The following is a guest post from regular contributor, Sharon at Mom of 6.
I could go on and on about how awesome it is to menu plan. How it saves you from staring at the fridge at 5pm during the “witching hour” wondering what to serve your family for dinner. How planning in advance helps you to eliminate mid-week trips to the grocery store because you were able to purchase everything you needed for the week in just one trip. How you don’t have to answer the question, “Mom, what’s for dinner?” 15 times a day because the kids already know they can find it on the menu board. Menu planning is simply all kinds of awesome.
So why are you still not doing it? Are you having a hard time moving from good intentions to actually getting it done? Well then- here are 5 tips to help you be successful at menu planning!
Tip #1: Commit To It!
I know- it seems obvious. But you can’t start a new habit without fully committing to actually doing it. So the first step is to figure out when in your weekly schedule you can find 10-15 minutes of time to work out your menu plan for the week. And ideally- this should be before you make your regular trip to the grocery store. For me, it works best if I do my menu planning on Sunday nights. Many times I will ask everyone for input while we are eating Sunday dinner and the kids will all request a favorite meal. I also like to have a copy of our family’s calendar for the next week to review while menu planning- because I need to figure out which nights require “fast and easy meals” due to sports schedules and activities.
But the key thing here is to set aside the same, specific time each week to plan your meals for the coming week.
Tip #2: Keep is Simple
I seriously love my menu planning board with it’s little magnets of our meal items that I can move around easily to create my weekly menu plan. But if the idea of needing to create something functional yet beautiful that hangs on your kitchen wall for the entire world to see is what is preventing you from starting to menu plan… then forget about “the pretty”! Nothing is easier that a pencil and paper list! And it still gets you to the same finish line either way- dinner on the table!
Tip #3: Use Theme Nights
Okay- so you’ve written out the days of the week on a piece of paper, but you can’t begin to think about what to actually cook for any of those nights. So make it easy on yourself. Assign every night of the week a theme- and allow that to be your guide:
- Mondays: Chicken Night
- Tuesdays: Pasta Night
- Wednesday: Beef Night
- Thursdays: Breakfast for dinner
- Fridays: Pizza Night
- Saturdays: Dinner on the Grill
- Sunday: Mama’s Choice/Leftovers
It’s so much easier to fill in the blanks against a “theme” than staring at a blank piece of paper. And just allow the theme to inspire ideas- don’t feel that you have to stick with it if you really want to make chicken three nights this week!
Tip #4: Have a Back Up Plan
But what happens when even the best menu planning intentions go wrong? When you forget to take the chicken out of the freezer to defrost? When you get home from a doctor’s appointment that ran late and now it’s 6:30 and you have four hungry mouths to feed? When you just don’t feel like making or eating the item that you had originally planned?
You need a list of 2 or 3 menu items where you have the ingredients on hand at all time. That you know you can have dinner on the table in 10-15 minutes without too much effort. Here are my back up plans:
- Pasta with canned sauce
- Canned soup and crackers
- Quesadillas with ham and cheese
I keep these 7 things in my fridge or pantry at all times. They can serve as a quick “off the menu plan” dinner when needed, they can be used to feed the kids lunch on the weekends, and they can also feed a starving teenager at 9pm when he’s ready for his second dinner of the night!
Tip #5- Keep a Running Grocery List
It’s hard to be successful at menu planning if you don’t have everything you need on hand to actually prepare the meal you have planned! I like to keep a running grocery list on a clipboard in my kitchen, so that every time I use up a product around the house I can write it down on my list. That way I can make sure to replenish the item the next time that I go to the store. And when I create my menu plan on Sunday night, I make sure to add to my grocery list all of the ingredients that I need to buy to prepare the coming week’s dinners. The cool thing about using my printable grocery list is that I have it organized by aisle within the store, so as I am rolling my cart down the aisles I can quickly look at just that section of the grocery list and make sure that I picked up everything that I need, and I don’t have to backtrack a million times in the store!
Are you a committed menu planner, or are you looking for a little nudge to get you started?
If you get a chance, I hope you’ll stop by to see me at Momof6 – a place where I write about organizing your home, using a family calendar, creating household routines, hosting at-home birthday parties, and making meals that kids will actually eat!