Simple Dinner Ideas: Setting Up Your Menu Plan #DinnerIdeas

Sharing is caring!

I have been meal planning here at Crystal & Co., for over 110 weeks.

For real. And it is painless.

Each Monday you will find a new meal plan shared here on my site, including the recipes I plan to make for my family each week.

It is essential. Without a plan my children will not have a hot meal on the table come dinner time and we end up in the drive-thru lines which is costly and unhealthy.

In 2012, 3 Boys and a Dog and Crystal & Co., are partnering together to make feeding your family simple. We understand that moms struggle to get dinner on the table every day. Kelli and I are kicking off Simple Dinner Ideas today. Each month we are focusing on a different meal planning topic and providing you with resources and solutions (and giveaways!) to help make feeding your family simple.

Each month our series will have a sponsor. In January Rada Cutlery is helping make dinner a success. As the month goes on we will be introducing you to dinner solutions offered by Rada!

How do I set up my menu each week? I believe there are five steps that help me get dinner on the table.

How to Set Up Your Menu Plan


Develop a Recipe Criteria

This is key. Sit down and think about what makes a recipe a good fit for your family and what makes it a deal breaker.

For me, simple ingredient lists, easy preparation with little to no babysitting, and recipes that come together quickly are ideal for me. If a recipe can be made in the crockpot, that makes it even more appealing to me.

When I am searching for new recipes to make for my family, if it requires one hour of prep work, lots of stirring and babysitting, twenty-five ingredients and three hours in the oven, I immediately can say it will not work for my needs or my family’s needs.

Take a peak at my recipe criteria to see what makes a winning dinner idea at my house.


Find Recipes

Use your recipe criteria and begin making a list of recipes that meet your criteria.

First start with the recipes you already know and make for your family. Then, begin searching online, in cookbooks, in magazines and at the library for more recipes that meet your lifestyle and needs. If you can come up with a list of twenty-one recipes this will give you three weeks of dinner ideas without repeating a meal once.

It really is that simple. Here is a list of websites that I regularly use to get recipes for dinner.   And don’t forget, Crystal & Co., has a nice collection of easy recipes as well. As time goes on, you’ll be amazed at all of the recipes you collect.


Make Your Grocery List

Even though I have a recipe list that is beyond twenty-one recipes, I only meal plan for one week at a time and I only grocery shop for one week at a time. Why? Because it is less overwhelming for me. I do not have the space to store three weeks worth of groceries and I like to take one week at a time. You plan for as many weeks at a time as you want.

Each Sunday night or Monday morning I sit down and determine which 5-6 recipes I plan to make this week. I write them down. (I only do 5-6 because I realistically consider that we will eat out once each week and I also consider that we can have leftovers one night as well.)

Build your grocery list based on the meals on your menu and consider which ingredients you already have on hand. Meal planning is not going to work if you do not have all the ingredients you need when it comes time to make a recipe. Also, you do not want to waste money buying ingredients you already have in our pantry and freezer.

Here are some grocery list resources you might find helpful.


Display Your Menu

Once you know what you’re making this week for your family, display it. It can be as simple or as fun and crafty as you want.

Use a sheet of notebook paper and a magnet and post it on your fridge or make a crafty board that inspires you each week to want to meal plan. Here are some fun solutions for displaying your meal plan.


Put Your Meal Plan to Work

You’ve done all the steps and now it is time to make your meal plan work for you. I share tips and pointers to help you implement your meal plan.

Ask yourself, can I place meat in the fridge the night before to begin thawing, can you pre-assemble a casserole the night before, what about grilling up fifteen chicken breasts one night instead of just five or six so you have cooked chicken on hand for a future recipe. Here is how I put my meal plan to work each week.

. . . . .

Your Turn to Share

Now tell me, how do you set up your menu each week? Have you previously shared a post about this on your site before? Have we inspired you to write your steps down to make meal planning easier? Kelli and I encourage you to link up any posts that you have sharing how to meal plan. You can also follow more pointer throughout the month on Twitter by searching the hashtag #dinnerideas! Play along with us.

And, don’t forget to hop over and check out Kelli’s tips for setting up a meal plan and her dinner ideas for feeding a family of five.


  1. We are the same way. If I don’t make a menu every Sunday, then we end up in fast food lines as well. Since I started this new weight loss journey, I’m having to come up with new healthy meals every week. This site on your blog really helps me out! I can use all the help I can get to make different meals each week! Thanks!

    1. I am so glad you find it helpful. Sometimes, meal planning can be overwhelming for people, but really it is just five easy steps.
      I look forward to seeing your menus!

    1. Megan, I am so glad you like what you’ve found here about meal planning.
      I will hop over and share. Thanks for the invite.

  2. Stephanie Phelps says:

    Oh my goodness I have never meal planned before but after reading your post I ma going to give it a shot. I love all the ideas and the picture of the cute board was fantastic. Thank you for inspiring me! 🙂

    1. Oh Stephanie, meal planning makes life so much easier.
      I promise.
      And once you get going, it is just second nature.
      Let me know if I can help.

