Do you find yourself scurrying around the kitchen at 5:00 each night desperately searching for dinner ideas? Here’s 5 tips that will help you stop searching for ingredients and save more time with menu planning.
I know exactly what you are going through because I’ve done it for years! I’ve tried menu planning a million times…I even wrote a blog (years ago) featuring dinner menus, but no matter what I did, I couldn’t seem to make myself follow the menu. However, earlier this year, we made some changes in our life and I decided it was time to put an end to the dinnertime dance forever.
Finally, in early July I sat down and created a menu plan for the rest of the month. I even included breakfast and lunch. At the same time, I made a menu for August as well. That way I wouldn’t be tempted to throw it aside at the end of July.
I’ve done this for months now and I can’t imagine going back to the dinner time dance. I love having an idea of what to cook every day and it saves me so much time!
Do we follow the menu to the letter?
Don’t stress over it! That was my problem for way to long. Use your menu as a guideline not as a rule and before you know it you’ll be less stressed and you’ll have time for a cup of tea before dinner, too!
Make a List
Write down all of your family’s favorite meals on a notepad and post the sheet on the refrigerator. Every time someone mentions a meal they want to eat, just jot it down on your list so you can add it to next week’s (or month’s) menu.
I keep a plain loose-leaf paper on the side of the refrigerator and continuously add to it as the family suggests meal ideas.
Plan for 3
Thinking about breakfast and lunch might seem like a crazy idea when getting out the door in the morning is impossible. And no one is saying you need to have a 4 course breakfast or lunch every day. But, simply writing down cereal on Tuesday or sandwiches on Monday will not only save you time, it will massively reduce your stress level.
Because you don’t have to think about it! You’ve already told yourself what you (or your family) are eating today.
I don’t specify a certain meal for breakfast or lunch on our menu. I have a list of 6 or 7 ideas for each meal, such as cereal, eggs/toast, yogurt, smoothies, etc. for breakfast and sandwiches, cheese (or homemade dips) & crackers, pasta or leftovers for lunches. I just alter each of the meal “ideas” from week to week on our menu.
Variation is Key
Switch up the ingredients in your favorite recipes to make your menu planning easier. If your family loves pasta dishes, try something new. If steak keeps everyone in your house happy, then try a different marinade or dry rub before cooking.
I don’t have a designated day for each type of food we eat, with the exception of Friday. On Friday’s we always have some sort of Pizza type meal like Stromboli, Calzones or of course, Homemade Pizza with different toppings. However, I do use A LOT of the same recipes as a base for dinner and build off of them depending on what ingredients I have available that day. Like the Lasagna example above.
Make Your Planning Last Longer
Plan for a month instead of week to week. Weekly meal planning is a great idea…if you have a grocery store next door. But, for the rest of us, it’s a hassle to shop every week.
By planning your meals monthly, you can shop in bulk which will save you a huge amount of money…plus, you won’t waste as much of your precious time food shopping.
I am trying to reduce my grocery shopping to 1 bulk trip per month and 1 regular “pick up” trip for things like cheese and ice cream…you know, the important things. 😉
Cook Once – Eat Twice
Remember the mention of bulk shopping? There is another huge benefit to buying large quantities of food. You don’t have to cook as often!
When planning your menu, think about the order of the items you are writing down. For example, are you planning on cooking a fancy beef or pork roast for Sunday dinner? Why not have hot roast beef and gravy sandwiches or pulled pork for dinner on Monday or Tuesday using the leftover meat?
When you are shopping, instead of buying just a 2 lb. roast for Sunday dinner, buy a 3 or 4 lb. roast. Cook the entire thing on Sunday and then, give the leftovers a makeover another night.
I try to “double cook” as often as possible and when I’m not going to use the leftovers right away, I just wrap in foil or a zipper bag and stick them in the freezer.
I love taking the time to plan my menu at the beginning of each month because I don’t have to think about it after that. I just take a peek at the menu each morning and pull whatever I need out of the freezer.
It’s simple, saves time and money.
Plus, it’s kinda fun.
Have a Spectacular Day!