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My Menu Planning Method for Cooking with Seasonal Food

It's 1 hour before dinner and I have no idea what I'm going to make.  Because I didn't plan ahead, we are low on groceries in the refrigerator and there isn't any meat thawed out from the freezer.  I'm out of creativity and can't think of anything to cook.

It's a situation that I dread.

Ultimately, it happens because I am lazy and fail to plan.

I do enjoy cooking but menu planning is not something I feel confident in.

That was until a few years ago, when I came up with a method for menu planning that works for my family.  The longer I practice this, the easier it gets.

I will share that method, along with a month of my own family's meal plan below.

A few years ago, I started a spreadsheet where I recorded what we ate at each meal.  I wasn't necessarily planning in advance what we were going to eat, I was simply recording after the fact what we actually ate at each meal.  I wrote down the main dish, side dishes, and any desserts or treats that I made.

After about 1 year of doing this, I began planning my weekly menu in advance by looking back at my spreadsheet at the same time the previous year to see what I had cooked. 

This method works perfectly for us because I use locally-grown, seasonal ingredients so our meals look different depending on what month of the year it is.

For example, we eat salads frequently in the spring, we make lots of spiralized zucchini noodles in the summer, and cook squash often in the fall, while relying on canned and frozen vegetables during the winter.

However, you don't have to wait a year before using your meal record to plan your menu.  You could start repeating your meals after just 1 or 2 months!

But the longer you do this, the more meal ideas you will have to pull from!  After 4 years of doing this, I can now look back on the previous 4 years to plan my menu for the week.

If I previously made a recipe that my family didn't like, I replace it with a new recipe the next time around.

If you want to see how I format my spreadsheet and get some meal ideas, here is 1 month of my own menu to get you started.

(This menu is a real life example of what my family actually ate for 1 month, which is determined by the groceries we have on hand and our schedule.  It's not perfect!)

Note about breakfast and lunch: 

I don't usually plan or record what we have for breakfast or lunch because we often eat the same thing.  Breakfast is a combination of eggs, oatmeal, and a smoothie while lunch is either leftovers or kid friendly staples like sandwiches or quesadillas. Those cells are blank on the spreadsheet unless I make something unique.

How I organize my recipes:

If I use a recipe from the internet and follow it exactly as written, I link to the recipe in the spreadsheet. 

If I make up my own recipe or make tweaks to the original recipe, then I write the recipe on a multicolored card and keep it in a recipe box sorted by categories.

Now I want to hear from you!

Leave a comment and tell me how you meal plan.  What is your biggest struggle?

Was this blog post helpful and is there anything you want more details about?


You are my hero! Thank you for all of your thoughtful, earth-friendly ideas! You never fail to inspire me. I’m going to try this—kind of a BIAY/Meals-in-a-Year kind of way!

Thank you so much for sharing!! I love this idea and have already started my spreadsheet. My struggle is coming up with ideas. So I love that you shared some of your recipes and ideas!

Thank you for sharing your tips and recipes. I am going to try this. I do some planning but run out of ideas and run into problems with not having the ingredients on hand.

Great idea Anna. I cook with the season also but never really plan ahead which gets me in trouble sometimes, especially when the meat I had planned for a meal is still frozen after a day in the refrigerator. I’ve tried planning my meals for the week, pulling all the meat I would need for the week of meals from the freezer and transferring to the refrigerator. Didn’t stick with it though. I like your method and will give it a try. We also eat leftovers for lunch.

What a great idea! Your one month sample page was very helpful! You inspired me to try this. Thanks!

Very helpful. Thanks Anna!

Anna this is such a great idea. I have been trying to figure out a way to stream line the meals and actually make changes to healthier / cleaner meals and this will definitely help me jump start it. Thanks for always sharing so many helpful recipes and ideas. Love your recipes bc they usually use an alternative sweetener , rather that sugar and I’ve significantly cut out processed white sugar from our eating and we feel so much better from doing that.

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