The Creative Mama » inspiring art, encouraging women

The End of Reinventing the Meal- Menu Planning and The Ultimate Menu Board

I grocery shop weekly. That used to mean that I would menu plan weekly too. You know the dreaded menu planning routine– flipping through cookbooks and recipe cards, penciling a few ideas on the back of a phone bill, and frantically glancing at your calendar hoping to avoid planning a meal that you won’t have the time to cook. And THEN you need to make your shopping list which means more flipping through your recipes to make sure you don’t forget anything like Worcestershire sauce. (Spell that three times.)

I got so tired of reinventing the meal… I mean wheel. After admiring several different menu boards on Pinterest, I decided to take what I loved about each one (i.e. what I thought would work for me) and combine those aspects into a menu board that would serve my needs perfectly. And thus The Ultimate Menu Board was born.

menu board ideaWhat I love about this particular design—
1) It’s weekly. I shop and plan my calendar weekly. I can adjust for company, evenings out, leftovers, etc.
2) Ingredients are listed on the back of the meal cards which measure 1 ½ by 4 ¼ inches. Hello shopping list! Sources such as recipe card, cookbook and page number, or binder are also noted.

3) Using the two pockets (made from 16 count crayon boxes,) I can store all of my meal cards right on the board. With a rotating system, I start with all the cards in the lower box. After we have a particular meal, I place its card into the upper box until we go through the majority of the cards. Then, I start over choosing from all of them again.
4) Clothespins mean no slipping of the laminated meal cards and no pin holes.
5) The base is an 11×14” picture frame, so it’s a cinch to hang. Using two nails keeps the board from tilting under its lopsided weight.

I shared my finished board on Pinterest and was surprised at how many sweet ladies sent me a note to say they couldn’t wait to make their own and start using it. (Hooray for making life in the kitchen a bit easier on busy mamas!) Along with the notes came inquiries about exactly how I set up the meal cards and what I was serving each day. (Many would be disappointed to see my recipes like this one for spaghetti- brown ground beef, add a jar of sauce, boil noodles, and mix. Several meals are that easy.)

At the end of this article is a one week sample of what I am currently serving along with a few favorite recipes. However, I want to share what I think will be even more valuablel—not what I serve, but how I go about planning it. The key is themes! Assigning a different theme to each day of the week helpfully narrows your focus as you plan. It also ensures that you have a nice variety of foods without similar repeats during the week. A different color of cardstock for each theme’s meal cards makes choosing meals for the week even easier.

The key to having themes that will work for you is to choose themes that go along with what your family already eats on a regular basis. I suggest brainstorming and writing down all the meals you regularly serve (or even keep track for a month as you go.) Then, look at your list and see what types of themes are already represented. Eat a lot of fish? (Me neither, ha.) If you do, you could have “Seafood Night” or “Under the Sea.” Do you have several pasta dishes? “Pasta Night” or “Mambo Italiano” might work well. Love to try new recipes? Assign a day to do that. The recipes that you try and love can be added to the rotation of another night. Do you typically have leftovers? Make it a theme. Some people plan by what type of meat they serve– chicken, beef, pork. It can be that simple. The important thing is to choose themes that will work for you and your family. After you identify your themes, try to come up with 4-5 different meals per theme. This is going to take time. It is an investment that will eliminate hours of busy work and stress once you get your themes and meals into place.

The themes I use right now are–
Monday- Mambo Italiano (pasta dishes like spaghetti, chicken/broccoli alfredo, etc.)
Tuesday- Dicksons’ Diner (quick and easy stuff like hamburgers, grilled cheese and soup, etc.)
Wednesday- Crock Pot (I love the crock pot! In fact, I use it twice a week. I try to choose a chicken meal for one day and something else for the other while also considering what I am serving on the days next to it.)
Thursday- Fiesta Ole (burritos, quesadillas, etc.)
Friday- Homestyle (meat and potato types of meals like baked chicken, steak, etc.)
Saturday- Eat out
Sunday- Crock Pot (yes, again)

When you assign your themes to the day of the week, think about your family’s typical schedule. For example, a crock pot meal is perfect for my family on Sundays because I can start it before we leave for church, and we get to come home (starving) to something good to eat. Plan simple, quick things on the nights you know your time to prepare will be limited. Does hubby work late every Tuesday? Make it “Kids Stuff” Tuesday. You get the idea.

