Thank you all so much for your sweet comments, emails and Facebook posts! I had a WONDERFUL birthday weekend and just enjoyed every minute with my husband and kids. I'll share some pictures once I get them uploaded.
photo via flickr
I got home from my celebration weekend to an empty refrigerator and the knowledge that I've got a busy couple of weeks ahead. As much as I'd love to order takeout each night, I know that's not going to happen so I pulled out my menu planner instead. And you know what? It's been awhile since we've even talked about the importance of planning for food! It's like it's hard or something! But it's really not.
Now, the idea of having a weekly menu plan seems like a real good one. That is, until you actually sit down to create one. Week after week. Month after month. After awhile you're just staring at your blank piece of paper, wondering if driving through McDonald's every night wouldn't be so bad after all.
What would you do if I told you that you could EASILY come up with a whole month's worth of dinner plans without burning up any of your precious brain cells?
Today, we will do it together and by the time we're done, you will be congratulating yourself for being so very clever. Grab a cup of coffee, or some sweet nectar of your choice, and let's have some fun.
First, take out a couple of pieces of paper.
Next, start writing down broad categories of meals (all you really need is 7):
- Crockpot meals
- Grilled Foods
- Soup N Sandwich
- Breakfast for Dinner
- Try Something New Night
- Eat Out Meals (yes, this is a category)
- Paper Plate Meals (also a category)
- Leftover Meals (a very important group)
Now, see if you can come up with at least 4 individual meals within each category. For example:
Ethnic: Tacos, Spaghetti, Pizza, Enchiladas, chicken stir-fry
Breakfast for Dinner: Waffles, Pancakes, Breakfast Casserole, Bacon and Eggs
This is getting really cool because, if you just take the above categories, with 4 items each, you already have enough meals to cover almost two months!! You're off to a great start.
Now, here's how to start plugging the meals into your family calendar. Take (or make) a blank calendar page - you can use this worksheet:
First, you'll take a look at standing obligations that affect your family dinner: piano lessons on Tuesdays and Thursdays, Soccer on Fridays. Volunteer at the Homeless Shelter on Wednesdays. Etc. Write them in.
Next, working across the top of the calendar, begin assigning meal categories to days of the week. For example, If you are home all together on Monday nights, that would be a perfect night for a Sit Down Meal on Real Plates. Write that category above Mondays.
On Piano nights, I used to assign Crock Pot Night and Sandwich Night - both are quick and easy with little clean-up required.
On Sport Practice night, I might assign Drive Through (Oh. Yes.) It makes me feel better to plan this into my menu than to feel like a loser because I can't do any better than this.
Saturday nights might be a perfect Breakfast for Dinner night. My family would love it if I made waffles EVERY Saturday night, so no creativity is even required!
Once you have a category for each day of the week, you will then work your way DOWN the calendar. Take your four individual dinners and throw them under each category. So if Mondays are your Sit Down meals, you take your Baked Chicken and Rice, your Beef and Cabbage Rolls etc. and plug them into the individual Mondays. Right now you are simply penciling in your ideas, so you don't have to be too picky until the next step.
Once you have a meal penciled in per day, you can start to refine and perfect your masterpiece. If I see that on the first Wednesday I am grilling chicken, I could grill up some EXTRA chicken for Thursday's Chicken Enchiladas. So I start moving the meals around into an order that makes the most sense. A huge pot roast on Sunday might make great BBQ sandwiches on Sandwich Night, so I'll put those two meals into the same week.
If your family has several favorites, don't be afraid to repeat them often. The idea that you have to magically come up with 30 different things each month is completely unnecessary. And you don't have to stick to your plan like a religious zealot.
A menu plan gives you options and TIME, because you'll have general ideas right at your fingertips.
How many meals can you come up with? Can you think of some interesting categories? Why not share your ideas and recipes! Leave a comment and/or link to your menu ideas so we can all be inspired!
Laura, my favorite Organizer, hosts Menu Plan Monday every week. It's a great meme to be involved in because you'll find excellent recipe ideas and meals that work for other busy families! Go check it out!