Here’s an easy DIY for organizing your weekly menu: make this simple meal-planning binder. If you’re sick of staring into the fridge at 5:30 p.m., trying to drum up dinner ideas, here’s a great way to cut that habit cold turkey. (Perhaps I should say, warm turkey?)
I’ve also shared a free, printable, customizable template that I used in my binder, with suggestions to adapt it to your preferred meals. Please note: this article is about organizing the meals you regularly eat, not planning out recipes, meal prep, or cooking.
Who Really Needs a Meal-Planning Binder?
If you’re asking that question, then you probably don’t need one. Congrats. However, if you juggle a partner, kids, extracurriculars, food preferences, food allergies, and all the other nonsense that makes meal planning an Olympic sport… you should try this idea. I read a nice blog post on this topic and was inspired to add kids’ lunch lists to my binder- such great idea!
Once I finally sat down to work on this project, it probably took me about 1 hour total to complete. That’s it!
Seriously? A BINDER?
Yes. You’ll thank me later. Setting this planner up in a binder is useful and practical in a few ways.
You can create sections for your meals, recipes, and idea lists.
It’s useful for displaying recipes while you cook, thanks to the stiff binder sides.
It’s also nice to file your customized lists, notes, recipe cards, and ancient torn-out magazine recipes in plastic sleeves within the binder. That’s great for organization and water/food-proofing them while you cook.
Here’s how to get started with your own customized meal-planning binder.
Gather These Items to Make Your Binder
*If you have tons of printed recipes, you might need a larger binder. I use the Paprika app to organize and cook online recipes, so a slim binder works well for my few paper recipes.
If you anticipate creating multiple sections, start by adding the tab dividers and clear plastic sleeves to your notebook. Or wait to see how many sections you’ll need and put it all together at the end. Whatever works for you. I made these sections:
- weekly menu page
- our list of favorite meals
- lunch ideas to pack for the kids
You Might Also Like:
Canva Templates for Meal Planning
I highly suggest using Canva to make your own customized pages. You can sign up for the free version and it’s fairly intuitive to figure out as a newbie.
I started this project by searching “meal planner” and “menu” in Canva until I found a template that fit the bill. You might want to try that in case you find a better fit for your family than my template. I started with one called Teal Vegan Meal Planner and adjusted it to my project. Jump here to grab my free template.
Within Canva, you can add pages and customize almost every element of your design. I created a cover sheet for the binder, simplified the template (I only plan dinners), and then copied the fonts to set up my menu lists.
Create a Simple Menu Planner
You’ll need a place to jot your menu for the week. I adjusted the Canva template for my own use. Around here, we only plan dinners, although you could certainly adapt this to add breakfast and lunch.
To make this reusable, make a blank template and insert it in a plastic sleeve. That way, you can write your menu each week with a dry-erase marker.
Make Meal Lists for Your Family to Browse
“What would you like for dinner this week?”
Does this happen at your house? Often, the answer here is “pasta” or a slight variation on the same thing we had the week before.
Here’s the new plan. Make a meal idea cheat sheet and let your family choose 2-3 meals for the week. Store these in plastic sleeves so they don’t get destroyed. You could also add checkboxes for kids to select their options.
There are sooo many ideas on the internet about how to list family meals. I chose to loosely categorize our favorite meals by type of cuisine. You could also group your family’s meals by main ingredient, season, main protein, etc. If you’re really organized, you could meal plan with leftovers that can be used in other dishes later in the week.
These are our meal lists. Carefully honed over the years to include family favorites, Ina Garten hits, Hello Fresh recipes, and Trader Joe’s lazy meals. We eat primarily pescatarian dishes, but I realize that most families would prefer to have meat sections on the front pages. Don’t worry – I made that printable option, too. You do you.
Add Empty Plastic Sleeves for Recipes
Organize your printed recipes in plastic sleeves. Since our Hello Fresh recipes came on cardstock, I just punched holes in the cards and stuck them in the binder.
If you plan ahead, you can hole punch recipes on the side that allows you to prop them up on the counter while you’re cooking. It might look like this:
You Might Also Like:
Lunch Idea Lists for Kids
Are you in the throes of packing kid lunches, whether for school/daycare/summer camp? If so, I feel your pain. Here’s an idea to make that process easier.
Chat with your kids about their favorite packed lunches and make those lists. You know, the food they will actually eat. One of my kids only eats saltines and watermelon in a packed lunch (true), but here’s my list for the other kiddo:
Side note to make this section more palatable… Do you follow Honest Toddler or its author @bunmiladitan? She is HILARIOUS and if you are in the kid-lunch-packing stage of life, you will relate 100%. This run on the red bell peppers stuck with me for months… “Please take a moment to pour one out and pay respects to these red bell peppers. They survived three days in my 9 year-old’s lunchbox before I had to make the difficult decision to admit defeat.”
Start Your Meal-Planning Binder Today
Get started on this project with these templates. Free, totally customizable, and printable template pages for you to tailor to your life and food. I hope you feel motivated to try it! Let me know how it goes.