After trying many different variations of menu planning—and sticking with none—I’ve finally settled on a system that works. I call it my “Running Menu Plan”. It developed organically, takes little effort to maintain, and makes it much easier to feed my family of four healthy and varied meals on a tight budget.
My Running Menu Plan:
- is based on what I already have in the fridge, freezer and pantry which encourages me to use everything up
- provides for variety in our meals as I can see at a glance what I have planned and whether there is a good balance
- gives me lots of choice—I prefer to decide what I’m cooking each day rather than in advance—and I know that the ingredients for whatever I choose will be in the kitchen
How to set up a Running Menu Plan
When I first set up the Running Menu Plan, I looked through my fridge, freezer and pantry and identified what meals I could make from what was there. After all, what’s the point of buying something if we’re not going to use it!
I added these items to the plan under the categories of Dinners, Lunches, Breakfasts and Baking. For example: if I found a packet of mince, I added it to the menu plan as plum-glazed meatloaf, lasagne, or meatballs—whatever dish I felt most like turning it into.
My priority is always to cook the dishes on the Running Menu Plan before I shop for ingredients for further meals.
I shop for groceries once a week. Beforehand, I sit down with my menu plan and recipe books and decide what dishes I’ll add to the list. Firstly, I make sure the plan is still current by checking the fridge, freezer and pantry to make sure that the meals remaining on the list correspond with the ingredients I have. I also make sure I still have enough fresh ingredients to complete the meals; if I don’t they get added to the shopping list.
I aim to have enough food at home to prepare about a week-and-a-half to two weeks’ worth of meals. This is my backup and means if the shopping is delayed for any reason, I will still be able to feed my family, even if we’re getting to some pretty boring pantry meals!
At this point, I’ll top up my Running Menu Plan so it includes about ten dinners, some variety with breakfasts and lunches, and a few baked treats for the lunchboxes. I don’t over-plan breakfasts and lunches—just note down a few ideas—but I make sure I have lots of dinner and baking ideas. Anything I need to buy gets added to the shopping list.
I then stick the menu plan on the wall in my kitchen so I can work from it through the week.
Basically, it’s a simple approach to menu planning that provides a safety net (I always have plenty of meals and snacks to choose from) but is adaptable and flexible enough to allow plenty of variety. It also means I don’t buy random ingredients that were a good idea at the time and stick them in the freezer or pantry, only to be forgotten about. The Running Menu Plan makes sure I buy what we’ll eat, and we’ll eat what I buy.
Do you have a great meal-planning system you can tell us about?