"Mom, what's for dinner?"
"Frog legs, or worms. How about brains?" I stall as I search through the pantry for a real meal.
I don't know how many times this exact scenario has played out in my home, but I try so hard to avoid it. I think I've become a fairly organized person only out of necessity. If I don't plan ahead, things just don't happen. The times when I have had a menu plan are so much less stressful, and our meals are a whole lot more nutritional. Having a planned menu helps our days and weeks run a little more smoothly. Although I like the predictability of a set routine, I do like to change it up every once in a while to keep it new and exciting, so I don't stick with one type of meal planning for more than a few months at time. Here are a couple ways that I have done our menu planning this year that have really worked for me.
A weekly menu routine:
When we first moved into our new house and through the summer we had a lot of projects going on and a lot of change already happening, so I decided to keep it fairly simple and have a loose weekly menu that we stuck with. I chose a breakfast, lunch, and snack for each day and then a theme for each dinner. Sunday-meat and veggies, Meatless Monday, Taco Tuesday, Wednesday-hot dogs or grilled cheese (this is the evening we have activities out of the house), Thursday- crockpot or instant pot meal, Friday- Pizza Night, Salad Saturday. This allowed for some variation without having to think too much. I can see myself returning to this menu plan during busy times in the future.
Well balanced daily menus:
As we settled into things for the fall and started creating a routine, I also felt like changing our menu up. I created 21 menus for well balanced days and printed them up on cardstock and put magnets on their backs. I repurposed some cute magnet boards to use in our kitchen as our menu boards. I chose some seasonal dinners and then built the rest of the day's menu around that to be sure to hit all of our nutritional needs. I also chose to add desserts to each day so that we would have the option of a semi-healthy (or at least homemade) treat. I can move the daily menus around to fit our week's schedule or to utilize the same ingredients within a week which cuts down the items on my grocery list. Having 21 days gives us a lot of variety for dinners while repeating breakfasts, lunches, snacks, and desserts fairly often. I've really enjoyed this way of menu planning and I'm collecting recipes to create a new set of daily menus for winter.
No matter how you choose to set up your menu there are a few tips you may want to incorporate:
1. Look at the day as a whole in terms of nutrition. It can be hard to fit every food group into every meal, but you can fit them into every day.
2. Snacks don't need to fill you up, but should provide some real value. This is a great time to add in more protein or veggies.
3. Eating fresh and seasonal foods can help your health and your grocery budget. Learn to love root veggies and squash in the fall and winter. They are more readily available and for a good price. Cucumbers and radishes are fun snacks in the spring and summer. Find out what the locally grown foods of the season are where you live and add those into your menu plan.
4. Pick a day to prep food for the week, maybe the same day you shop. Chop veggies for snacks and salads. Cook rice or meat ahead if it works for your recipes. Make dressings, dips, or marinades. Make granola bars or muffins (or homemade muffin mixes).
5. Find some great recipes and cookbooks. I find lots of recipes on pinterest or on blogs. A favorite cookbook of mine is, The Fresh 20, quite a few of our regular dishes come from it.
6. Plan for the week you are expecting to have, but be ready to make adjustments as things come up. Having a couple Plan B meals in the pantry or freezer are a really good idea.
What are your favorite menu planning tips? Share them in the comments below.