My Favorite Menu Planning Resources – and How I Feed All These Teenagers Without Going Broke

As the old saying goes:  Where there is no plan, there is no casserole.

I think that’s in the Bible somewhere.  Or maybe I just made it up twelve seconds ago.  How about this one:  A frozen chicken will remain frozen if left in a frozen environment.  I definitely made that one up.

All this proverbial insight to say:  Menu plans are really nice.  They help you save money.  They help you eat healthier.  You should make meal plans.

For all of you (and I know there are some) who find that meal planning hurts instead of helps you – I say keep doing what you’re doing to put healthy meals on the table.  No need to fix what isn’t broken.

For everyone else, I’m determined to do all I can to encourage whatever it takes for you to prepare simple, healthy meals that don’t break the bank.  Menu planning can be a big help, but it can also be overwhelming if you haven’t found your menu planning comfort zone.

Before I say more though, first let me share this:  You should read the post Cooking Healthy Meals When the Menu Plan Fails.  Even with the best of intentions, there are times my frozen chicken is still frozen at dinner time.  It happens.  No need to freak out, feel like a failure, or call for take-out.  These ideas have saved me many times when my plans didn’t fall into place perfectly.  (Hello, Life. You sure are busy.)

I want to help set us up for menu planning success as best I can.  I don’t actually like the word success because we seem to think that the opposite of success is fail – and that isn’t true (see paragraph above, in which I use the word fail, but wish I didn’t and there’s nothing I can do about it now).  So let’s go with menu planning empowerment, how does that sound?

By the way, what I’m about to share will not only give you insight into how I prepare healthy meals for my family every day, it will also help you understand how it is possible for me to feed a houseful of teenage boys (and often their friends) without having to sell my furniture as a way to afford it.  Planning ahead saves us hundreds of dollars every year.  I can’t not plan.  I can’t fall back on take-out.  Keeping food costs down is very important when there’s already a comma in the grocery budget dollar amount.  (They eat so much foooooooood.  But love them, they’re worth it, and all that.)

Empowering You to Plan Healthy Menus

1. One of my favorite ways to be inspired and gain ideas is to look at recipes.  I look at cookbooks and on Pinterest, but mostly, I scroll through my dropdown menu of the hundreds (maybe thousands?) of recipes right here on my website.  They are categorized, alphabetized, and even though I’m the one that put them there, I still come across recipes I forgot existed.  It’s fun!

Doing this offers variety to our menu and gets my food planning creativity flowing.  I typically pick seven recipes in each meal category and plug them into my menu for the week.  There is flexibility, of course.  There is always flexibility.  My menu plan doesn’t own me, it simply acts as a guide.

Below is a screen shot of the dropdown menu on my website when I’m holding my cursor over the word RECIPES in my header.  Do that, then click on any page you need.  You’ll see lovely lists of real food recipes to pick from.  Let your family help choose recipes to try if you like!

recipe dropdown

2.  I’ve written and shared hundreds (maybe thousands?) of menu plans here through the years.  They are all in my archives, found at this Menu Planning Archives link.  These are fun to look through for inspiration because they are complete menu plans, full of ideas for ways to pair side dishes with main dishes.

3.  Our Heavenly Homemaker’s Recipes – Search by Ingredients feature is a really fun way to plan meals based on the ingredients you have in your home.  If I’m at a lost as to what to plan, I simply type in a few key ingredients I want to use (such as beef, cheese, tomatoes), then scroll through the recipes that pop up for me.  You’ll see this special search box at the top right of my side bar.  Use it!  It’s fun and helpful!search by ingredients

4.  I’ve put together three very thorough menu planning resources through the years:  40 Real Food Menu Plans; 1-2-3 Meal Planning; and Build Your Menu Planning Notebook.  The first two share all my best tips and strategies for planning meals, plus they include tons of meal plan ideas.  The thinking is already done for you!

notebook 2

The Notebook?  Oh my goodness.  That’s how I put it all together.  Not only is it mega helpful, it’s cute and fun and made to order.  Yours probably won’t look like mine because your menu planning needs and design preferences are likely different from mine.  That’s the beauty.  You print and put yours together the way it will work best for you.  :)

To bless your menu planning efforts this New Year, we’ve packaged up our three menu planning resources and knocked them down to half price.  Now’s the time to get into a good menu planning routine!  Save yourself some time and money, letting these resources guide you.

