Learning how to plan a menu was the one thing that I did that saves me time, money, and a lot of stress. Menu planning is also one of my least favorite things to do, but life is so much easier when I make one that I just suck it up and do it. I have several friends who tell me that they wish they could be better organized, eat out less, make more homemade meals — and really, learning how to plan a menu is your key to all of that!
First you should know that menu planning does take some time and mental energy. You have to think! This is why I started planning a month at a time instead of a week at a time — I only have to expel that energy once a month rather than every week.
So how do you plan a menu? Like this!
Make a Master List: Sit down and make a master list of your family's favorite meals. Ask your husband for his input and your kids, if they are old enough, for theirs. Keep the list handy so you can refer to it when making your menu. I also keep a board (or several) on Pinterest for recipes I want to try. My master list of recipes is this blog. I also look around at other bloggers menus for inspiration when I need it!
Schedule a Day to Plan: I start planning the week before the first of the month and aim to get my menu done then. When I did a weekly menu, I tried to do my plans on Fridays so that I had all weekend to grocery shop for ingredients I needed for the week. Whenever you do it, plan the menu before hitting the store! On the day you are sitting down to plan, take inventory of food on hand. I usually poke around the pantry and freezers to see what I have on hand and want to use up. I make a mental note, but a list works, too. Also get out your activity calendar so that you don't plan a labor intensive meal on a day when you are out of the house all day.
Set a Meal Schedule: Every week, I try to have one beef dish, one chicken dish, one pasta dish, one soup in the winter or salad in the summer and we almost always have pizza on Fridays. And there you go — 5 nights done! Just plug in some meals from your master list. You could do a Meatless Monday, Taco Tuesday, Slow Cooker Saturday or Fondue Fridays. Have fun with it and ask your kids and husband to help.
Make A List and Go Shopping: Now is the time to figure out what you need to make your meals and go get it. I split my list in to two sections (one for each payday) and do the bulk of my shopping then. I do make weekly trips to the farmer's market for produce and milk or if I see a good sale.
Print Out Your Menu and Your Recipes: I print out my monthly menu and any recipe I need. I put the stack in a magnetic clip right on my fridge. This way I can glance at the menu in the evening and see if I need to defrost anything and I don't have to go searching the internet for the recipes! As an added bonus if something happens and another adult needs to make dinner, the plan is in easy reach!
Be Flexible: Just because you have a menu doesn't mean you have to follow it! The menu is there to help you, not to enslave you. We rarely follow the plan exactly, but it's nice to know that I already have dinner planned and all the ingredients ready when I need them.
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