What I love about The Ultimate Menu Board is that it is super flexible. Let’s say I notice mid-week that we have plenty of leftovers to feed the family for one day. I can slip the “leftover” card on top of Friday’s meal and just plan on doing the original meal the next week. And it’s not a problem to make a change. I can flip flop nights if I want. Life happens and it always threatened my carefully planned and printed “monthly menu.” No more. Want to add something new to the rotation? Simply make an additional card.

I hope this menu board and the tips on planning with themes will make time in the kitchen a little more pleasant and much more efficient for my fellow creative mamas.

menu board collageIf you still need a little inspiration, perhaps the following examples will help you get started.

One Week Meal Plan
Monday- lasagna, garden salad, French bread (wheat)
Tuesday- grilled cheese sandwiches, tomato soup (or ramen or ravioli)
Wednesday- garlic chicken, roasted zucchini, pineapple and cottage cheese
Thursday- burritos, corn, tortilla chips
Friday- party chicken, baked potatoes, honey mustard salad
Saturday- eat out
Sunday- mushroom and onion pork chops, brown rice, mixed veggies, rolls

Mom’s Lasagna-
Make sauce mixture using 1 lb browned ground beef, 1 can tomato soup, 1 can cheddar cheese soup, 15 oz tomato sauce, 1 T Italian seasoning and 1 tsp onion salt.
In a 9×13 pan, layer boiled noodles (9 in all,) sauce mixture and shredded mozzarella cheese three times.
Bake at 375 degrees for about 30 minutes.

Grilled Cheese Sandwiches-
For an extra special sandwich use sourdough bread, three cheeses (a spread of cream cheese, a slice of American, a slice of provolone,) and slices of tomato and red onion.

Ella’s Honey Mustard Salad-
Combine lettuce, chopped apple, red onion, shredded cheddar cheese, sunflower seeds and bacon bits. Top with your favorite honey mustard dressing.

Happy planning, shopping, cooking and eating!

Clair Dickson is an Army wife, mother of four, and family portrait photographer. Formerly an art teacher, Clair continues to enjoy being creative through writing, homemaking, and teaching new ideas and skills to others.

cgdickson photography

Clair on Facebook

Clair on Pinterest

About Bree


Bree is the founder and writer of BakedBree.com, a recipe site that shares her love of cooking, baking, and entertaining with others. BakedBree.com launched in February of 2010 as a way to merge Bree’s love of photography with her love of food, and share both with friends and family. Currently, Bree lives in the suburbs of Washington DC with her husband and 3 children.

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  • Ilaj13

    I am totally making one! I love pinterest:)

  • Kmasi33764

    I went to the craft store tonight and got all my goodies to make one of these!!

  • Danikrenzer715

    I can’t wait to make my own menu board…dinners are the worst to plan and I think this will make it easier and less stressful. Thanks for the idea :) I have a bunch of friends who are making their own too!!

  • http://www.blendingchaos.com/ Alecia

    I love this!! So simple and so perfect! Do you have a tutorial on how to make the board?

  • Gretchen Homan

    Thank you. I saw this on pinterest and had to come and take a better look. So much nicer than my white board or peice of paper. Thanks again

  • Lcbodnarchuk

    genius!

  • Mittens12h

    This is an amazing idea!!!

  • Kelli

    I always have a weekly menu posted on the fridge (handwritten). This gives a more attractive approach for what I already do!! Thank you for the inspiration!

  • NolaTeach

    This is an AWESOME idea!! I’m a teacher so life is very busy all school year long. This would be a great way to avoid the “What’s for supper?” question that Hubby and I struggle with. Thank you sooo much for sharing!!

  • Teamlively

    I too have tried everything to simplify menu planning. I am so for this idea! I would LOVE more detail on how you created the cards. I’m in Word now and trying to make tables/boxes/text boxes! I’m sure there is a simpler way and I’m just complicating it more. HELP cuz I know I can use this system! thanks

  • http://4you-withlove.blogspot.com/ marilyn

    I love this idea!

