Why “Wing It” Menu Planning Doesn’t Work for Me

Menu Planner

Menu Planner


Winging it seems to be a commonly used menu planning strategy.  I, myself, have been doing it a lot more than I used to.  In the past, I “winged it” about once a year and it didn’t turn out well.

Lately, though, I’ve been doing it a lot.  I have several good reasons for this change in strategy:

  1. Frequently I don’t have time to make a menu.
  2. We’re pretty much eating the same things all the time.
  3. Cooking is VERY simple because of David’s IBS.
  4. I’m getting better at creating recipes with what I have on hand.

But . . . even though it’s working okay, I don’t like it.  Here’s why:

  1. I usually don’t have everything I need for any recipe so I have to get creative to make it work. I’m not opposed to creativity, but when I’m trying to figure out what to make for dinner NOW, I really don’t have the time, energy or desire to be creative.
  1. Being creative takes extra time that I don’t have. If I’m short an ingredient, I search the internet to find a substitute or figure out how to make the missing item from scratch.  That takes time and I usually don’t have it.
  1. Sometimes I can’t do as much as I want to because I have to spend extra time making things from scratch that I should have had in my pantry.
  1. I have extra folks for dinner a lot, and when I wing it, I don’t always have something suitable to make for guests.
  1. When I go grocery shopping without a detailed list and menu, I usually either overspend or don’t get enough.
  1. When I sit down at night to plan tomorrow’s day, I don’t want to have to figure out what to make for dinner – I want to choose an appropriate meal from a pre-made list.
  1. When I wing it, I end up cooking the same things over and over and over again instead of trying new things.
  1. I like looking for new recipes to try, and it’s more fun if you have the ingredients on hand instead of trying to make them work with what you have.
  1. I hate making mid-week trips to the grocery store. Those are budget busters for me because I can’t stick to my budget and I buy extra goodies while I’m in there.
  1. When I don’t have a menu plan, we end up eating leftovers more or pulling something together at the last minute.

So while I admire all of you who can wing it and make it work, I’m not one of you.  I need my menu plan, and by golly, I’m going to find the time to start doing it again.  Winging it is NOT for me!

Do you make a detailed menu each week or do you wing it?

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Born in Kentucky, I am a wife and mom to 1 son and 2 daughters . I have an ink pen obsession, as well as a love for all things planner. I have been married for 10 years to my high school crush. I am a member of the church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints.

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14 thoughts on “Why “Wing It” Menu Planning Doesn’t Work for Me

  1. Now that I’ve gotten used to menu planning, I don’t know how I used to wing it. Having at least the main dish written on stickie flags that I move from one day to another, certainly helps.

    1. I haven’t tried the sticky flag method but I might give it a shot. It could work very well since I don’t usually make exactly what I have scheduled on the day it’s scheduled for. My list is just a guide.

  2. I almost always wing it, with mixed results. In the summer I don’t have a lot of time to think about meals. I’ll buy whatever meats are on sale (or not on sale, depending on what looks good) and then “shop” from my pantry. I do use up quite a bit of my pantry this way, but there’s always the chance that I’ll have to make a second trip to the store. Like you, we eat basically the same things every week. My husband can’t eat red meat and likes mostly bland foods, so creativity doesn’t really come into play. Also I’m only home one night a week and while I can cook at work (restaurant) I only do it about twice a week. It’s just as involved as cooking at home, plus schlepping groceries to and from work and remembering to get dinner started in the midst of everything else. It’s a struggle.

  3. I wing it most of the time but as you said I end up making the same things over and over, which is very boring for everyone involved. Starting next month we have new huge expenses (private school for both kids, ulp) so I need to do some serious budgeting. Menu planning is a big part of saving money so I only buy exactly what we will eat.

  4. I have been using an App on my tablet called Food Planner. It took some time to put my recipes in, but now I nearly cant plan without it. It not only keeps track of what is to eat, it lets me know how long it’s been since we had that particular dish and builds a grocery list for me. I can plan WAY in advance if I need to, switch meals with other days, change up the recipes, and my current favorite… scale the recipes (my math skills are poor). You can also set it up to tell you how much the recipe costs, I have not taken that step. Just thought I’d mention it for those tech lovers like me 🙂

    Like you, if I don’t plan my meals, we either eat junk or eat out way too much. Meal planning is the only way for us to stay healthy and keep our budget on track.

  5. I’m in the wing it crowd, and I have to say, I’m a lot happier that way. When I tried to menu plan, I’d spend forever trying to come up with all the recipes, then something would happen by about Tuesday, and the whole thing would fall apart. Sometimes I’d just be too tired to really prepare anything on the plan, and recipes are never simple (even the ones that say they are simple are actually complicated). Usually when it fell apart like that, I fell back on making the same thing all the time, because those things did not require a lot of preparation. It’s not hard putting macaroni in a pot and tossing cheese on it. It is hard trying to do ten steps in a recipe, skipping over one that needed to be in order, and all I want to do is get the food done.

    So I just try to make sure I have the right kinds of food on hand so I can pick what I want to do when I want to make dinner. I have a sort of template: Five ingredients, so a protein of some kind, vegetables, seasoning/flavoring, something for a different texture. So I look around and grab the left over beans or chopped onions and start putting things together. Honestly, I’m eating far better than I did trying to cook off recipes.

  6. We live 45 miles from the nearest adequate grocery store so menu planning is an absolute requirement for us, since there’s no midweek running to the store to pick up a couple of missing ingredients. That being said, we’ve been doing this so long (15 years) that I know what I’ve got in my fridge, pantry and freezers so that when we shop, I can be spontaneous and buy some new things, since I know just where I can slot them into my plan and what I have or still need to complete the dish.

  7. I have wanted to start menu planning because winging it every day can be very rough. I have thought of running inventory on kitchen then planning supper for every evening in the week.

    1. That’s a good way to do it. You’re still menu planning but basing it on what you already have instead of what you’re going to buy.

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