Menu Boards Are Fun and Useful When Meal Planning


I have used a menu board on and off for a long time. I’ve used chalk boards, which get messed up by kids drawing on them all the time, I’ve tried white boards which worked well for awhile but erased super easy, and now I’m into using a wet erase board which seems to combine the best of all worlds.

It only erases with water which means it is very hard for little boys to rub the words off with their fingers, it is black which blends in with my refrigerator, and it has held up surprisingly well. Win-win-win. If you get a wet erase board, make sure you get wet erase markers, which are apparently different than dry erase ones. (I got this one at Target for about $12.00)

However, although the menu board is fun to use and look at – it is only one part of my eating strategy for weight loss and weight maintenance.

If you’ve read my blog for any length of time you know that I am a firm believer in the importance of planning. I plan meals, plan exercise, plan how to handle vacations, and definitely plan how to handle social situations.

I thought I’d share some tool and techniques that I use when planning my meals. I sure wish I had known how to do this when I was first married, because I really think it would have helped me immensely. Well, it also would have helped if I had known how to cook, but that’s another post for another day. πŸ™‚

When I sit down to plan my meals I use these two tools that I’ve put up on my website as a download for you.

Menu Planning WorksheetΒ (this is a .pdf)

Grocery Store List By Category (this is an Excel spreadsheet. If I’m doing a short trip I use this, but I have a longer one for my family since there are 9 of us!)

Once I have the worksheet and the blank grocery store list, I’m ready to go.

I begin by planning dinners because that’s the most complex meal for me. We generally eat vegetarian meals three or four nights a week and something with chicken the other nights. I take advantage of some of my favorite cookbooks such as theΒ Superfoods: Cook Your Way to Health by Jyl Steinback (out-of-print, but available used from Amazon (affiliate links), The Sparkpeople Cookbook: Love Your Food, Lose the Weight, and my Taste of Home cookbook. The last one is not a low-calorie cookbook but I’m an expert at adapting recipes to be healthier for me and my family.

We generally have one Mexican meal a week, one Italian meal, and pizza night. That leaves me several other nights to either serve family favorites or try something new. If it’s a busy week I make sure that I have quick, easy meals on tap like chicken noodle soup made with the leftover roasted chicken from the night before, a bean dish that utilizes beans I’ve already cooked and frozen ahead of time, or a brown rice dish using cooked brown rice that I’ve frozen. You see how much planning helps?

Lunches are easy for me because I make my own sandwich bread and I fill it with a healthy nut butter, eggs, roasted chicken, or occasionally sharp cheddar cheese for grilled cheese sandwiches. I also serve tortillas, salad, leftovers, or whatever else strikes my fancy. My two older daughters and my husband take leftovers (if available) or make their own sandwiches. They rarely run through a drive-thru (yay for good choices!)

Breakfast is usually a healthy cereal like one from Attune Foods, whole wheat pancakes, a huge pot of oatmeal, or grits and eggs. I admit to choosing cereal over cooked breakfasts most days.

Only my littlest boys eat snacks on a regular basis. They have hummus and whole wheat crackers, cheese sticks, unsalted pretzels, fruit, or carrots. If I have a snack it is usually popcorn or carrots.

I make my grocery store list at the same time as I menu plan. The whole process takes less than 30 minutes a week. Whenever anyone tells me that they don’t have time to plan their meals, I tell them they don’t have time not to! When I think of all the money we’ve saved by not going to restaurants and not shopping more than once a week those 30 minutes are absolutely worth their weight in gold.

How are you at menu planning? Gotten better with time or just plain burned out? Please share any tips for other readers! Diane



30 thoughts on “Menu Boards Are Fun and Useful When Meal Planning

  1. PlumPetals says:

    I follow something very similar.
    I’ve got a whiteboard in my kitchen, and after writing out the menu for the week I make my grocery list accordingly. That list helps big time as I know there is no reason to stray from it at all! It also helps save time when grocery shopping and later in the week when I’m just stumped about what to make for dinner.

  2. Toby Edge says:

    Really good post and some great advice.

    I would advise anyone who is looking to lose or maintain their weight to plan, plan, plan! This forms the basis of my advice to clients because it takes the guesswork out of everything and gives you focus, which is really important for motivation.

    And, like you say, it only takes 30 mins or so per week, so we all have time to do this. Its like mini goalsetting each week, and ingraining this habit is really important.

