Menu planning is something that comes easily to some, and not so easily to others. I have already told you that I am one of those that struggles with it. I like flexibility and variety, and menu planning seems to go against both of those. I have learned to love it, however, and the weeks that I have a good menu plan in place, things run more smoothly.
My purpose here is not to telly you why it is a good thing. Reasons to menu plan vary from person to person. The budget, no five o’clock panic, and more balanced meals are probably the main reasons to plan.
Three ideas for smooth menu-planning.
1. Have a master list of meals.
This is hands down the most helpful thing for me. I have had a variety of master plans over the years. Usually scribbled down somewhere, which was not entirely helpful as it usually got lost. Most recently I have been trying out Evernote, and it is a nice place to condense all my information including links to recipes. It is also accessible on smart phones, so if I had one it would be convenient. Many of you might find that helpful.
I have recently started sub-diving it between beef meals, chicken meals, meatless meals, soups, etc. This helps me spread things out which is very helpful on the budget!
Menu planning is much easier and quicker when I have a master list to pull from. It keeps me from staring at the blank page with no ideas. What exactly do we eat, anyway? Just slowly start adding to the list as you think of, or make, meals that you know your family loves. Eventually you will have a great list to work from.
2. Use Gmail calendar.
I have a separate gmail calendar set up just for meal planning. I love using gmail calendar because if it is a meal that I know we are going to repeat frequently I can just set it up to repeat itself weekly, or every other week. In the summer, taco salad comes up frequently so I have it set for every other week. It is easy enough to change if for some reason we don’t want to eat it that week. In the winter we have some favorite soups that I have those set to come up on a regular basis. Having a few things already on the calendar means there are fewer nights to plan.
Using gmail I can also pull up my regular calendar to check if anything is going on that might affect the menu plan. It keeps everything streamlined and in one place. If you want a printed version, you can just print off the calendar and put it on your fridge.
3. Allow yourself flexibility.
If you are a person that likes to change things up a bit, this is important. Being too strict with myself was one reason I often fell off the menu-planning bandwagon.
I do put the meals on the calendar on specific days, but I often change those days around. As long as I have the plan, the morning of I decide if I want to eat that or switch it for something else that is on the menu that week.
My goal is to have seven dinners planned, but we rarely eat all of those. With the plan I can make sure I have the right ratio of meat and meatless meals. I often move those around to suit my preferences or mood of the day. Because I have the plan, I know the ingredients are on hand and life is much easier.
Usually we have one night that is a leftover night. If you eat out you can factor that in as well. Having the extra nights factored in gives me room to change things up, while still sticking to the general plan. If I have lasagna on Monday, but I don’t feel like lasagna, I have the ingredients of a couple of other meals ready to go. I might move lasagna to later in the week, or I might just be one step ahead for next weeks menu.
These three things have given a comfortable balance between a plan and flexibility.
Other ideas for meal planning:
Theme Nights: Many people like to have Monday: pasta, Tuesday: Soup, Wednesday: Mexican, etc. This allows you to have a basic framework in place, while still allowing variety for the actual meal.
Month long meal plan: Jessica at Good Cheap Eats is a master of this. I am not quite that ambitious yet. Sigh, maybe someday I’ll be that organized!
Stephanie at Keeper of the Home has some helpful tips. She even has en ebook Plan It, Don’t Panic: A Complete Meal Planning Resource. I have not ready it so I cannot give you an opinion. However, I know Stephanie’s blog and it is always excellent so I am sure the ebook is quite helpful.
Do you menu plan? What are your favorite tips or resources?