Having trouble with menu planning? You’ll absolutely love this simple 5-step menu planning process!
I used to hate menu planning.
After years of being influenced by my husband’s spontaneity, I thought flying by the seat of my pants in dinner preparation was a good thing. What kind of meal was my family in the mood for that day?
I had created my own system of meals without a true menu planning process – just stocking up on basic staples and keeping a filled pantry, freezer and fridge, so I could make up meals on the fly. I thought it worked well.
But I kept reading blog posts and comments about how menu planning was so helpful … how it could save time and money. And, being raised by my mother who would plan out her menus six months in advance, I began to wonder if I was missing out on something pretty huge.
So, at the beginning of January, when I was motivated to make all sorts of helpful changes for the year, I decided to give menu planning a shot.
I never imagined I would love it like I do.
A Simple 5-Step Menu Planning Process
The thing is, my approach to menu planning is fairly easy and quick – plus it leaves a lot of wiggle room for days when I do want to cook what my family’s in the mood for. Here’s my simple 5-step menu planning process:
Gather your collection of favorite recipes – either on recipe cards, in cookbooks, or on Pinterest. While you’re doing this, ask your family what meals they love to eat. (You may be surprised by some of their requests!)
Start filling in your seasonal meal plans with your favorite recipes.
I’ve found it’s much easier to assign certain days as theme days – like Meatless Mondays. For my family, I’ve set aside one day a week of a chicken meal, one day a week for brinner, one day a week for an ethnic meal, one day a week for a slow cooker meal, and one day a week for either sandwiches, soup or salad.
When I’m filling out my menu plan, I just know that each Tuesday is ethnic night – so I schedule Taco Tuesdays … or curry or Pad Thai or spaghetti and meatballs. Wednesdays are chicken nights. Thursdays are slow cooker nights – so I look for slow cooker recipes and fill them in each Thursday. Fridays are date nights, and we plan to go out either on a family date or know to plan on babysitting.
As I plan what we’ll have, I just stick to main dishes … then I roll with whatever side dishes sound good or match the main dish well.
I also keep in mind what we’re in the mood for, seasonally speaking. In the middle of winter my family craves lots of chilis or meat and potato kind of meals. In the middle of the sweltering summer, we opt for salads, cold sandwiches, or something on the grill.
Once your meal plan is scheduled for the season, stick in on your refrigerator so you remember what’s coming up each day. Also, when you make your grocery list, add ingredients you’ll need based on your upcoming meal plans.
When you’re in the middle of each week, you’ll know what’s for dinner – and each morning you’ll know what you need to prepare ahead of time. If, for some reason, you’re just not in the mood for whatever you have planned, switch out your night’s dinner plan with something else in the week.
With this simple 5-step menu planning process, I’ve found that I can spend half an hour planning my seasonal menu each three months and then set my meals on autopilot. I love how creating three months planned menus at once is a terrific way to set it and forget it … I have no more 4 p.m. worries about brainstorming what’s for dinner.
I love not having to think about what’s for dinner anymore, and because the 5-step process is so simple, I don’t hate menu planning anymore, either!
What menu planning process has worked best for you? What do you typically do?
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All images courtesy of Pixabay.