  3. karen says:

    I always mean to plan. Even bought really cute menu sheets hoping that would help. I’m pretty lousy at sticking to it for more than a couple of days, though. It’s crazy because I can plan out my son’s lunches for a week or two at a time but can’t pull together dinner. Maybe that will be my February goal…

    • Diane Carbonell says:

      I think it takes practice to do it consistently. As long as you are eating healthy, the actual planning isn’t magical or anything – it just makes my life so much easier!!

  4. Caron says:

    I don’t have a menu board but I do plan my dinners each week. I usually just grab a piece of paper and write the days of the week and put out beside them what I plan to have that day. Of course, the days of the week don’t really matter as much as planning for meals for the week. I just printed off your nice meal planner and will try that tomorrow morning. Thanks, Diane. πŸ™‚

  5. Emergefit says:

    I like this and support it though, as a single man with no life, planning for me is quite easy. Of the many common factors that my successful weight loss clients have adhered to, being a meal/shopping planner is near the top of the list — it’s that important!

  6. Joe says:

    I have never used a board or paper to write down my meals but I do plan. It’s usually in my head and thats how I attack the grocery store. I then usually cook 3 days worth of lunches and oatmeal so some of my meals are easy and quick. Dinner Iis usually something different every day but planned.

  7. Janis says:

    This is interesting — I never plan meals. I just make sure I have stuff I like in the kitchen. Mostly, that’s chicken breasts or ground turkey and a ton of fruit and veg. Some pasta, etc. Barley, rice. Enough of the staples, enough interesting spices, and a crock pot, and you can pretty much make something good at the drop of any hat with almost no effort. When I’m not in the mood to work at ANYTHING, I haul out the microwave steamer pot, throw in whatever veg I happen to have, and stick it in the microwave for 8 minutes.

    That said, I live on my own and don’t cook for anyone but me. πŸ™‚ That simplifies things greatly.

    • Diane Carbonell says:

      I’m not sure I would plan as much as I do if it were just me or just me and John. I think I’d be more spontaneous. I will say that there are times when I don’t want to make what is on my calendar and then, like you, have enough healthy ingredients on hand to make something else quick and easy!

      • Janis says:

        Yeah, with a family, I think you NEED to plan. My mom always did, too. Life just needs to be more regimented when you’re cooking for a whole family. My mom ALWAYS wrote down what she’d make in a given week and ALWAYS wrote down a shopping list based on it, and we ALWAYS shopped on Thursday nights.

        I sometimes wonder if regimented cooking and eating isn’t also part of why people tend to gain after marriage and kids, particularly for women. For me, if I’m not hungry when I get home in the evenings, I just … don’t eat anything. But if you’ve got a family to cook for, then you cook anyway because they need to eat, and you’ll probably have some as well. It might prevent you from just following your own hunger or absence thereof.

        Then again, I can imagine some people might find living on their own to be an excuse to overeat because hey, no one else can see! Hm …

  8. Diane Carbonell says:

    It’s not brain surgery and it isn’t all that hard – you are right! I would say that if I am in a room with 100 women, only about 30 of them will know what they are having for dinner the rest of the week. Many, many people just wing it and they tell me that when they don’t have any kind of plan, they often end up at a restaurant or just grazing on junk for dinner!

    I love your three P’s! Very smart and practical – there’s a fourth P!

  9. Siobhan says:

    I used to do this when I had kids at home … actually planned my meals two weeks out because I really didn’t like going to the grocery store. Plus the nearest Sam’s Club was 70 miles one way so it was a day trip and needed to be well-planned.

    Now that it’s just Mac and I I don’t write it down and my grocery list is pretty much the same all the time. We usually get half a beef twice a year from one of the sisters, always have salmon and halibut in the freezer from Alaska fishing trips, and have a neighbor who supplies us with eggs and chicken. So I can be pretty spontaneous with all I have on hand.

    However, there is a part of me that sees some menu-planning lists and thinks I definitely need to do that. πŸ™‚

  10. Babbalou says:

    I don’t plan meals in advance because I never know what’ll sound good to me as the dinner hour approaches. BUT I have a white board on the fridge and write options based on what I have. I don’t use a cookbook, I just wing it. And I do buy a lot of produce weekly and keep of list of the staples I’m out of. Plus I always have frozen shrimp, individually frozen fish filets and cooked rice (wild, white and black) and small portions of feta and goat cheese in my freezer. Also cans of salmon, tomatoes and beans. So I can whip up a Thai curry, spicy salmon patties, a stir fry, veg and bean tortillas or a soup within 15 minutes. It’s faster and easier than running out for something. Of course I’m only cooking for my husband and I these days, no doubt cooking for nine is an entirely different matter!

