Making a menu plan can be a real-time saver in our busy lives. Are you the type that has to know in advance what you’re having for dinner? Or are you better off just winging it? Or a little of each? There are several ways to ensure that meals make it to the table before people get “hangry!”
Planning – The Inventory Method
I happen to like this method of planning, because it helps me use up what I already have. This, in turn, allows me to keep to a lower grocery budget. First, I take inventory of my pantry, fridge, and freezer. I don’t spend hours on this! Five to ten minutes, tops! This gives me a good foundation for a plan. Let’s say I find pasta, beans, and tomatoes. That will make the foundation for a pasta recipe we like. I may be out of a key ingredient, such as Kalamata olives, in which case I’ll add them to the grocery list.
Planning – The Day-of-the-Week Method
I have a friend who swears by this method. She assigns a particular meal to each day of the week. For example, baked chicken, mashed potatoes, and green beans on Monday, spaghetti with tossed salad and garlic bread on Tuesday, and so on. This certainly takes the guesswork out of the “What’s for dinner?” dilemma, but I do like trying different foods now and then. For that reason, I would rather do a variation on this idea which would keep within the main framework but change up the type of preparation. On Monday, I could see rotating recipes and doing baked chicken one week, grilled the next, slow-cooked the next. I’d also allow for new and different foods to be rotated into the plan every so often.
This method, for people who prefer more spontaneity, involves keeping a perpetual shopping list of all the foods liked by household members. This is a very free-spirited way of doing things. Some people feel hassled by sticking to a set plan. They need more “creative freedom.” And that’s ok! Sometimes, I feel moved by that spirit as well. It’s fun to be spontaneous in the kitchen!
I plan for 5-6 days of the week, leaving 1-2 days open for going out to eat, using the “No Plan” method, or simply finishing up leftovers. This works really well for us. I know some people like to plan for 2 weeks at a time or more. That’s ok, too. I like to do one week at a time, though. This allows me to factor in garden produce(which tends to spoil quickly), as well as to shop in the grocery store once a week.
I do not assign meals to particular days of the week. Instead, I pick a meal the day before in case something needs defrosting, beans need soaking, etc. I also try to remain flexible. Sometimes life gets in the way of the plan, making it necessary to “go with the flow.” In these circumstances, I adjust accordingly. Maybe one of the meals can go on next week’s plan? In the freezer? Figure out whatever works so as not to waste food.
At the bottom of my dinner meal plan list, I leave room for “Extras.” These are foods that I need to make to have on hand or for other reasons. This could include salad dressings or dips, snacks, and the like. This week, I am hoping to make a sourdough starter for bread, as well as a ginger “bug” for ginger beer. I’ve tried to make these previously to no avail, but I refuse to give up! I will let you know how it goes…..
A couple of times per month, when my kids were growing up, I would have a “Breakfast for Dinner” night. Everyone enjoyed that! It was almost always pancakes with fruit, but it could be whatever is your family’s favorite breakfast.
Get the family involved in meal prep and clean up! This will create good memories and a positive attitude toward kitchen work. If you have youngsters, it truly is no big deal if they get messy. Life in general is messy. Plan for the messiness, and it will all be fine.
About twice a year, try sitting down with your other household members and ask them about their favorite foods. Tastes sometimes change, and it’s good to keep things current. I used to do this and it was particularly helpful with not just dinners, but breakfast and lunch as well. From fairly young ages, my kids were helping themselves to breakfast on weekdays, and packing their own school lunches. We’d have special breakfasts on weekends. Most Saturdays we’d have pancakes, and Sundays we’d have bagels.
Most of the time now, I write down what I’m having for breakfast, lunch and dinner the night before in one corner of my “To-Do” list for the next day. On weekdays, my breakfast is usually a Smoothie. Lunch is usually dinner leftovers from the previous day. Dinner varies the most of all meals. For now, this is what works, but I continue to remain open to change.
The Grocery Store
This is the other piece of the Meal Planning Scenario! If you come away with anything, it is this: PLEASE DO NOT GROCERY SHOP WITHOUT A LIST! Now, that said, keep a small amount of your grocery budget set aside for the unexpected, surprise sale so you can stock up a little. Sound contradictory? It really isn’t. Stick to your list and your budget, but allow a small amount for wiggle room. If there are no specials the day you shop, you can keep yourself under budget, which is a good thing!
It’s a good idea to make your list the at the same time you do your meal planning. If you don’t meal plan make your list before you shop at a time that makes sense for you. I like to keep a pad of paper accessible to all family members so they can jot down whatever they want me to pick up for them when I go shopping. When I meal plan, I simply add whatever I need to this list and I’m good to go.
And, perhaps this goes without saying, but I have to give the friendly reminder to not do your grocery shopping when hungry. This is going to be your ruination on a number of levels. You will likely buy unnecessary food, as well as blow your budget – two things none of us need to do.
Finally, bring your reusable grocery bags! I am still working on being consistent with this. What I do to remember them is note at the top of my list, “Bring Grocery Bags.” If I don’t write that blatant reminder, well, I don’t remember until I’m pulling into the store parking lot.
Happy Menu Planning! (Or not….)