  • Sandi Sammon

    You should sell these on etsy!

  • Kristin

    Wow! This is awesome! Just wondering if you have all of your meals, ingredient lists, and recipes saved on documents in word or PDF? And if so, would you be willing to share or email them to me? It would totally help me with ideas and a template to use as I add some of our own favorites. Thanks so much!! mysweetheartmoments@yahoo.com

  • Joshandpaige

    This is a great idea. I let my kids each chose a meal for one night. They could just go through the cards and pick one…and pin it up on the board!

  • http://twitter.com/ahensnest Henrietta Newman

    This is awesomeness <3

  • Jennifer

    I love this. I had thought of having rotating meals (since I read somewhere that the average family only eats about 10 different meals each month anyway), but I had yet to come up with a great way to organize my meals. I can’t wait to get the supplies and make one!!

  • Erratic Momma

    I love this idea! I’ve wanted to try meal planning for a long time but get overwhelmed with the idea of it. This is something I might actually be able to talk myself into trying. Thanks for posting, I can’t wait to look at more of your blog!

  • Victoriagrace

    I strongly believe that you should sell these. I love the idea and thought but just do not have time for it! Very, very cool. xXx

  • Bobbi Jo Fleischman

    My favorite family menu planner EVER!

  • Sambiagio

    you are a GENIUS!!!! I love this :) :) :) Thank you!

  • Kimberly Graebner

    This is absolutely adorable!! How did you attach your clothes pins to the menu board/frame?

    • Lisa Gosweiler

      Hey Kim,
      I was wondering this also, she answered it a few weeks ago in the comments for jill. She hot glued them to the wood frame. also she hot glued the cardboard boxes to the glass for the frame and not to paper. I thought that was a good idea for extra support. I can’t wait to make this!
      Lisa g.

      • Kimberly Graebner

        Thank you so much!!!!

  • Racheal Fick

    This is such an amazing idea!!! Thank you for posting your ideas about themes! I have been trying to come up with something like this for awhile and just keep failing!!! I can’t wait to start mine!!!

  • Nicole

    OMGoodness! I love you! Happy Valentines dDay and Thank you

  • Rebecca Nash

    Oh My Goodness! Where have you been all my life? I absolutely love this idea! It makes life so much easier planning this way. I’m starting on the meal cards right now! Thank you for sharing your ideas for all of us to benefit from!

  • Schappell1085

    This is the best thing ever! I am going to make one, hopefully I use it! lol

  • Rachel Sanford

    I love this and you are a beautiful person for thinking of it! I have just started menu planning and it seemed soooo stressful, but you just eased my anxiety. THANK. YOU!!!!

  • Heather :) :) :)

    This is a fantastic idea!!! I saw the link to your site on The Grocery Shrink website :) :) I’m going to share this on my Facebook page, too :) :) Love and hugs from the ocean shores of California, Heather :)

  • Jennifer

    Finally a menu planner that is simplified! I have tried all different ways of meal planning for my family and I LOVE this! Thank you for sharing…I can’t wait to make one!

  • FDand R

    What a fantastic idea! I love it! I

  • Jennifer

    Genius! I Pinned it and Facebooked it. Now to plan one!

    • Jennifer

      I also included your site address. :)

  • Sarah

    Truly useful and easily adjusted by other families – congratulations! Like other commenters, I have seen many suggestions, but none which are as comprehensive and straightforward as yours.

  • Julie

    I am so excited about this idea! I saw it on Pinterest and I immediatly got the supplies to make my own. I am very hopeful that it will save me lots of time and frustration. I’ve finished the board and clips( Not nearly as cute as yours)… now to make the cards. Thank for sharing your idea!

  • Jennybradford1975

    Love love that I found this!!!!

  • Jennifer Brinkmeyer

    Someone may have already asked this or you may have explained, but do the different colors of cards represent the different themes you use or do they represent a certain day or do they have no meaning necessarily? My husband and I currently take turns cooking dinner and so I think that if I give him his “colors” to choose from every week – then he would be just as likely to use this board as me. GREAT idea – I love it!

    • Clair Dickson

      Yep, my meal card colors are determined by the theme.

  • Maryanna Russell

    I love this idea!

