A How-To Guide of Menu Planning

Gail asked how I do my menu planning. It all started when I was a youngster. My mother didn’t read regular books. No dime-store romances, no New York Times bestsellers, no Book of the Month Club selection. No, she read cookbooks in the evening. And she loved to throw parties of all kinds, dinner parties, cocktail parties, open house buffets, cookouts, picnics, coffees, breakfasts, you name it, she threw it.

She taught me how to shop the ads. Take the grocery store weekly circulars and find the loss-leaders. Those are the items that are deeply discounted to get people into the store. Like the 99¢ per pound chicken legs or the 49¢ per pound baking potatoes. Then build a meal around chicken legs and potatoes. See what else is on sale, rinse, repeat.

Going organic has put a damper on shopping the ads. But it’s still helpful to have an idea about what to cook for supper on any given night. Now the formula is more along the lines of particular types of dishes on certain nights.

Ever since finding the Meat-Free Monday movement, Monday’s suppers hearken back to my childhood with a plate of three Southern-style veggie dishes and maybe a cornbread. Anything as long as it’s all vegetarian, but not vegan. That’s too foreign for my household.

The rest of the week consists of one night of a soup, one night of a nice meat-centric meal, one night of seafood, and one night of leftovers to clean out the refrigerator for the next week’s groceries. Some things get repeated during the week. Maybe it’s the meat-plus-two; maybe it’s the all-veggie meal.

Once the Crockpot has passed inspection, perhaps on nights when there is carpool duty, supper might be slow-simmered. My oven has a delay start and a cooking timer. There are nights when the meatloaf is placed in the oven with a delayed start time ensuring that it’ll be ready to come out right at supper time after the last extracurricular activity.

If you want to get started on menu planning, make a list of the things you cook regularly. Then rotate them throughout the month. There might be spaghetti, roast chicken, tacos, broiled fish, sloppy Joes, tuna casserole, meatloaf, chili, chicken tetrazzini, you get the idea. Fill in with some lighter meals such as warm winter soups or light chilled summer soups. Or something quick and fast like sandwiches and a can of tomato soup.

Use either method. The rotation plan is my default plan since I don’t shop the ads like my mother did. It’s hard to shop the ads when most of our food comes from the organic meat co-op or the farmers’ market. For that, you have to think on your feet about what’s fresh and what you can make with those. Or use the shop-the-ads plan basing your menus on what’s on sale at your grocery store. Here’s a hint. When I used to shop the ads, I didn’t limit myself to one store. There were three stores in a close radius whose ads I would shop.

Regardless of your method, have fun with your meals. And eat with someone else as often as you can.


  1. Good post :) I was like your mom and had literally hundreds and hundreds of cookbooks and read them like they were novels. Oooo, when you do that you can even taste it in your mind, yummmm. 2 moves ago, I gave away over 300 cookbooks and I still have massive boxes with hundreds more in my storage unit. Here's the kicker. Mom's old stove (well, not that old) only has 2 burners that work, lol. I asked her about a week before she died what was up with that. Her reply: "Oh, Jen, I left that for you to fix. You know I hate cooking", LOL. Gotta love it.

  2. Thanks! I need to use what is in the stand up freezer downstairs so I can defrost it so I ought to plan accordingly. Only problem is that, when I see certain things on sale, I buy them and then they need to frozen! I have been known to borrow large coolers from people who camp...

    btw, is that really a picture of you knitting??

  3. I like how you plan. I had not thought about it, but I really do need a plan as I just go to the cookbook for ideas. Not really helpful.

  4. That sounds absolutely wonderful, how lucky you appear to be, I live alone, and it is something I miss is cooking and baking for my family sigh. I do have friends up for meals occasionally.
    I cook a lot using a slow cooker, I find, apart from it cooking beautifully I have enough to freeze down, I do lots of stews and soup. do you make your own soup much.?
    I think your cooking and shopping rituals differ from ours. I make my own bread and some of the recipes are obviously American as they ask for ingredients that I'm not sure of. Enjoyed the blog.