Why My Whole Foods Menu Plan Might Be Overwhelming

menuplanner1webI love planning a menu for my family. Without a menu plan, it takes me way too long to figure out what we’re eating each day. I also like sharing my menu plan with all of you each week. Many of you have mentioned how helpful you find my plan and have told me that you often “steal” many of my meal ideas. I love that!

But, I also really appreciate the perspective shared in a comment last week – the perspective that my menu plan may be overwhelming to some of you. The fact that I plan all three meals for each day of the week, and the fact that all three meals tend to be big meals – yep, I can definitely see how that could be overwhelming!

I decided to take the time to explain my menu plans just a little bit. I certainly don’t want to overwhelm anyone, nor do I think that planning all three meals for every day of the week is a necessity for everyone. It’s what works for me, but I know it doesn’t work that way for everyone. In fact, menu planning doesn’t work at all for some people. If you’re good at winging it at meal time – go for it! :)

I have found that planning all three meals each day for our family works well for me for the following reasons:

1. My family eats a boat load of food, for every meal.   Having a plan for which boat load of food is going on the table really helps me keep my head above water. (Get it? Boat load? Head above water? Ha.)

2. Having a plan in place for each meal of the day helps me focus on other things so that I’m not constantly distracted by what I’m supposed to feed us next. Trust me, the boys ask all the time – “What are we eating for breakfast/lunch/dinner?”

3. Most of my boys wake up ready to eat my leg if I don’t have breakfast ready to offer them when they wake up. I need to know what I’m making for breakfast before I get out of bed. I like having two legs. It’s very handy.

So the question could still be then:  Why don’t I just feed my family cereal for breakfast and sandwiches for lunch each day, and then focus on our evening meal plan?

Well…I do feed them cereal and sandwiches every once in a while. But wow, the cost of feeding us this type of meal really adds up for us. I did the math one time on how much it costs to feed my family sandwiches. You can read about that here, but add even more to that dollar amount because we now eat probably double what I added up for a meal since my boys are older. (Did I mention that my oldest son has jumped several shoe sizes during the last year?)  Therefore, I find that it really saves our family a lot of money if I cook heartier, more nutrition packed meals if possible.

Some tricks I use to make putting three big meals on the table each day just a little bit easier:

~ Just about every meal I make for my family is simple – especially our breakfast and lunchtime meals. I really don’t find that making a “bigger” lunch for the family takes a whole lot more time than making a bunch of sandwiches.

~ Sometimes we have leftovers to eat, so I don’t have to cook something new. But I don’t always know when we’ll have them, so it’s hard for me to plan those into my menus.

~ I try to have food made and in the freezer to pull out for quick lunches.

~ I have a list of “back up meals” and all ingredients on hand to throw them together if needed.

~ While I do have a detailed menu plan, I switch it up all over the place throughout the week depending on what’s going on and what sounds good. The plan is there, but it is flexible.

~ I give myself grace. If I really just can’t get a good meal on the table, the cereal is in the background waiting to be pulled out.

For a little bit more information on this subject, sure to read my Cooking Healthy Meals When the Menu Plan Fails post. Also, you’ll find a free downloadable page full of healthy, easy lunch ideas here.

Okay everyone. Jump in here with your ideas and thoughts about making menu planning simpler. What do you do about planning breakfast and lunchtime meals?

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  1. KimH says

    When I was much younger, I always had a meal plan, but I had to. I usually had $20-$40 a week to feed a family of 4. I had to make it work, no matter what. I did a great job of it too.

    As I’ve gotten older, I got out of the habit of making a meal plan though I’ve been going back to it recently.
    I got to where I hated cooking, and I always enjoyed cooking. What I hated was coming home from work & try to figure out what to make the minute I walked in the door. That stressed me out to no end and having a menu to guide me for the week relieves that stress tremendously.

    We dont eat a whole lot of processed foods and I rarely buy deli meats and the other “quick” stuff, instead choosing to eat a meat, a starch, and a veggie.

    I usually have 2 eggs for breakfast on weekdays or occasionally an egg & sausage patty, and about once or twice a month I’ll have oatmeal. Maybe once a month I’ll have a fruit & veggie smoothie. No one else in my house eats breakfast, and I take leftovers usually for lunch.

    I have a huge pantry and freezer in addition to the freezer on our frig and they’re all stocked pretty full. I think my problem is that there are too many choices and I have a hard time choosing one, so the meal plan works for me.

    Its nice because I can rearrange the weeks menu to suit the day if needed. Tonight we were supposed to have an Italian Chicken & spaghetti dinner, but I worked late, then went to Target, and it was getting later than I like to start a meal like that, so m’honey had (organic, grass fed) Meatloaf sandwiches, and I had a meatloaf in a bowl. We’ll have the chicken tomorrow.

    Another thing I do to make my life much easier is that I’ll make a huge pot of soup and freeze or can it in single serving size bowls & jars. Its so nice to just go grab a a bowl of soup, especially for my lunches. Today I had a pint jar of turkey, rice, & vegetable soup I canned right after Thanksgiving to use up some of the turkey. Its yummy, its healthy, its fast, & it doesnt have all the chemicals and preservatives commercially made foodlike stuff does.


  2. Ami says

    I homeschool w/ 3 kids 8 and under, so we don’t need a ton of food. I can make really big batches of stuff one or two days a week, and then we just cycle through the food. That means I’m really only cooking about 1/3 of the meals each week, and reheating food at all other meals. I plan our meals loosely, but there are lots of repeats over the course of the week – each food item is eaten or made into something else 2 – 4 times each week. And then the next week I base the menu on completely different food!