  • MR

    Such a great idea! What did you use for the meal cards? Did you type it out and print onto the card?

    • Clair Dickson

      I made a 2 column word document. On the left I typed the meal, on the right- the ingredients for that meal. I fit about 5 meals on one page. I cut cardstock down to regular print paper size and ran it through the printer. Then, I cut the cardstock into 1.5″ strips, folded them in half (giving me the meal on front and ingredients on back,) and then laminated them.

  • http://www.projectdowhatyoulove.wordpress.com/ Natalie

    This rocks! LOVE THE IDEA, thanx for sharing!

    Natalie
    http://www.projectdowhatyoulove.wordpress.com

  • http://www.facebook.com/careyvorholt Carey Penton Vorholt

    What a fantastic idea!

  • marci goodwin

    This is awesome, Bree!! I am inspired to do something a little different with my menu planning!

  • Isabel

    I’ve been following this blog for some time now. I love the ideas and the talent and good taste you put on them all. I’ m portuguese and I live in Lisbon. Thist post made me think how life can be so different 7000Km apart and yet so similar. My homecooking has nothing to do with yours but the struggle to decide what to cook each day is the same.Thank you for menu plan!

  • jill

    would love to make this. did you put the glass in the frame? how did you affix everything? did you glue the clothespins as well? Thank you so much!
    funk50@charter.net

    • Clair Dickson

      Hi Jill :) Yes the glass is in the frame. The decorative paper and the “menu” title are behind the glass. The pockets are hot glued on top of the glass. The clothespins are also hot glued along the side which worked well with the wooded frame. Another type of glue might be needed to adhere to something other than wood.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Carol-Mihlfeld/100000327195513 Carol Mihlfeld

    I love this idea – I currently do a monthly menu plan – and this would work perfectly as I could put the menu cards for the month in the bottom container and then move them up as they are used. My husband has been after me to do something like this, but I just couldn’t come up with something that would work with my monthly plan and his recipe card idea. This is perfect – Thank you!

  • Michelle

    Thank you so much for this! I made the menu board this weekend and I’ve been so excited about using it already. This will just make it so much better!

  • Nora

    L-O-V-E this idea of the menu board!!! I can’t wait to make my own!

  • http://www.facebook.com/sepiscitelli Stephanie Edreich Piscitelli

    PS: my friend does something similar by putting little sheets of paper with dinner ideas in a bowl and then picking 5 each week. It would be great to get 10 options from 5 friends and have even more option to mix it up!!

  • Stepanie

    this is SOOOO awesome! Thanks! Even though I love to cook I get in a rut every week about what to make. This is a great idea, many thanks for sharing!

  • Kim D

    Clair!! This is amazing. I struggle with making “the dreaded list” each week. I think this is something my kids would even enjoy. Thank you!! xx

  • http://www.amaranthineimage.com/ Alissa H.

    I have seen about a million menu planners that are supposed to simplify my life. I’ve even paid for some services that tell me what to buy and what to cook. Seriously, I’ve tried them all.

    But for the first time ever, I think you’ve created something that will *actually* simplify my life AND fit my family. It seems so simple I have to wonder why I didn’t think of it myself. However, I didn’t and I’m so thankful you did. And that you shared it.

    Give yourself a little hug and know that someone out there thinks you are a genius and appreciates you! What a blessing this will be.

    I’m off to start collecting my list of what my people actually like to eat so I can make my board in about a month.

    Cheers!

  • http://www.meagainstthesugar.com/ Cynthiasolc

    I love the craft board idea! I try to save some weekly plans online so I can just access them when I don’t have time to plan.

    Plus, I also added a “Convenience” night whenever I go grocery shopping. I could buy a cooked item from the grocery store and just add a veggie or a side :)

  • Donna

    Wowza, what a terrific post! I appreciate all the time you put into sharing your menu planning. I currently have no set weekly menu’s for dinner planned in advance. I do grocery shop weekly and have a general idea of what meals we can put together. Meals usually involve a theme as Mexican is a weekly favorite. Since all these meal ideas are in my head as I do most of the cooking, this board would be awesome for my husband! lol If he beats me home, he can start preparing dinner! That is a good thing!