I’m sure more than one of you can relate to this experience: It’s 5:30 pm-dinner time. But you have nothing started, and more than that, NOTHING planned. Do you even have ingredients? Your mind starts to cloud over as you try desperately to come up with something to make in less than 30 minutes, while your children are begging at your feet for food. Finally, since it is all too complicated and takes more effort than you have at the moment you concede. Either you serve cereal, grilled cheese, or you order pizza. None are particularly good for you, but they achieve the goal of at least getting food into hungry bellies.
I’ve been there many times. Many, many, many times. And I hate it. The thing is that most of the time, I use a menu where I plan out my meals a month at a time. That way, shopping is a breeze. I shop for 2 weeks at a time, which is great since I don’t have to brave the grocery store with three little girls who really don’t want to be there any more than I absolutely have to. Also, with a menu, I can make sure that the ingredients are defrosted, that the crockpot meals actually end up in the crockpot in the morning, that we’re not eating chicken 5 days in a row, and that I’m using up the food I have in my storage, rather than rushing out all the time to get random things I don’t really need. It saves time, energy, and money. What more do you need?
There are many ways to create a menu. And many different approaches on how to organize it. Here are some tips:
- Start by writing a list of ALL your meals. You could organize it by category (like Mexican, Asian, etc.) or by main ingredient (like Chicken, Beef, Fish, etc.), or even by Favorites (your most loved at the top all the way down to the meals you only make when you have no other options…like those clothes you only wear on laundry day). I like to make my lists in Excel because I can easily filter and sort them to weed out the meals I want. Like if I don’t have any pork in the house, I can easily hide all the pork recipes. Or if I really need a crockpot recipe, I can make it show me only those that are for the crockpot. (If you want more information on that, leave a comment and I’ll try to help you.)
- Print off a menu. Here is a blank menu you can use, or create your own.
- Decide how you want to organize your menu. An easy way to organize is by type of meal. You could do by ingredient (Chicken on Mondays and Thursdays, Beef on Tuesdays, Meatless on Wednesdays, etc.). Or you could do by cuisine (Mexican Mondays, Soup Saturdays, or not so corny). Or you could even do by type of dish (Crockpot on Sundays, Casseroles on Wednesdays, Grill on Fridays, etc.). Or blend them all together. Think about your demands in your week or on your budget and adjust accordingly. Is there a day that you need a crockpot meal since you won’t be home from 8 am until dinner time? Make that a Crockpot day! Write your categories in the blank box under the name of the day.
- Leave room for traditions! We have pizza and a movie night every Saturday night. And on Fridays, we do breakfasts, since we don’t need leftovers for daddy’s lunch the next day.
- Fill in your menu from your list. Try to group meals together that use similar ingredients. For example, if you make Chicken Fajitas on Monday, maybe plan to have Sweet and Sour Chicken on Thursday. You can use the chicken, peppers, onions, and rice for both meals. Just make enough rice the first night and reheat it the second. Use half your peppers and onions for one night and the rest the other. Get it? Or, if you make Chalupa one night, plan on using the leftover meat and toppings in tacos a few nights later. It’s a great way to use leftovers without them seeming like leftovers. If you eat leftovers for lunch like we do, you’ll probably want to reserve only one or two days a month for leftover day. Or if you don’t eat leftovers for lunch, you may want to save one day a week for Leftover Night.
If that all sounds complicated, it really isn’t. Plus, the hour it will take you once a month will save you MANY hours throughout the month when you no longer have to sit and wonder how in the world you’re going to throw dinner together. Also, if you find one night that you don’t want what is on the menu, or it no longer fits with your day, just swap it for another meal in your 2-week span; you should already have the ingredients, so save today’s meal for next week!
Here is what my menu looks like for this month. Go ahead and borrow it to get yourself started. If you need any recipes, let me know!