Menu planning system that works

A few months ago or so I saw Trish of Hey Lady showing off her new menu planning system. It was similar to this one. I thought about it for a few days, and decided finally I thought it (or a version of it) would work for us.

I’ve tried lots of ways to plan meals before, but before this, nothing had lasted even a couple weeks. We’ve been using this a month or so now, with good success. Ours is pretty scrappy, not prettified like the ones I’ve seen, but it works, so hey. Maybe one day I’ll get around to beautifying it. Or not.

Here’s what mine looks like.

This box holds the strips. It sits in a cupboard.

This box holds the strips. It sits in a cupboard.

A glimpse of what kind of information they contain.

A glimpse of what kind of information they contain. And my sloppy handwriting.

When we pick what we'll cook next, we just put the strips on the fridge. Easy-peasy.

When we pick what we’ll cook next, we just put the strips on the fridge. Easy-peasy.

Here are what the various colors mean in our system. Where I originally began drafting the idea.

Here are what the various colors mean in our system. Where I originally began drafting the idea.

This differs in quite a few respects from the original from which I drew inspiration:

  1. We wrote our strips by hand. I disliked the idea of trying to get double-sided printing to work and line up perfectly, and this let us work on the meal brainstorming / strip creation in dribs and drabs over a couple weeks.
  2. Our categories are our own.
  3. We only have one box.
  4. We don’t have all the things stuck to a board, all together. There really isn’t anywhere in our kitchen to hang a decent-sized board, and we had all the things required for this version already.
  5. We just put however many we want/need/know at a time, although we do try to make it enough food to get us through a week.
  6. When we’re done cooking it, we take the strip down and store it again.

I intended to at least cover the (half-)box with paper, and to rewrite and mount the category cheat sheet to the box, but I haven’t gotten that done yet.

The strip making was pretty time consuming, yes. We did it here and there over the course of a few weeks (or maybe even a month). I like that when I find one I forgot or want to add a new recipe to the mix, it’s quite easy. Each strip has the name of the meal/main dish on one side and a list of ingredients (for grocery store list writing), and a recipe location (book, page number; or online source), if needed.

We have some leftover strips of the colored paper left (we split a 8.5 x 11 sheet of scrapbook paper down the center and then cut strips), so we can simply write the new one down. But maybe not laminate it (which isn’t exactly necessary, but does add durability to the pieces) until we know it’s a keeper. Or you could write up the ones you want to try on a separate list, or a different color, and then rewrite them into the appropriate category after you’ve tried them? The laminated and unlaminated works for us, so far at least.

I’m so glad for a place that has all of the things we make in one place! One the the best aspects of this is that, if we’re completely stuck, we can thumb through the entire stack pretty quickly.

How do you plan the meals at your house?


12 responses to “Menu planning system that works

  1. I don’t know that I ever did a post on my menu board but I’ve been using it for over 2 years and it works for us. It’s like the one you linked. When we don’t use it, we eat badly. When we use it, our lives are amazing. Lol. I handwrote all of my meals, as well, and made corresponding recipe cards with ingredient lists so you can grab it and head to the store.

  2. Thank you so much for indulging me. 🙂 I LOVE this idea and think that I might incorporate something similar at our house. In theory I like to make new things but really we end up rotating the same dozen or so recipes over and over. But at least I can give the strips to Scott and he can sort through them.

  3. I too have tried to come up with a meal planning system and still struggle with it. I am not a big fan of cooking (I just dont like to hang out in the kitchen). I am at the grocery store almost every day because I do not plan ahead for dinner. I like your system and you have me thinking 😉

  4. I saw Trish’s post too and have been thinking about it. Yours looks like something I could work with!

  5. I love this idea, but I don’t make the same things week to week. I’m always making new recipes or just coming up with my own. I do like to sit down once a week and come up with our dinners so I don’t have to think too hard when it comes time to cook.

  6. We don’t make the same things week to week, either — which is at least partly why every other system I’ve tried hasn’t worked for us. When we find something new that we want to make soon, we just make a strip for it. Also, ours are pretty general — we have one for potato soup, for instance, rather than one for each version we repeatedly make.

  7. Ha – you ask about meal planning? My husband suggests something and I go run out and by the ingredients. That’s our system. OR, he looks in the fridge and whips something together. I don’t eat much when he isn’t home. I realize I am totally TOTALLY SPOILED; it works for us.
    I had tapioca pudding for dinner last night.

    • My husband does a lot of the cooking in our house, too. We each have “our dishes,” but it’s usually a matter of who has time/energy in the moment.

      On Wed, Jun 18, 2014 at 10:39 AM, Word Lily wrote:


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