Menu Planning Made Easy
One of the great lessons that I think has been lost in the era of instant gratification and easy food is the art of menu planning. I used to sit in front of my computer, because I have to do everything on the computer, and struggle to know what to make when. For me it wasn’t so much that I didn’t know how to cook the food, but I had too many options of what to cook. And then when I did plan a menu, I would often forget to take out an ingredient to defrost it and eventually the fresh vegetables would go bad in my fridge or the meat would go bad. It was a mess and a waste of money. Then we’d waste even more money eating out. It was a vicious cycle and I hated it. Until I came up with this method of menu planning.
Step 1: Download a Blank Editable Calendar
The first thing you need to plan your menu is an editable calendar. Fortunately, Google makes it easy to find anything. I have been using this free calendar website since I came up with this method years ago. I like this option because it makes it easy to assign the daily categories, which is the next vital step. But you can use Google Calendar or the calendar app on your Apple Computer. Though you can’t put the category up with the Day of the Week label, it is nice because these apps will sync with most smart phones and you can have your calendar with you wherever you go.
Step 2: Pick Your Daily Categories & Assign Them to a Day
Between my cookbooks and the internet, I have too many recipe options. So, I’d find myself staring at my calendar or reading my cookbooks like a thrilling novel that I couldn’t put down, and at the end of the night, I was no closer to having a meal plan than I was when I started.
One night, in frustration, I was thinking about how my grandmother would have done it. One thing I remembered was that every Friday she had fish. It was just how things were done. And then it hit me… how much easier would it be if I assigned a category to a day of the week? Then, instead of having to pick 30 unique and random recipes, I just had to pick 4 or 5 per category. This is the key to this meal planning technique. I recommend keeping the same categories for a few months to get in the habit, but after that, change your categories to suit the seasons or your family’s taste.
Choose 7 Categories From This List, Or Make Up 7 of Your Own
- Crock Pot Meals
- Pressure Cooker
- Tin-Foil Hobo Dinners
- Breakfast for Dinner
- Hot Dogs & Hamburgers
- Spanish Food
- Asian Food
- French Food
- German Food
Once you have 7 categories, assign them to the days of the week. I do this based on what I know is my weekly schedule. Sunday is almost always Crockpot Meals for me. Why? Cuz I’m going to be gone for 3 hours at church and I know when we get home, the family is hungry. I often have guests over on Sundays and I can make a big roast to feed everyone while we’re at church.
Wednesdays are almost always leftovers or Hot Dogs & Hamburgers because Wednesdays my kids have scouts and they need to be able to eat at a time that is convenient for them. And Fridays, we have fun meals like pizza or nachos cuz we made it through another week without succumbing to insanity. I used to do ice cream sundaes for dinner every Sunday when I was a single mom and we’d watch movies. Whatever the category is, pick a day and assign it.
Step 3 – Choose 4-5 recipes per category.
If you were to go to my Pinterest you’d see that my recipe boards are highly organized by category. This makes it really easy to assign a category and then pick 4-5 recipes. I then enter the recipes in. For this next month’s calendar I have 4 vegetarian meals because there are 4 Mondays. I didn’t carefully pick what goes where, I just entered 4 recipes. Roasted Chickpea Gyros, Buffalo Falafel with Tzatziki Ranch Sauce, Veggie Burrito Bowl and Sweet Potato & Black Bean Burritos.
Step 4 – Print Off Your Menu & Make a Grocery List
I grocery shop weekly. I use Wunderlist to make a grocery list that I can take with me on my phone and easily check things off. I’ll write a post on grocery shopping tips and tricks soon as well, because that is another very long and very in detail post. I have attached a sample menu, like the one you get if you subscribe to my monthly newsletter (but without the recipe links).
Step 5 – Make What You Plan
I always used to have chicken on Mondays. That means on Saturdays, I would take chicken out of the freezer (if it was frozen) so that it would be defrosted by Monday. Now, since I grocery shop on Saturday, I now just do my meal prep when I come home from the grocery store and everything that can be prep’d ahead is.
One of the best tools I ever got was a vacuum sealer. You can get the cheap at Walmart or you can get a really nice one at places like Sur La Table or on Amazon. I got mine at Walmart when I got my sous vide water circulator. I will put my meat in the bag with whatever marinade/seasonings and vacuum seal it for freshness. This helps me always be prepared and the meat absorbs the flavors so much nicer.
Whatever you do, just follow your menu plan. It takes practice and I know that after a long workday I don’t want to prep a big meal. However, you can plan your menu around that for the days you know you are going to be tired. I also totally thing it is fine to own 2 or 3 crock pots/pressure cookers or whatever makes your life easier. And sometimes, a category can be “Stoffers meals” because there are months/weeks when our lives just aren’t conducive to cooking a five-course meal.
Regardless, following this meal plan, you will save money and your family will eat healthier. You can do this! If you have any questions, I’m here to help you. Be sure to subscribe to my newsletter to get a monthly menu with links to each recipe.