Backwards Menu Planning (for those who hate to menu plan)

Do you look at menu planning systems and printables and wonder why can’t I get my act together and menu plan? I’m a pretty organised, logical person, but I just can’t get it together to menu plan.

I have a nice, organised shopping list, but the thought of sitting down with the recipes books and planning out a week or a month’s worth of recipes just doesn’t work for me.

I’ve tried. Really I have.

I’ve made grand plans, finding the perfect recipes. And then forgotten to defrost the meat, or just couldn’t be bothered. That wasn’t working, so I tried theme nights. The only one that stuck was Friday night pizzas.

As I rebelled against menu planning, deciding it doesn’t work for me, I slowly developed my own way to make sure dinner got on the table. It was a backwards way of menu planning, but it works for me (with a fall-back plan just in case!).

Does the thought of sitting down and writing out a menu plan fill you with dread? Learn how to backwards menu plan to get dinner on the table without the stress.

So here’s my backwards way to menu plan (for those who hate menu planning).

Start at the grocery store

The first step is to go to the grocery store.

What? No, that’s not menu planning, you’re probably thinking. Hang on now, just bear with me.

At the grocery store, fill your trolley with your family’s favourite fruit and vegetables. Buy what’s in season (as that’s cheapest and tastiest). Get a typical amount you eat in a week. Don’t over-think it.

Then head to the meat section and pick out the meats your family likes. Buy what’s on special, buy what looks good, buy what you feel like eating this week. Keep a running tally in your head of how many meals you’ve bought. If you have space in your freezer, buy extra to stock up. If your freezer is overflowing, buy a few less meal options to use up what you’ve got.

Lastly, stock up on pantry staples to fill out your meals. That might be tinned tomatoes, pasta and pasta sauces, tinned beans or lentils, corn chips, tortillas. I use my reusable shopping list to make sure I always have my pantry stocked.

Time to make the menu plan

Now you’ve got home from the shops with enough food for the week. How do you make your menu plan?

I write out a list of all the meats I’ve bought for the week and their best before/use-by dates. Then I fill out my menu plan based on the order that the meats go off (rearranging things if I need a quicker meal one night, or have more time to cook another). I write this out on a whiteboard in my kitchen. You could use a piece of paper, your diary or calendar, or whatever works for you. You could even use a pretty menu plan printable!

Here’s mine in all its ugly glory – expiry dates on the left (with F being the secret code for freezer), menu plan on the right (I start on a Wednesday, since that’s grocery day here):

Real life menu plan

If my meats “expire” before I can use them, I pop them in the freezer (and hope I remember to defrost them when I need to). I prefer to freeze items that are easier to defrost, like mince and sausages.

I make sure I have a few emergency meals, in case I somehow don’t buy enough for the week. Check out my DIY dinner kits here.

Why it works for me

The big advantage of this system is I can take advantage of specials, without spending time scouring catalogues.

My cooking style is fairly simple – most dinners are meat and vegetables in winter and meat and salad in summer. This system fits in well with my style of cooking.

And I can add in some conventional menu planning if there’s a particular recipe I want to try. I may spend a bit longer in the shops, making sure I’ve got enough meals for the week, but I feel like I save time at home. It feels less stressful for me.

It seems backwards, but I’m so much happier with my menu planning system (for those who hate to menu plan!).

How do you menu plan?


  1. I love this idea. I used to diligently plan weekly menus all the time when my kids were young. Now it’s only Hubby and me at home (with lots of overnighters from the big kids, and their little kids) it seems I can’t get my head around planning. Your way makes so much sense. You not only take advantage of the specials but ensure you are using wonderful fresh foods that are in season. Great advice.

Comments are closed.