Menu Planning Collection

Menu Planning Collection
Menu planning can save you money, time, and help you eat healthier too. Let these downloadable guides and planners make the job even easier!
Price: $9.95


  1. Kristin says

    In winter months, meal planning needs to be based around grocery store produce. Does anyone else feel like the shelf life of grocery store produce is not nearly as long as that obtained seasonally at the farmer’s market? Just this past weekend, I opened a tub or organic mixed greens that was supposed to be good until the 8th, and already had to pick out some bad leaves. Two days later when I went to finish them up, they were completely bad. Mind you this was 3 days BEFORE the expiration date. Last night I opened a bag of bean sprouts, to use in bee Bim bop, only to find them expired as well.

    And how about meat? When fresh (not frozen) chicken is obtained at the grocery store it is supposed to be used or frozen with in 24 hours of purchase. Oh, and apparently it is best not to freeze fresh grocery store meats as, it was often previously frozen meat that has been thawed.

    With all of this in mind, how is one supposed to shop just once and have the food last the whole week?

    Also, how long can a leftover chicken carcass be left in the fridge before making stock?


    Vickie Houser Reply:

    Something that I have found that helps with the pathetic winter produce is to wash, trim and then store it. Leafy greens washed and spun dry seem to keep longer than when left in the original packaging. I store them in gallon size zipper bags. Also trim and wash celery before storing it in a container of water in the fridge. You might also try rearranging your fridge so the delicate produce is in the warmer part of the fridge up top. Put the hardy root vegies down in the lower colder part of the fridge.


  2. Vickie Houser says

    Laura, your menu planning is amazing. You are so organized! Since we are only two, I think I have it easier – Sorry. I don’t need a binder, but I do use a small white board. It’s posted inside my spice cabinet next to the stove.

    Once a week I fill up the white board with our meal plans. First I look at what we have in perishables and then choose meals to make with those ingredients in mind. I make sure I include a variety of meat, fish, and poultry dishes too. Sometimes I put meals on my list based on special sales I see in the store flyers. For example: ricotta was on sale a few weeks ago, so I made lasagna. And as a plus, I already had the other ingredients on hand in my basement.

    My list of meals is in no particular order. Most meals can be used for lunch or dinner. As I make them, I cross them off the list. I do not include breakfast on the list because we eat the same thing all week and have a hot breakfast on weekends.

    Grocery shopping is mostly about picking up the regular perishables, buying the best looking/priced produce, and restocking our food storage room. I restock my kitchen from the basement food storage room so I never have to worry about being out of frozen, canned, boxed, or dry food.

    It’s not really menu planning that I do as much as it is rotating my food storage and eating out of the fridge. :)


  3. says

    Meal planning is the key to successfully feeding my family homecooked meals on a budget. Without a menu plan, chickens remain frozen, beans stay dried, and there is no bread.

    I find my inspiration by reading the recipes and menu plans of others (like you!) Thanks so much for sharing and inspiring over the years, Laura!


  4. ann in E. oregon says

    I just ordered this bundle. I really appreciate all the hard work you put into this project! I really like the wonderful assortment of pretty pages in the menu planning notebook!! I think pretty paper make s the “work” of planning more enjoyable. THANK YOU!!! :-))


  5. ann in E. oregon says

    I just ordered this bundle. I really appreciate all the hard work you put into this project! I really like the wonderful assortment of pretty pages in the menu planning notebook!! I think pretty paper make s the “work” of planning more enjoyable. THANK YOU!!! :-))


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