How to create a menu plan

During the week I only have two hours to make supper, eat, wash-up, and play with my kids before bed time. I found that I was spending a lot of time trying to figure out what I could make for supper. I was losing my evenings to my kitchen when I would rather be reading to my kids. Something had to give, so I decided to change the way I plan and shop for food.

0426161701bK.I.S.S. (Keep It Simple, Stupid)

I started simple, in a notebook I wrote down as many dishes as I could think of, there weren’t many, maybe 12 or 15 all told. Next to each dish I would list the ingredients that I made them with. On a new sheet of paper I wrote down the days of the week and next to each day, I placed a meal. That simple. No big gimmicks, no song and dance.

STICK TO IT

When grocery shopping day came around I made a list of all the ingredients that I didn’t already have on hand and went to the store. It was hard following the list that first shopping trip, I kept seeing things that looked really good. I finally made it out of the store and took my hoard home. My fridge looked so bare, no piles of ingredients all over. The fruit and veggies trays were full, but the shelves only held the necessities. Nothing extra.

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POST IT

I have a picture frame in my kitchen that I write my 2 week menu plan in dry-erase marker. Nothing fancy, just a frame I picked up at the thrift shop with a printed page instead of a picture inside. It’s easy to update every other week, I just wipe it off and write in two more weeks. I love that I can glance at it in the morning while making breakfast and set out the pantry items on the counter before I leave. It takes all of the stress out of supper.

 

BRANCH OUT from it

After a few months of eating the same few dishes over and over, I started experimenting on the weekends. I try new dishes to see if they make the cut (are cheap, easy, and fast). If they are good enough they get added to my roster of weekday meals. I have a lot of casseroles that I make in my rotation so I can just pop them in the oven when I get home.

A few tricks and tips I have learned along the way are:

  1. Remember to plan a side dish & fruit or veggie, (if that’s how you roll) for each meal and buy accordingly. It’s kind of boring after a while only eating the main dish.
  2. Buy some snacks as well. Just make sure to take individual portions to work each day because if you are like me and have no self control, you might find yourself halfway through a three pound bag of m&m’s the day after you bought it.
  3. Don’t be afraid to try something new, after all if you don’t like it, you don’t have to make it again.
  4. Don’t feel bad about making simple things, I make simple meals like pb&j sandwiches or spaghetti once a week or so.
  5. Keep it easy. The whole point of menu planning is to make your life easier. If you start making dishes that take a long time or a lot of preparation to make, then the whole point is wasted.
  6. Do prep work in advance. If I know we will be running late or if a dish will take a bit longer to make, I make sure that I set out the pantry ingredients before I leave in the morning. When I get home, I can focus on cooking right away.
  7. Don’t stress it. If you get home and don’t feel like making Enchilada Skillet, look down the list and see what you do feel like. I change out the menu items on my list, but only things on the list (so I don’t forget and freak when I don’t have ingredients later that week).
  8. Involve everyone. Whether it’s planning, prep, or even making the meals, let others help too. My three year old loves the simple meal nights because I let her make the PB&J sandwiches while I slice apples and veggies for sides.

Last week I caught a cold, got an ear infection, and then a sinus infection, all by Wednesday. I was miserable. I drug myself to the kitchen, luckily I did not have to stand before the fridge for twenty minutes trying to figure out what I could make that was fast and easy. I already had it planned and the ingredients purchased. All I had to do was put it together and pop it in the oven. It was so simple I almost cried (no really, I almost cried).

How do you meal plan? Do you take a month at a time, or week by week?