  11. Elizabeth says:

    Eating at home is better for the waistline and pocketbook πŸ™‚ I’m stil struggling with a menu for a whole week. When I’m off work, I do a better job of planning meals out a few days in advance. However, when life is so chaotic I fall behind in meal planning. I do a good job when it comes to lunch. I pack my lunch for work every Sunday night for the entire week but dinner is another story.

  12. Jody - Fit at 55 says:

    This is a great plan!!! I am a simple eater & eat lots of the same things but with different seasonings & different times of the day so I don’t really need this for me. Hubby & I eat different so I just keep my needs readily available & then choose what is right for me at the time I am ready.

    Great for busy people & families though Diane! I am tweeting!!!

  13. jeanette says:

    I love that I always know what to take out of the freezer in the a.m. because I always have a weekly menu up. I usually make our bread for the week on Thursday (yay for all us bread bakers!) and write my menu on Fridays…. shop on Saturday and do my weekly food preps on Sunday afternoon (like cook rice, chop veggies, etc. This may seem like a hastle to some but I love how smooth it makes my kitchen and life…so worth it!

  14. sabril says:

    I always plan my meals. It’s very difficult to make intelligent decisions about food in the heat of the moment.

  15. evilcyber says:

    Without planning, my entire diet wouldn’t have worked, although it wasn’t really the meals per se that I planned ahead. What I did instead was keeping a mental tally on how many calories I would be consuming if I ate x. If, for example, I wanted to give me a big treat and eat a tuna pizza in the evening (I love tuna pizza, but one has 800 kcal!), I adjusted everything I ate during the day for that big feast. On other days, I saved up some calories and then picked my free choice out of a number of sweets we had around.

    Interestingly, I never before had savored each bite of a pizza or piece of candy that much. I became much more aware of each nuance of flavor.

  16. Susan says:

    I feel like menu’s should be so easy, just simple thing to control, and yet I do’t do it. I registered with eMeals from their groupon deal, and am using that. It’s been so nice to just look through a few ideas, pick the days I want that item and have time to prep it and use their grocery list. Since I paid for a year(and had a groupon credit, so realistically I had $1) I am hoping that this will be a good habit to develop this year, and next year I can do it on my own! Hoping this will realy build my recipe collection and cooking skills.

    Breakfasts are easy for us, neither one of us is a huge breakfast person, so we drink Atkins shakes. It does the job. And lunches, we both are pretty simple and prefer salad, so we tend to have salad with whatever left over we have available… With just two people to cook for, there’s always left overs πŸ™‚

  17. Michelle says:

    We try to plan out what meals we want to eat that week. We don’t usually plan which day we’re going to make them. I find it much easier now to come up with a list of what we need at the store and go into the store specifically for those items. We used to wander the store trying to figure out what we wanted to eat. What this usually meant was we came home with more stuff than what we really used and we would end up wasting food. We would also come home with more snacky foods that way too.

  18. Sara Bloms, RD, LD says:

    Love this post!

    As a dietitian, I educate our members of on how to how to plan out their meals for the week using our interactive meal planning software. The meal planning software lets you select what meals you want to cook and when (this great for your busy lifestyle). No longer are you told what 5 recipes you can choose from that week and what day you should prepare them. This software puts you in control of your weight loss/maintenance journey! It then automatically generates a grocery list based on the recipes and number of servings you chose and it is organized by aisle – making grocery shopping quick and easy!

    By having a plan, you don’t wander the grocery store and purchase things off your list (which generally are spontaneous choices that don’t support your weight loss/maintenance goals). By having a plan and an organized grocery list you save money and your waistline!

  19. Fat Woman says:

    I too have a whiteboard in my kitchen with a list of the meals we are having. I write them up once I come home from the supermarket.
    I listed all my healthy meals on a spreadsheet and divided them by cuisine, marking each one by protein type e.g. beef, chicken, vegetarian. Then I scheduled as many weeks as I could with the meals I had. We can eat a different thing every day each month.
    I leave two days each week unscheduled.

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