How do you create a weekly menu plan? Where do you even start? Over the years I’ve been asked to do a post about menu planning many times. Well, if you were one of those people who asked, you’re in luck…finally!
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I did some menu planning off and on in the early years of our marriage. In fact, not long ago I was looking though my old recipe box and found a bunch of cards I had created when the kids were little. Each card included a main dish recipe, side dish suggestions and on the back, a list of necessary ingredients.
I can’t recall if I actually used these or if it was merely one of my “great ideas” which was more fun to create than to put into practice. Did you know this about me? I love to plan but I’m a bit weak in the area of implementation.
So when did I truly embrace menu planning? To be honest, it was in the early days of my first blog, Tea With Dee. I would include what we were having for dinner each night on the sidebar. That led to planning meals a week at a time. That’s right. I started menu planning as blog content. Hey, whatever works, right?
The thing is, it didn’t take me long to realize how helpful it is to have a plan for the week. I’ll be the first to admit I don’t always stick to it 100% of the time but it’s great to have a starting place. On those days when my meal-planning creativity is shot all I have to do is look at my Menu Plan Monday post for the week and there it is.
Here is the process I go through in order to plan our evening meals for the week:
1. Check the calendar and have a quick discussion with family members about the upcoming week. Consider any appointments, meetings, or other commitments which can affect dinner plans.
2. Take a quick inventory of perishable items which need to be used up soon.
3. Designate “theme” nights. For instance, Meatless Monday, Taco Tuesday, Crockpot Wednesday, Date Night Friday, etc. You don’t need to adhere to these every week but having a list to draw from can make the decision process easier.
4. Plan variety over the course of the week. Try to avoid serving beef every night of the week, for instance. Vary your carbs and vegetables in order to provide good nutrition. I will generally plan one meal with rice, another with pasta, and one with potatoes during the week. I also vary the vegetables throughout the week and we usually have a salad with our meals most nights.
5. Choose one or more “new” recipes to try. If you’ve got a crazy busy week ahead, ignore this step but otherwise it makes cooking more fun when you try something new. It’s all too easy to get into a rut and eat the same few meals every week. Pinterest is my favorite place to find new recipes these days but I also have an extensive collection of cookbooks. One of these days I’ll do a post on my favorites.
6. Once you’ve chosen your main dish for each night then add in the side dishes. I’m often surprised by the number of people who just cook a main dish and call it good. I really like a variety of tastes and textures in a meal so it’s rare that I only fix one item (soup comes to mind although I still serve it with bread alongside). In general I like to serve a salad, a starch and one or two vegetables along with the main dish. This doesn’t happen every night but it’s my goal.
7. If your family eats dessert on a regular basis, plan those, too.
8. When planning each individual meal consider these factors: nutrition, texture, color, flavor contrasts. Instead of plain baked chicken, noodles, cauliflower and white bread, which is all kind of beige and boring, consider something like this:
- Caprese chicken – colorful with tomatoes and basil
- buttered noodles sprinkled with parsley
- steamed broccoli
- toasted French bread
- a nice tossed green salad
Not only is this meal more colorful but there is a nice variety of textures and flavors. I try to imagine what a meal will look like on a plate, too.
9. Save your menu in some manner. Print and hang on the refrigerator, write each meal on the kitchen calendar or keep it handy on your phone.
10. Create a grocery list. Go through each meal and write down any items you need for it. I maintain a pretty well-stocked pantry and freezer (another blog post I intend to write!) and do a major grocery shopping trip with my daughter once a month. Therefore my list is usually fairly short and mostly includes highly perishable items. But most people shop weekly or every few days so adjust this to your usual method.
If you’re in the habit of running to the store almost every day, and not because you live in France and have all those amazing markets nearby, then I’d encourage you to use menu planning as a means of reducing the number of trips to the grocery store per week. If you know ahead of time what you plan to cook for the week you can quite easily shop once a week and that’s a huge time saver.
And that’s it. It took me way longer to write all that out than it does to plan a weekly menu. It takes a bit of practice but these days I can whip up a meal plan and shopping list in about 15 minutes or less.
I will be creating my own free menu plan and grocery shopping printables one of these days but in the meantime, here’s a good resource:
20 Free Menu Planner Printables
Happy Menu Planning!
If you have any other questions don’t hesitate to ask!
And if you’re new to menu planning or just want some help, consider a menu planning service. A fairly new one on the scene that I’m really excited about is Eat at Home. Your membership gives you access to four different meal plans: Traditional, Wholesome Traditional, Slow Cooker and No Flour, No Sugar. You get printable menus, recipes, grocery lists, 15 minute meal options, and a 1-hour freezer stash. A menu planning service such as this can save you hours every month!
Those cards with the meal on one side and ingredients on the other sound like a good tool for people who have picky eaters for kids. I’ve seen Supernanny do something similar, though she does it with decorated paper plates rather than cards. Goes down really well with even the most picky of kids most of the time.
I’m thinking I might start making these again. When I’m looking for inspiration I could then look through the cards and have the ingredient list handy to see if I have most on hand.