Menu Planning


Oh menu planning. Last week I talked about all the likes and dislikes in a family our size (though they are existent in a family any size!) and the ways we tackle that at meal time. That same mix of tastes also plays into the many difficulties of menu planning. When planning a menu there is also budget to consider and variety to keep in mind. And I don’t know about you, but with all I have to remember, being able to think of dinner options is challenging. A few things have become clear to me though:

  1. Not menu planning is not an option- it far outweighs trying to figure out meals on the fly for nine people or having to run to the grocery store in the middle of a crazy day just to be able to have dinner that night.
  2. I am a visual person so for menu planning to work for me and not turn into a big headache, I needed to turn it into something very visual; something that would use the least amount of brain power possible.

So I came up with a little system I will now share with you. It has evolved over time, but even in its primitive form (which can be seen in the featured image above), it helped me so much!

I used to have one of those menu boards hanging in the kitchen with the clothes pins that you use to display the meals to come that week. ImageThat thing didn’t work for me for many reasons: you could only have one card per day and I don’t like the same side dishes with the same main course time after time, you couldn’t switch the days around depending on when you were menu planning, and if I changed my mind there were complainers. Then I tried just having a list of meals, but that still involved too much brain power. I’ll explain as I show you the current system.

It started out as a whim one night. We were literally all still sitting around the dinner table when it came to me so I went and grabbed some colored paper and started cutting. I cut imperfect little rectangles in different colors and then started adding our dishes to them in pen. I was scribbling away as everyone watched confused. Once they realized I was writing down dinners, everyone started calling out their favorites. I actually found that helpful so all their ideas got jotted down on the cards. The collection grew over time, and the papers got a little worn, but I used them long enough to know this system worked for me and I was ready to make it permanent. For Christmas I asked for a laminator and a paper cutter and got to work. I am not fancy-I used a Microsoft Word template for jar labels and just typed in all the dishes. I printed all the sheets on different colors (I will explain why) and got to cutting!image-111.jpg

Yellow cards are chicken dishes.


Red cards are beef dishes.


Purple cards are pork dishes.


Pink cards are seafood dishes. You may notice that there are less of these cards. That is because most of the family are not fans of “sea chicken”. And most of these are shrimp dishes.


Orange cards are etc (like ones that don’t fit in a meat category, or “Leftover Night” or “Order Pizza”).


Blue cards are side dishes.

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Green cards are vegetables.

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And I keep some blanks made from the unused parts of the papers to add dishes with permanent marker.

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Why all the colors? I say again that I am a very visual person. Having the different kinds of meals on different colored cards helps me keep our dinners varied without having to think too hard about it. I can see how much chicken I have in the menu for the week and keep variety. Being able to see everything all laid out also helps me make sure I only have one pricier meat on the menu each week (which is one of my big family budget hacks). So if steak is on the menu, you can bet everything else will be chicken and ground beef related. Once I have a menu set. I take a picture of it with my phone so I can easily reference it and write the meals in on my calendar.


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In the bottom square of my calendar, you can see where I write in meal ideas for the next week. I write those down when I notice I have a lot on hand to make a specific dish and it would be easy to have the next week or if David mentions something he would like to have. This way I have a jumping off point for when I sit down to make the next week’s menu.

At this point, Image-1I DO NOT post the menu anywhere in the house. I can’t stand the moaning and groaning and opinions. It is just not worth it. It’s like a surprise every night! Instead, the cards are kept in bags in my desk for when it is time to menu plan again. For now, that it once a week. I menu plan on Thursday, I “shop” on Friday, I continue to think of things until midday Saturday and add them because mom brain and then place the order, and then we pick up after church on Sundays!

Once I have my menu set, I sit down at the computer and make my Walmart pickup order! Have I mentioned how much I LOVE grocery pickup?? I have all the meals right in front of me which makes shopping so much easier.

I am sure this post makes me appear to be one of those “Pinterest mom” types. I am definitely more a “chaos mom” who is learning little things here and there to make the chaos a little more manageable! Still becoming blended <3


Ashley Karaffa

Ashley is mother to a blended family of 10 and appreciating the beautiful chaos of it all. She enjoys creating systems - because how can you survive a family with 8 kids without systems - and spending time celebrating her family.


  1. chalkeddesigns on February 27, 2018 at 11:36 pm

    This is a great article — I love this idea, although I don’t have that many dishes I make. I may need to learn to cook more things.

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