When I was younger, figuring out for dinner involved staring in the fridge, finding the ingredients and deciding that we did have the right stuff to make a dish. So, when I first moved in with my fiance and he suggested that we plan our meals by creating a menu, I thought this sounded really weird… and like a lot of extra work! I was definitely not on board but decided that I would give it a shot.

And six years later, we’re still doing it. I LOVE IT! There are many benefits to menu planning, including:

  • An opportunity to be creative. I try to sit down every other Sunday to create a menu. In about 15-20 minutes, I’m able to come up with two weeks of meals (we only plan for dinners) using all the recipe books that we have (along with my favorite bloggers!). When I have to quickly think of something at night, I’m overwhelmed and usually end up with something that is boring and desperate. So much better to look a bunch of fun recipes and pick out a few best ones.
  • A step-by-step guide to creating a grocery list. It’s so overwhelming to walk into a grocery store and think about what ingredients you need to make dinner for a night, let alone a whole week. And let’s face it, even with a list, I still forget a few ingredients. But, a menu makes it really easy to create that list for everything that you need to eat your meals for the week.
  • Better use of ingredients, which saves you money and cuts down on waste (don’t you hate throwing away nearly full containers of food because it went bad, knowing you barely used it?). If I know I’m going to use some sour cream for one recipe, I’ll try to find another recipe later that week that uses the rest of it.
  • No after-work stress figuring out what you’re going to eat. We’ve had a few times where we’ve slacked on creating a menu and it sucks. I feel like I’ve lost my roadmap and can’t begin to think about what we’re going to eat. I wander into the grocery store and buy unnecessary stuff. It’s so much easier to come home and see that you are having a certain meal for the night, without even having to think about it.

And, most importantly:

  • It helps you eat healthier. I really think menu planning helps you eat healthier. Because you go to the grocery store with a list, you aren’t going to end up with a bunch of random food, which usually ends up being the unhealthy options. And, since you have planned out meals, you won’t end up making with an unhealthy dinner because it was the easiest option or because it’s all you had in your cupboards after a random grocery shopping trip.

We only make our menu for dinners. Breakfast is on our own (except for on weekends) and lunch is leftovers. Making sure we have enough leftovers for the week is another challenge with menu planning that keeps it interesting. If we have too many leftovers for two people to eat mid-week, I’ll throw in an easier meal like steak tacos that you can make for dinner without having leftovers for the next day. [I think the fact that many of the people in NYC think we’re crazy for eating leftovers for lunch instead of grabbing something deserves a separate blog post for another day…] I also build in nights for us to go out to eat.

So, what if you get home and you just aren’t in the mood for what you planned? Easy, switch it with another night! That’s what I like about doing two weeks of planning — it gives you freedom to still get creative within your menu if you need to.

If you haven’t tried menu planning, give it a shot for a week and see what you think. It might not work for some schedules, but I think for most people, it’s a good way to stay organized in the kitchen and make it easy to eat healthier (and cheaper!).

Do you plan your meals? What do you think are the best things about it? 

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