In my former life as a stay at home wife, I loved to cook all the time. I had time to sit down and consider slowly what I wanted to make for the day, week, month. I created grand menus and rarely made the same recipe twice.
But I have had such a hard time getting back into the swing of things since having babies. Nap time never seems to include enough time to get the house picked up, menus planned, and dinner on the table by dinner time. But I am slowly getting back to my old ways.
I came across some of my meal planning stuff from my pre-baby days and decided it was time to get my kitchen mojo back. Here are some tips for simplifying meal planning
- Take out a planner of some sort (I started by printing out a monthly blank calendar from Outlook and moved up to a spiral bound student planner because it has lots of room).
- Consider what your life will bring you (that you know of) in the next month. Are you going out of town, are you expecting guests, do you have specific events? While planning for the month having these days marked will help you to decide how you and yours will eat that night. Also, you might plan how many nights a week you want to make dinner. Planning when you eat out is just as important as planning what you are going to eat when you are at home.
- Consider your budget and what you have on hand. Is your budget $70/week or $170/week? What is in your pantry that will help you assemble the meals you desire in the next month. Knowing what you have on hand will spark in your memory favorite recipes you didn’t even know you knew. Having most of the ingredients for your favorite recipe saves you money at the store because you may only need to pick up the perishables on the ingredient list.
- Plan according to the needs/wants of your family. In our house these are the things I consider: I want to make something new almost every time I cook, I want to feed my family something that is healthy and balanced, they will try almost anything, and I don’t want to be in the kitchen for a ridiculously long time each evening. Your needs may look quite a bit different from mine. Your family may not be as “adventurous” as ours in regards to food; that’s why this is your plan.
- Plan specific “nights” of dinners. In our household we have two nights I strive to keep as part of the week’s meals: slow-cooker and breakfast for dinner on Sundays. In your household this may look like: Mexican night (taco Tuesday, for instance), Pasta night (oh, to be you!), Under the Sea night, etc. Having these set nights in mind really help you to hone in on the right recipes for your family as you browse through cookbooks, magazines, etc. Additionally, having these set nights, helps you to stock your pantry accordingly when items you use often are on sale.
- Challenge yourself. To try something new each month, to have guests over once or twice a month, to have a special dinner for each member of your family once a month, to add something new to your diet, etc. Whatever the challenge, make it something that can be easily attainable. Having something new to do might inspire and excite you.
- Now that you have got all these things in the back of your mind, go through your treasured recipes from childhood or your favorite cookbooks, favorite magazines, or a new cookbook. A word regarding choosing recipes: it is a lot easier to pick a couple of sources for each month. This keeps you from having to figure out and sort through multiple books to find where you got a particular recipe every time you are in the kitchen.
- As you come across a recipe you want to include in your monthly plan, pick a day and write it down. Come up with some way of identifying where the recipe can be found. This is what it looks like for me: Dinner: French Onion Pot Roast (BMWF, 146). Obviously, this means we will be eating Pot Roast one night this month. The abreviation lets me know I can find the recipe in the Busy Mom’s Weeknight Favorites Cookbook on page 146. NOTE: this recipe brings up a planning tip: find ways to use the leftovers you have to make another dinner. Cook once, eat twice or three times meals really make meal planning a breeze.
- Continue this process until you have filled out your monthly menu. For my advanced readers, try planning your lunches and breakfasts as well.
- Be flexible! Life happens in this house on a regular basis, I do the best I can to adjust and move on. My menu plan helps me to have dinner on the table. It does not solve the rest of the world’s problems. I started doing menu planning and continue to do it because I am not quick on my feet to come up with something to eat when its time for dinner. The best part of life changing is that next month I get to put on the menu all the meals I didn’t get around to cooking this month.
OK, now its your turn. Tell me how you menu plan.
Do you dread meal planning or do you relish it?
How long does it take you to put a menu together?