    I think homemade soup is totally underrated. We eat soup every day, and I think it’s awesome because it gets us eating more veggies & beans, keeps well, freezes well, has that great healing (cheap) bone broth as a base, and is usually economical.

    Plus, don’t you think food is too tasty to waste two meals a day on monotonous cereal and the same old sandwich?


  3. says

    Your site is the only one I go to on a regular basis because for one thing… I have to plan all my meals too! I have 7 kids and since that includes 4 boys (3 of whom are always asking “what can I have to eat”?) if I don’t have my meals (snacks included) planned out then my whole day is spent preparing food and I run out of food much more quickly. (not sure why-but it it true) Since I homeschool, my kids are always home (again, always wanting to eat!) and my husband works from home so he too needs to eat frequently. Also, one box of cereal or cheeze-its or godlfish etc is never enough for one meal or snack and my kids are hungrier earlier than if they have something that is homemade and more nutritious.

    I feel like you’re my good friend and don’t know what I’d do without you! :)


  4. Bree says

    My littles are only 2 and 4, and they eat like birds…however, your menu plans have inspired me to plan out all three meals. I have been a dinner-planner for quite some time, but most of my leftovers are sent to work with my husband who works 10+ hour shifts. He often eats both lunch and dinner at work, so I rarely see any of the leftovers. The problem I continually ran into was that I had great plans for dinner, but found myself at a total loss on lunch and snacks. I have also found that when I cook a better meal for breakfast, we are less hungry at lunchtime (and less cranky). So, I’m giving it a shot. Thanks for the inspiration!


  5. says

    If I don’t give my kids a hearty breakfast, they will wear me out asking for more food all the way up to lunch.

    My plan is to make-ahead a variety of breakfast foods that are wholesome and filling. I keep on hand oatmeal pancakes and banana waffles {I’ll make a double/triple batch one morning and save the rest in the freezer}. I also do this with muffins and quick breads. I keep oatmeal and cereal on hand too but man, can my family plow through the cereal! It’s so expensive and they are usually starving afterwards, lol. We have eggs every once in awhile too…but we’re big carbs-for-breakfast people {with a side of fruit and milk}. :)


  6. Suzanne says

    I have wondered how much your kids eat – I have 3 boys and they eat so much food – do you supplement your meal plan with other things? For example,if we had only one simple fruit and muffins for breakfast – they would eat several batches of muffins and several of the fruit. We make a huge smoothie with loads of fruit and veggies, whole milk yogurt, green food, avacado etc – it is loaded – and in addition to that, they eat several muffins (or waffles, toast, etc), maybe a bowl of cereal/granola…
    I love your meal planning though (inspiring to say they least!)and while I do not do full meals for lunch (have to pack for everyone and no one but me can heat anything up) – my guys are not big sandwich eaters so we are creative with quesadillas, cheese and whole grain crackers, fruits and veggies (and if they are lucky – a home baked cookie or treat!)
    So what do your kids do when they are ‘starving’ b/w meals?!


    LindseyforLaura@HHM Reply:

    Yes, the kids do eat snacks! I will give you the link to a post Laura wrote about this. :)


  7. Melissa Wheeler says

    It’s just my husband, 1-yr old, and me at home, but I do plan my breakfasts. I actually have a different breakfast each day of the week and rotate through them. Mon- muffins, Tue- homemade granola, yogurt, & berries, Wed- eggs & toast, Thu- smoothies & cereal, Fri- 10 grain hot cereal, Sat- our big breakfast so we rotate through waffles, pancakes, french toast, etc, and Sun- oatmeal. We’ve been doing it long enough that I’ve got it memorized and always have the ingredients on hand. It’s nice not having to decide what’s for breakfast each day.


    Theresa Reply:

    I would love your homemade granola recipe.


    Melissa Wheeler Reply:

    I love the granola! I got the recipe from the website
    100daysofrealfood.com. I just omit the things I don’t like and add things I do. I like to add ground flaxseed. I hope you like it!


  8. liz says

    I’m a planner but only for supper … I like to know just what I’m cooking when and what my sides are … I also have quick snap together meals on days life changes my plans … I also cook twice the amount other people if possible because I homeschool two teenage girls and let me tell you they like to eat (not that there fat there extreemly active I swear they move in there sleep) and I like left overs that they can heat when they are hungry … also there taste in food is completly diffrent so I cook what I want if you don’t like it heat something up … when I first started doing this I worried about waste but the only thing that gets thrown out of my fridge is an empty milk carton … it works for us


  9. Kate says

    A girl I worked with one time had the best plan I’ve heard yet about leftovers. She said their leftover night coincides with garbage day. I think their garbage day was Friday so every Thursday night she took all the leftovers out of the refrigerator and what wasn’t eaten, went in the garbage. Also, she was assured that there was never anything left in the back of the ‘frig to spoil.


  10. Karen W. says

    I subscribe to your updates and am inspired by you daily, so THANK YOU! I am not so good at drawing up a meal plan, but our family is in transition and now it’s just me and my two boys (age 12 and 9) and I’m trying to adjust to our new family meal dynamic. My sons eat A LOT (I know, I’m preachin’ to the choir here!) and it’s hard to keep them fed! I really try hard to cook totally from scratch not only to keep costs low, but also to give them healthier intake. So, please keep up the good work. At a time in my life when I need positive inspiration, your blog keeps me going. Love so many of your recipes. Thanks for sharing them!


  11. N says

    Thanks for the link for more info about meal planning. It makes sense for me to give it one more try. Hey, if it doesn’t work, at least I can say that I tried.


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