A Smart Mom’s Guide to Menu Planning
I’m a menu planner. I grew up sitting around the table with my momma, brainstorming a weekly menu and grocery list every Saturday morning. So when I became a momma, I knew no different. Doesn’t everyone menu plan?
No, Tiffany, no they don’t.
When people hear about my menu-planning methods, they assume that I LOVE to menu plan. Normally it’s something along the lines of, “Oh that’s great! I wish I could do that….I just hate to menu plan.”
I definitely do not love to menu plan. Sure, it’s not the worst chore of all (that would be dusting or unloading the dishwasher, in case you’re interested), but I would never say that I like to do it.
This is exactly why I menu plan– because I don’t like to spend a second more of my life on this than I have to.
1. Find a calendar and starting filling it in. Using this super awesome template my friend gave me a long time ago, I fill in meal ideas for 30 days. This can be excruciating if you’re not in an appropriate state of mind, so do some yoga or something before you begin. If you think about what your family eats already, just fill those in. Tacos. Roast and potatoes. Spaghetti. Vegan Chili. Broccoli and Cheese Soup. Baked Chicken and Rice. Leftovers. There’s a week for you already. Here’s my IRL menu.
2. Note special days on the calendar. There was a time when every Monday Jake was at school late into the evening, so I had to make sure whatever we did on that day was easy or a crockpot meal. Or, perhaps your child has soccer practice every Tuesday. Think about how much time you’ll have and what kinds of meals work best for those nights.
2. Repeat dinners and use a weekly theme. Don’t forget that you can repeat a dinner idea within a month. So, I always do 2 spaghetti nights a month. Easy. I do a chicken recipe one night each week. We always do a movie-friendly watching meal (okay, it’s pizza) on Friday or Saturday night. We always do leftovers on a weekend night too.
3. Head to your cookbook or Pinterest to fill in the rest. Have you been wanting to try a new dish or two? Write it in the calendar, and using the “insert comment” feature on Google Spreadsheets or Excel, link to the online recipe. That way, when it’s time to make the recipe, you don’t have to hunt it down. It’s already there.
4. Print it out and put it on your refrigerator.
Next, it’s time to grocery shop.
Great, so you have your menu done for the WHOLE MONTH. Congratulations- you don’t have to do this again for 30 days!
I grocery shop on Friday mornings, so on Thursday nights I take a look at the already-planned-out-menu and work my way through the week, day by day, adding ingredients I’ll need for each meal. It takes 10 minutes and you’re done. Painless.
Oop, I’m to the end of my monthly calendar. Now what?
Oh the glory, my friends. It took you a good long while to make the first calendar. It was perhaps a bit painful and made you even thought a curse word. Confess and move on because this month is going to be WAY EASIER.
1. Consider using the same menu for the next month. Okay, so you had tikka masala last month. It’s delicious, why not have it again? Your family won’t care and you already have it written on the calendar.
2. Change out one or two evenings for trying something new. Head back to Pinterest to choose just 1 or 2 ideas. (Hint: too many new ideas is going to BURN YOU OUT on cooking, if you’re anything like me).
3. Change out recipes according to the season. My October and November calendars get heavy in the squash arena. In the summer months, I like foods I don’t have to turn on the oven to make. While I have a lot of staples for any month of the year, I like to change about 1/4-1/3 of the weekly menus to be season-friendly.
4. At the end of each month, consider saving your calendar (in a binder, etc.). Because NEXT YEAR, you will want to get some ideas of the seasonal recipes you made. Looking back will save you a billion hours.
This is the truth- I spend 10-15 minutes each month meal-planning. That’s it. And it’s all glory hallelujah because I don’t have to spend a bunch of time doing something I don’t really like to do.