How to Make a Menu Plan: Think in Threes

There are many strategies out there on how to make a menu plan. That can make it an intimidating process if you have little practice, but the variety of options means you can endlessly riff off of your plans and not get bored doing the same thing over and over again. By having a menu plan formula, you can have variety without starting from scratch every week – or worse, every day.

I’ll be starting a weekly series here with simple formulas for creating menu plans that require little effort or mental energy.

To Make a Complete Meal, Think in Threes

Before you can make a week’s worth of menu options, you have to have a solid basis for what makes a complete dinner. Although you might need to amend this to fit any dietary requirements and restrictions you may have, generally a complete meal includes

  1. Protein (generally from meat)
  2. Bulk (generally from starch, but could also be vegetable-based)
  3. Green (vegetable or salad)

Now, you don’t necessarily need three separate dishes every dinner, but a one-pot dinner should still contain sufficient proportions of each of these three types to be satisfying.

For example, spaghetti can involve all three:

  1. Meat
  2. Pasta or spaghetti squash
  3. Tomato sauce, onions, and other possible additions like zucchini or spinach

Still, a plate with only one thing on it can look a little sparse, and a meal is made satisfying partly by its visual appeal as well as its belly-filling ability. A salad is a quick and easy way to add more green, more bulk, and more variety to the dinner plate.


Potato Hash Dinner Recipe

Stir-fry is another one-pot meal that includes all three, with a meat and vegetables mixed into rice, all held together with a sauce. If there is a variety of vegetables within your stir fry, it is generally adequate alone on the plate. I like to include onions, peppers, zucchini, broccoli, peas, and carrots in my stir-fries. All those colors combined makes it an appealing stand-alone option for dinner. And it’s simple to customize the proportions to your family’s taste and sensibilities. It can be heavy or light on the meat, strong or simple on the vegetables, or big on the bulk of rice or not – a recipe need not dictate amounts. Let your own preference be your guide.


Often, though, a dinner will consist of three separate items. A chicken dinner would be supplemented by roasted potatoes and green beans. A pork roast might have rice and roasted broccoli on the side.

If you think in threes as you put your dinner options together, you’ll have complete and wholesome dinners that don’t take a lot of thought to put together. With the options in Simplified Dinners, you have meat-based or one-pot options, as well as variations on vegetables and salads and starch side dishes that make putting together a three-part meal a snap.

You can also use this handy free menu planning sheet that is set up to remind you to plan a three-part dinner.

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