Before we moved to Louisville, our dinners looked something like this:
Whatever scraps we could put together, PB&J, frozen pizzas, the occasional trips to the store to buy the ingredients for a specific meal we decided we wanted at the last minute, or fast food.
Shortly after moving here, I was introduced to a new concept–menu planning. I was blessed to be in a church with several godly women who lovingly showed me how much more efficient I can be with my time and money (and health) if I would just set aside consistent time to plan our menu. Now, it took me a couple of years to get the hang of a system that works for our family, but I will share with you what we do.
After trying everything under the sun, we found that planning one week at a time worked best for our situation (some women plan for a whole month!). Each Thursday I sit down and plan our menu for the next week (Monday-Sunday) and then we shop on Friday or Saturday.
One trick I have learned is to keep breakfast and lunch simple. We usually just eat cereal and some fruit for breakfast and sandwiches for lunch. I do keep some non-perishables like soups or mac n’ cheese in our pantry for those times sandwiches just don’t sound appealing. Then on the weekends I will spice things up a bit, so really I’m only planning two breakfasts and two lunches. Most of my other planning is for dinners.
I begin by checking my calendar to see if there will be any special events (i.e. guests coming over, a holiday, or a meal at church). I plan for those events first and put the date beside that meal so I remember it’s not flexible. If we will be eating somewhere else, I know I only have to plan six dinners instead of seven.
An intimidating factor for me was finding variety, so here are a couple of solutions. First, I make sure I have at least one protein, vegetable or fruit, and carb with each dinner. It really helps keep the meal balanced. Each week I also plan a Mexican, Italian, chicken, and ground beef meal. Then I always have what I call the something-else meal where I’ll fix tuna, pork, cheese, or whatever I find interesting. During the colder months, I try to plan a soup each week. This helps make sure we’re not eating pasta each night and allows Bill to get his meat (he doesn’t think chicken qualifies).
The other thing I try to do for variety is plan something new each week, a recipe I’ve never tried. It keeps me from falling into the same patterns over and over. Then one night a month I will plan a gourmet type meal where I really try to challenge myself and cook something special and a little more difficult.
Each morning, I look at the menu and decide what we are going to eat that night so I can pull meat out of the freezer, throw something in the crock pot, or do any other necessary preparations.
I keep all my menus on the refrigerator during the week and then they move to my planner. I use the old menus often to be reminded of meals we haven’t had in a while and as a way to make sure we don’t have meatloaf three weeks in a row.
For those of you who have never tried planning your menu, I know it can seem a little intimidating at first, but I would challenge you to begin with baby steps. Just start planning 2-3 meals a week and find what works best for you. Even with the time I take planning each week, I save so much time and money in the end. No more quick trips to the store, non-planned eating out, wasted money on food you bought but never ate, or falling into boring or unhealthy eating patterns. I am so grateful to the women who pointed me in this direction, and I would encourage you to follow in their footsteps.