How to Menu Plan Like a Pro

6 minutes
September 30, 2022
Carole Jones

Menu planning comes in 5 main styles. Which one is best? That is completely dependent on you and your lifestyle. Each one has it’s pros and cons, which are each covered below, but ultimately it is in your control to try them and see which works for you. And don’t miss your FREE monthly dinner plan you can download now!

how to menu plan

To make it easy, we are going to start with what I feel is best for beginners and move onto more advanced planning options.

Please note that nowhere on this list of methods is “Decide the Day of” because the whole purpose of planning is to eliminate as much stress as possible when it comes to dinner.

Daily Themed Plan

If you are brand new to planning a menu, using daily themes is always where I suggest you start. It gives you enough flexibility to be creative, but enough structure to eliminate staring at a blank piece of paper for too long.

weekly menu planning

What do I mean by themes? Simply, every day of the week has a theme and it repeats week after week. Here is an example but it can be switched up however you want!

  • Meatless Monday – vegetarian dish
  • Taco Tuesday – any type of taco…beef, chicken, breakfast, squash, fish
  • Worldwide Wednesday – Italian, Asian, Mediterranean, Indian
  • Throwback Thursday – dishes from your childhood
  • Freedom Friday – order take-out
  • Salad Saturday – main dish salads
  • Switch It Sunday – breakfast for dinner
Repeats weeklyThe repetition might feel a bit old after time
Gives boundaries allowing for easy decisionsCertain themes might be hard to come up with multiple dish ideas for, like Taco Tuesday
Can switch a certain day’s theme if it stops working for you without messing up the ones that do
Allows for enough freedom to find new recipes you want to try while using ones you already love

Done-for-You Menu Plan

Some might feel finding or purchasing an already done for you menu plan would be where I suggest beginners start but as I have worked with clients over these past 13 years, most of them prefer one of the other four options in the post.

While there are some who say, “Carole, just please tell me what to make!” most like having enough control to personalize it for their tastes and preferences.

Free done for you monthly dinner plan

If you are truly one who just wants to be told what to make because ANY type of dinner decision is just too much, then be sure to grab this FREE, already done for you month long dinner plan. It includes links to the recipes as well so you don’t have to figure that part out either!

Because I know you may want some flexibility down the line, I did make it editable so you can change it up from month to month. And yes, I did use weekly themes as well!

Absolutely zero decisions have to be madeNo flexibility if you have picky eaters or food allergies
Recipes are already included Based off of what someone else thinks would work for you
Can be repeated over and over again

Weekly Plan

This is my personal favorite and what I have been using for many years after trying the other four options with our family.

one week menu plan

Here’s how this plan works:

  • Grab your calendar and menu planning sheet
  • Grab your list of family favorite recipes. Don’t have one? Go grab this free family recipe vault to get started on making one! It will save you a TON of time every week.
  • Look at what your schedule will be like that week and plan your menu accordingly. Pay attention to what days of the week will need something like a crockpot meal, or leftovers.
  • Plan out your week’s menu
Super flexible based on what your schedule is from week to weekCan be a bit too much freedom for beginners
Allows you to plan based on what you have on hand in your fridge and pantry alreadyHas to be done every week
Can have variety from week to week based on what is in season and what you “feel” like eating

Bi-Weekly Plan

If you are looking to reduce how often you are menu planning, this is a really great method. I actually have some clients who not only plan biweekly but do grocery shopping for two weeks at a time as well!

meal planning

For this method of planning, everything is the same as the weekly….but you plan for two weeks instead of one. (Just in case the title didn’t quite make that obvious!)

If your schedule and that of your family is fairly predictable two weeks out, it is quite handy to get two weeks done at once and save yourself having to schedule it week after week.

Saves time compared to weeklyNot for beginners to meal planning
Allows for more variety as you are less likely to plan the same meals in one sittingNot as flexible as weekly planning
Can streamline shopping as well

Monthly Plan

I know many clients who adore planning a whole month of dinners in one big session, but it isn’t for everyone. It is best for those who have a solid, reliable schedule and calendar with little to no surprises. The key to making a menu plan stick is using one that will work even when life gets crazy.

menu planning made easy

If you choose to go this route, I do suggest having a couple quick meals in the freezer to keep you on track just in case something pops-up and there isn’t time to make what was planned. Again, this will help you continue to find success!

Very freeing to have a whole month planned out at one timeLittle to no flexibility
Done in one big sessionNot for beginners
Eliminates stress and anxiety for a large chunk of timeTend to be over ambitious and not realistic when planning unless you have experience
how to menu plan

How should you pick which method to try out first? Base it on your level of experience as well as what feels the most natural and easy to do for you. After you have tried one method a few times around, you can always come back and give a different one a run around the block.

I would love to hear which one you try and how it goes for you!

Need more help than this mastering your family dinners?

Join the Family Dinner Academy waitlist! FDA is the ultimate step-by-step system for getting dinner on the table by working TOGETHER as a family….so you no longer have to do it alone. We launch in January 2021, a perfect way to start of your New Year and press the reset button to eliminate the family dinner chaos and getting your life back.

When you join the waitlist, you will be the first to know when we open the doors and receive special offers that are only offered to those on the waitlist.

Carole Jones

Carole Jones is an Arizona-based cookbook author & food blogger. She's authored The 30 Minute Cooking From Frozen Cookbook and the self-published Take 5: Chicken e-cookbook. For the past 15 years, Carole has shared her culinary adventures cooking and baking for her six brutally honest children here on My Kitchen Escapades. Hot, crusty bread is Carole's love language, but her two adorable grandchildren are a close second. Yes, second. Don't judge.


Susie Knowles
3 years ago

I have done the weekly plan for years . I usually take several factors into consideration:
How late I work , etc certain days .
The weather ( soup / chilies etc taste better on cold days )
What’s on sale . I check the ads then make my list .
During the week if things fall apart we have said “ Well looks like plan B tonight ! “!
I usually do a lot of prep cooking on Sunday also to help
for the week .
Thanks , Susie

3 years ago

Thanks Susie for sharing! All great points to think about as you plan….and having a solid plan B is so important!

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