I have a love/hate relationship with menu planning. Each week I passionately hate the task in the same manner that I hate getting my teeth cleaned. I find it tedious, and I hate tedious tasks that must be repeated on a regular basis. I also feel the pressure to try new recipes and create elaborate dinners for my family every night. They are, by the way just as happy with a roast beef sandwich as they are with Julie Child’s Boeuf Bourguignon.
I also love menu planning for the amount of stress it relieves on a daily basis. Knowing what we will have for dinner each night makes my shopping easier. It keeps me from staring at the fridge frantically trying to figure out something to eat at 6:00pm. And it keeps my grocery budget down. I’m extremely frugal, so let’s face it, the financial aspects are enough to keep me going each week.
However, I have found some fun ways to ease the pain of menu planning.
1. Find a fun way to display the weekly menu
I use a picture frame that has chalkboard contact paper in it instead of glass. I use it to write out and display the menu. The excitement my family has over this simple act keeps me motivated. I also like having the visual reminder every morning as I’m pouring my coffee. If I need to pull something out of the freezer, or put something in the crockpot, I am reminded first thing each day.
2. Plan a leftover night, or as we call it, fend for yourself night
On nights that I do cook, I try to make more than I know my family will eat. The leftovers are great for lunches or dinner another night. Sometimes I warm up all the leftovers, place it on the bar, and tell my family to make a plate. This is always hit – they only eat their favorites from the past week.
3. Stop worrying about finding new and elaborate recipes
My family loves having full bellies more than they love fancy dinners. Plan for sandwiches or a simple spaghetti on days you know you will be super busy. Also, think about planning theme nights such as Taco Tuesday or Friday Night Pizza. You can see from our menu, we like to do Breakfast for Dinner. Now don’t get me wrong, I love to cook and I love Pinterest so I always have some recipe I’m wanting to try, but I plan those for meals for days days that are less hectic.
4. Keep a well-stocked pantry and freezer
We all know I’m a couponer. I make my list each week based upon the sales and coupons. Purchasing staples on sale helps me plan and cook meals without breaking the bank.
I am a huge fan of freezer cooking. I love planning big cook days with friends and stocking our freezers with meals. Talk about easy menu planning!
5. Plan for flexibility
This is a huge one for me. This mom-life is nothing if it is not unpredictable. I only plan dinner meals for Monday-Friday. Meal prepping breakfasts and lunches can be very helpful, but I keep those tasks separate from my weekly family dinner planning. We love living and eating in Charleston, and we love to do that on weekends, so I leave those days open for fun and spontaneity.
I sometimes need to move dinners around during the week. Hubs finds out that he has a late meeting one day. I forget about a continuing education event I need to attend until the day of (yep, that has happened) and I need to move the crockpot meal from Wednesday to Tuesday. No big deal. Roll with it!
One more thing to mention about my dinner menu planning – I never do it without my calendar open in front of me. My goal is to ease stress, so on the days that are packed full of activities/meetings/appointments, I plan for super easy dinners. The less hectic days are the times I put in a few of the recipes that I’m wanting to try or some more elaborate, but tried and true recipes.
Research has repeatedly shown that family dinners are an important part of a healthy childhood and solid family. So while I hate menu planning, I continue to do it because it saves my sanity while I strive to have a happy home. No, the irony is not lost on me…..