We’ve all slacked off on menu planning from time to time. I know that once I get out of the habit, I quickly forget all the great benefits of meal planning like saving time, money, and lowering my stress level.
So what do you do to get back on track?
Keeping things simple is always the answer. We’ve gathered our best tips for simplifying your menu plans so that you can get on with your life.
Create your Menu on the Same Day Each Week
I set aside one day a week as my menu-planning day. By doing that, I know that when that day rolls around (Tuesday in my case) it’s time to get my act together and do my meal plan for the week. It I don’t do this, I tend to put it off or plan too often for shorter periods of time (which results in extra grocery trips).
Set a Timer
I tend to procrastinate things that overwhelm me and the thought of spending hours pouring over cookbooks and taking an inventory of my pantry definitely overwhelms me. I complicate things whenever possible. I need to stop doing that. I talk myself into doing tasks that I’m putting off by giving myself a time limit. If I set the timer for 15 minutes and tell myself that I can be done when it goes off, I’m much more likely to sit down and get to work. Chances are, by the time the timer goes off I’ll be done with the task anyway. If not, I’ll set it for another 15 minute block later in the day.
Have Themed Meal Nights
Half my problem with menu planning is I never know what to make. I often plan meals when I’m not hungry, which should make it easier, but just makes me apathetic about planning. Apparently I need hunger as a motivation to get any sort of meal on the table. Having themed meal nights can take a lot of the work out of your meal planning, for example Monday night could be chicken night, Tuesday night may be Mexican night, etc.
This does NOT mean that you have to serve the same meal each week. We have a weekly Friday night pizza night but we rarely have the same thing twice. I’ll make homemade pizza dough and we dramatically change up the toppings to make entirely new meals each week. This simplifies my planning because I already have a general meal laid out but it leaves plenty of room for variety.
Create a List of Family Favorites
When I’m short on time or ideas I like to have a few easy recipes to choose from that I know my family likes. I should be able to pull those out of my brain with very little trouble but the fact is there are too many things fiddling around in there for me to remember . . .well, just about anything. So I write things down. I keep a list of top 20 (or so) meals that my family likes stuck to the inside of my pantry. If I get stumped for a meal, I can just run down the list and find something that sounds good (or that I already have the ingredients for) It saves me so much time that it’s on my to-do list to create another one for lunch and breakfast ideas.
Plan a Full Month
Menu planning monthly has honestly never worked for me but I know people who have had a lot of success planning out the entire month’s worth of meals in one sitting. We are part of a local CSA (Consumer Supported Agriculture) and I like to plan meals around that but I never know what produce we will be getting until the week of. That and I really just can’t think that far ahead so a week at a time works perfectly for me.
Make your Kids Plan the Menu
We have talked before about how easy it is to include your kids in menu planning. On weeks when I really don’t want to plan, I just pass that job over to my 9 year old who loves scouring through my cookbooks and finding something for dinner. When he’s done, he just gives me a shopping list and I’m ready to go.
Recycle your Menu Plans
If menu planning just isn’t your thing, create 4 or 5 standard menu plans and just rotate through them. If you get bored of a particular recipe, just substitute in something else but use your already created menu plans as a base. If you don’t have one of your own to recycle, you can always use someone else’s. Check out Menu Plan Monday to see what other families are eating and either pick and choose recipes or duplicate a menu that another mom has already created. Take this one step further and sign up for a services like Saving Dinner where they do the menu planning for you.
How do you simplify your menu planning?