New Year's Resolutions: easy menu planning

We've all heard the statistics about family dinners: they help our kids avoid drugs, alcohol and eating disorders, and increase fruit and vegetable intake (hooray for health!). We all want to do it, but it's hard to get dinner on the table with busy schedules--especially Mom's schedule.

Menu planning is a great way to help keep up with that schedule. Frankly, there's no wrong way to plan out your menus, but I'm happy to share an easy method that works for me.

Quick hint: even easier than menu planning: letting Deals to Meals do it for you. They look for deals in the weekly ads and plan menus around those deals. They cover 12 states from Texas westward, and their recipes are delicious! $5 a month is definitely worth it. I loved this service, and I don't get anything out of plugging them. In fact, I only stopped using them because I want to use my 10,000 cookbooks more.

Back in October, I was preparing for National Novel Writing Month--and instead of the usual 1600 words a day, I was shooting for 5000. I came across a friend's blog post about preparing your family for a month of grueling work, and she mentioned planning out your menus:
Work out a meal schedule. Our family budgeted extra money to eat out. Each week, we planned two crock pot meals, ate out twice, had two left-overs/whatever nights, and made pancakes each Sunday for dinner. We tried to make things as simple as possible to keep stress levels down.
I loved that idea! The last Sunday in October, I sat down and planned out a month of meals, working in easy family favorites, weekly breakfast-for-dinner and pizza nights (homemade pizza!) and slow cooker meals (and some meals I'd squirreled away in the freezer!).

I liked that so much that I've kept it up. It's an hour or two of planning each month, and I never have to think about it again. At the beginning of the week, I look at the recipes and make out my grocery list. (I love hitting my goals on autopilot!)

More hints:
  • Work with your schedule. On your busiest days, plan the fastest meals: slow cooker meals in the morning, meals you can toss in the oven, or leftovers. If you know you'll have a really busy month next month, freeze some leftovers or make frezer meals now.
  • Know your cooking and eating habits! I habitually cook really large meals, and from time to time, our biggest problem is figuring out how we're going to eat all these leftovers. I'm still trying to find the balance between how much to cook how often, but I try to plan at least two days for leftovers a week, with lots of flexibility. Which leads me to . . .
  • Be flexible. Keep staples on hand. At the end of the week, I have homemade pizzas and breakfast for dinner. If we have extra leftovers, we can leave either of those meals for next week and have the leftovers.
  • Use themed nights. Inspired by the Food Nanny, I picked a theme for the nights of the week. This month, my themes are:
    • Sunday: slow cooker
    • Monday (alternating): Asian & Mexican
    • Tuesday (alternating): soup & Italian
    • Wednesday: Leftovers
    • Thursday: Leftovers
    • Friday: homemade pizza
    • Saturday: breakfast for dinner
  • Don't use too many cookbooks while menu planning. I try to stick to one to two. I have a ton of cookbooks, but searching through more than a couple in search of "the perfect dish" is overwhelming.
  • Write down the cookbook and page number of each recipe. This makes it much easier to make your grocery list!
How do you menu plan?


Diana said...

Great ideas! I agree it is especially important to write down the cookbook and page number. Dad and I have discovered lots of new recipes recently that we want to make again. Keeping a list of new favs or having your old meal plans to look back on helps. Yesterday I needed the recipe for what in thought was called lasagna roll ups. I looked in the indexes for several cookbooks before I finally went through my meal plans and found out they were called Venetian rollups. Of course! They were yummy!

Just Jaime said...

Great tips! Knowing your cooking and eating habits is crucial--otherwise you buy too much (or too little) food!

Heather Landry said...

Thank you very much for the tips! I think that's a wonderful idea. You're so organized!

Jordan McCollum said...

Thanks, Mom!

@Jaime—yeah, we used to have to throw out a lot of food (that I spent a lot of time making!).

@Heather—Thanks! I'm like the least organized of the Wayward Girls. But if I can do menu planning, anyone can!

Tracy said...

Good tips. I also get everyone in the family to pick out a meal they would like to eat :)
Just Jamie I am now following you on Pinterest...boy you have a lot of pins ;)

Natasha Mairs - Serenity You said...

thanks for this

Natasha xx

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