – her Easy Mongolian Beef is still a favorite of mine.

Here’s a great article with a comparison of several menu planning websites and services:

Ultimately, I found that my family was better off just working from the recipes we already knew we enjoyed. In addition to recipes from family and friends, these dishes mostly come from my (current) three favorite cookbooks:

How to Cook Everything – Written by New York Times food writer Mark Bittman, the title says it all. It covers all the basics and then some. If something is on sale at the supermarket, I flip to the index to look for ways to cook it. Usually there are a few basic recipes and then a few more adventurous ones. It also covers everything else – appetizers, desserts, breakfast, sauces. etc.

The Mom 100 Cookbook by Katie Workman – Yes, I’m a mom, but you definitely don’t have to be to love this cookbook. Remember how I said I need a recipe for everything? This has it. Tacos, beef stew, BBQ chicken, salads, brownies – it’s basic family dinners, all in one book. Each recipe also has several variations for picky eaters, those who like more spice, vegetarians, etc. And we’ve really enjoyed everything I’ve cooked using it – so much so that I recently got the sequel, Dinner Solved!

Another source I use to find recipes for things I find shopping the sales is You can browse by meal or search by ingredient, and I like that the recipes are reviewed and ranked. If you register, you can save recipes to online collections.

Menu Planning

Once I’ve chosen what I’ll be cooking, I write it down on my meal planning notepad, and it eventually makes its way into my weekly planner. Now I’m ready for Part 3: Grocery Shopping…

If you’re looking for more ideas and printables, here’s a Pinterest board on menu planning and a bonus one on meal ideas.


Missed Part 1 of Meal Prep? Find it here! meal prep


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