  3. Stephanie Phelps says:

    Thank you so much I will for sure. I know sometimes it gets nutty for me with four kids so I know this will help!

  4. 2012 is the year I’m going to make the meal planning jump! I have to work out of the home 3 out of 5 days and things are now just crazy!! I need to coordinate menus to have left overs available on 1 of those nights or something that is really really quick to prepare. I’m so tired of winging it! I’m going to be out of the game for six weeks due to an surgery I have scheduled next week. And I plan to use spend part of my 6 week recovery time organizing my monstrous stash of recipes.

    1. I am so excited for you Lori!

      How is meal planning going?

  5. I have been wanting to give menu planning a try for a long time now, but have yet to use it. I do stockpile things I use on a regular basis (frozen meat, cream soups etc), and try to choose our meals based on what is on sale each week. I also like some flexibility to make whatever I feel like. The problem? A lot of times I don’t feel like cooking and/or nothing appeals to me. But, I am super excited for the step by step tutorial on how to go about menu planning. Here’s hoping this is the jump start to get me going!

    1. I was having exactly the same problem. I finally figured out that if I focus on one person per day it helps immensely.

      For example, my son loves “meatza”, tacos and Josie’s Shepherd Pie so one day I dedicate to him. My husband loves anything meat so I generally make a roast or something like that for him. My daughter loves cream based anything so turkey al a king or potato soup goes on the menu plan for her. I love salads and hamburgers so that’s an easy night.

      This menu planning style has helped me in menu planning AND it makes that person feel special.

      I also have one night that is always the same. I call it KISS night. Currently it’s chef salads on Monday. Just having that routine has helped as well.

      Wonderful post ~ love the cute picture and your recipe criteria! Menu planning has been life changing for me, but I certainly made it a lot more complicated in the beginning! Wish I would have seen this post years ago.

  6. Hooray that you’re doing this! This is my biggest New Year’s Resolution. Thank you! thank you!

  7. I have been trying to save more money this year… and I know menu planning is one thing that will help us immensely! I haven’t figured it all out yet, but I am excited to try these tips! Thanks!

    1. Meal planning is an excellent way to save money and be thrifty! 🙂
      Best of luck and follow along in our series for many tools that will help you get dinner on the table!

      I am currently giving away recipe organizer software that retails for $99.95 that I am running as a giveaway. You might want to check it out and enter to win. It certainly will be an excellent tool for finding simple dinner ideas. Here is the link:

      Thanks Courtney for reading.

  8. Pingback: Simple Dinner Ideas: Setting Up Your Menu Plan #DinnerIdeas | CookingPlanet
  9. I have four boys (ranging from 7-19) and work full time but I do my menu planning a little differently…..Instead of focusing on what we’ll have each day, I focus on having enough meals on hand for a certain number of days (usually 7 or 8 days). The recipes vary from quick/easy to a little more involved so if I’m tired or rushed I can pick an easier/faster recipe. I post a list of recipes on the fridge and choose according to what is going on that night and who is home. I have some kids that don’t like certain meals that everyone else loves and I make those particular recipes when those kids aren’t home. I’ve tried freezer cooking and didn’t care for it. Instead, on the weekends, I put several pounds of hamburger in the crock pot and let it brown. When it’s cooled, I divide it up into portions for particular recipes and freeze it to use later. I lay the meat out in a thin, flat layer so it thaws very quickly. I do the same with salsa chicken (chicken breast, taco seasoning and salsa cooked in the crockpot & shredded with my Kitchenaid) and use it throughout the week. It’s amazing how much quicker and easier it is to cook with the meat already prepped!!!

  10. I have been a meal planner for over 30 years and it is the only way to stay on track for me and my family. Hope you are having a great week end and thank you so much for sharing with Full Plate Thursday.
    Come Back Soon!
    Miz Helen

  11. I have menu planned for about 5 years now… I had to get organized when we had our 3rd child… I used to do it on paper and by month! I have recently switched to an app called “food planner”… I have an android tablet and… first I used the free version and after realizing I loved it paid for my first ever app… I think $2.99. Ha! Anyway. I have several easy recipes on my blog, and would love to link up. I have never put my meal plans online but sounds fun… I am pretty new to all this blogging and linking up so as soon as I figure this out I will link

    1. Jaime- I will have to look into that app- it sounds awesome.
      We would love for you to share your menus and some of your recipes!
      Thanks for stopping by. We look forward to seeing what you have to share!

      1. Ok, I didn’t think I linked so I did it again and now I see both on the linky thing! Sorry, I don’t see a way to remove one.

  12. Hi Crystal, this is a fabulous idea and great for young mothers and or working mothers. I wish I had someone like you to turn to when I was young. Thanks so much for sharing. I have recently found your blog and am now following you, and will visit often. Please stop by my blog and perhaps you would like to follow me also. Have a wonderful day. Hugs, Chris

  13. Pingback: Meal Planning Resources
  14. Pingback: Meal Plan Examples
  15. Pingback: Why have a meal plan?
  16. Pingback: Meal Planning Resources
  17. Pingback: Meal Plan Examples
  18. Pingback: Why have a meal plan?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *