Menu Planning: How I Never Hear “What’s for Dinner?”

To me menu planning is a necessity. We have 5 kids and we are busy. Dinner was always a fight. We have a couple picky kids and a couple who would literally eat anything. Just to make everyone happy I would make at least 2 meals every night, letting the kids decide what we would have. I got so burnt out, especially of eating pre-cooked frozen junk. And I was tired of hearing “What’s for dinner?”. I knew something had to give. That’s when I started learning about menu planning and created my own way of doing it.

Menu Planning

My first step in menu planning was to make a list of meals that I knew we liked and that everyone would eat. Then a list of the things that the picky kids liked and the ones the non-picky kids liked. Last I made a list of new things I would like us to try. I was attempting to broaden the kids taste buds and hopefully we could find some new things that we could all enjoy together.

Since we are on a tight budget I decided that we needed at least 1 night a week when we ate leftovers, this way none of our food went to waste. Usually I like to fit in 2 leftover nights, but if there are some great sales then I’ll cut it down to 1 so we have different meals more often.

For our family of 7 I generally try to stick to a budget of $150 a week, this also includes daily necessities like tp, detergents, soaps, etc. as well as formula and/or baby food. If you think about it, $150 for 7 people for 3 meals for 7 days…that’s 147 meals for $150 (breaking down to $1.02 per meal). That’s pretty good, but if I can find things on sale or have coupons then I can spend even less than that.

So, back to the actual planning. Since 3 of our 5 kids are in school and my husband works outside the house I don’t plan breakfasts or lunches during the week. The baby has his own food…formula and baby food (which I also make part of the time). And my 3-year-old and I just eat whatever we feel like during the day. I basically just plan dinners, weekend breakfasts, and desserts (if we’re having any). Breakfasts and lunches at home are generally something quick or on the weekends we just have a huge late breakfast and then won’t eat again until dinner.

Sample Menu

 Menu for the Week ofApril 1st-7th  
SundayMonkey BreadXDinner @Mom'sCake
MondayCerealPB&J/Free Little Caesars $5 LunchMexican FrittataCookies
TuesdayXXTacosChocolate Mousse
WednesdayXXLeftoversCarrot Cake
ThursdayXXChiliIce Cream
FridayXXBirthday Dinner-Popcorn Chicken & FiesBirthday Muffins
SaturdayCoffee CakeSandwichesShepherds PieCookies/Leftover Muffins
AlternativesPop TartsPizza Rolls/Hot DogsSoup/Salad/SandwichesLeftovers

The Menu

Some things I have on hand as staples; such as peanut butter, jelly, milk, spices, baking essentials, butter, oil, condiments, pizza rolls, and cereal. I also have a lot of other things that we’ll need for the meals such as monkey bread, shredded cheese, bell peppers, cookie mix, etc. If it isn’t listed in my grocery list then it’s something I already have on hand or something that I stock up on when it’s on sale (like canned goods, veggies that I can freeze to use later, potatoes/onions that don’t go bad quickly, or things like cheese that we use often).

For this week “x” represents meals that I don’t have to make because they’re either meals where everyone gets their own meal or eats at school/work. Easter day we won’t eat lunch because we’ll have a late breakfast and then an early dinner at my parents’ house.

Grocery List

When I meal plan I always make my grocery list so I can get groceries weekly on the Saturday before each week’s meal plan begins. This week’s grocery list is:



Ground beef-3 3 lbs.=12 lbs@$2.98 lb

Tomatoes-2 0.5 lbs.=1 lb@$0.99 lb

Sour cream-1@$1.74

Taco shells-1@$1.46


Semi-sweet chocolate chips-1@$1.29

Heavy whipping cream-1@$1.93


Chili seasoning-3@$1.00

Popcorn chicken-1@$3.98



We also have items that we use daily that are bought weekly. These things are:



Apple juice-2@$1.98

Fruit snacks-1@$5.98

Pop tarts-1@$2.68

Apples-5 lbs@$0.98 lb

Bananas-1 bunch@$0.47 lb

Since Easter is coming I had a few extra things to buy as well. I bought:

Discount DVDs-5@$3.74



Stuffed animals-3@$0.98


Sketch books-2@$6.99

Total for the week is $150.09 (plus tax). So, for this week since I had so many stock items and extra items already we saved a lot of money.

Another thing I like to do when writing my grocery list is to write it in the order that I will be getting things; starting from when I enter and through each aisle after that. It makes things much simpler and I tend to forget things less and don’t have to backtrack across the store for one missed item.

Wrapping It Up

Menu planning has simplified our lives so much. I no long hear “What’s for dinner?”, I no longer have kids complaining, and I have gotten even my picky kids to try some new things. My sanity is saved…just a little.

A Look Back

  • List meals you want to include in your menu.
  • Set a budget.
  • Decide which meals you will be planning for (breakfast, lunch, dinner, dessert/snacks).
  • Write your menu on a calendar.
  • Make a grocery list on what you will need for the meals. Cross off items that you already have on hand.
  • Shop! Make those meals! Never hear “What’s for dinner?” again (Hopefully!).



Check out these free templates to help you start your menu planning!

Menu Planning and Grocery List Templates


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