New Year – Menu Planning

Hey everyone, it’s week two of my five week series on New Year’s Resolutions. Last week I wrote about the importance of implementing Bible reading into your daily routine. I’ve decided to mix up the last four weekly posts and not bring them up in any particular order.

This week my subject is menu planning.  Now, I suspect that some of you have the opinion that menu planning is too time consuming, too complex, or maybe too boring.  Your visualization of planning meals is something along this line:

Coming up with a weekly dinner plan has become a passion of mine and I believe it can be a lifesaver (literally). I didn’t grow up with a weekly menu plan and I certainly didn’t start married life with one. When I first got married, I tried to impress my new husband with my ability to throw wonderfully balanced meals together. The trouble was that I wasn’t very adept at it and I quickly ran out of ideas. I’d spend way too much time trying to come up with an idea when I came home from work. Most of the time, just as I came up with a plan, I’d discover that I was missing a critical ingredient. Of course, the fact that I was super hungry didn’t help my mental wheels turn any faster. More times than I’d care to count, we’d end up scrounging in a “fend-for-yourself” mode. So much for trying to be the perfect wife!  I tried to take care of this problem by convincing my husband that we should go out to eat more often, but he’d bring up loving memories of his mom, who cooked almost every meal during his childhood. In the end, we’d fluctuate between good meals and hunt-and-gather grazing. There was no consistency at dinner.

The impetus for change came in 1991 when our first child was born. Once she was old enough to eat solid foods, I knew I had to be more proactive in making nutritious meals. Where I could ignore the health risks of eating potato chips for dinner for adults, I knew my daughter was dependent on me to keep her healthy in any way I could. My meals did a big 180 degree swing and almost overnight they morphed into meeting the basic food groups. Broccoli became a family favorite and my daughter ate so many carrots that I think she took on a slight orange glow!

I really don’t remember exactly when I started making out a weekly dinner menu, but I think it must have been pretty early on into motherhood. Grocery shopping with kids can be a nightmare, so I found pretty quickly that if I had a weekly plan, I could consolidate the craziness to just one time a week. I also admit to not being very spontaneous. I just can’t make even simple choices (corn or peas?) if I’m in a time crunch. When I took the time to sit down once a week to decide on the meals for the week ahead, I found myself under a lot less stress.

Meal List

Here are a few things that I’ve found helpful when meal planning:

  • Have a calendar in hand when making the meal plans for the week.  It is unrealistic to make a complex five course meal if you will be busy with other things until late in the evening.
  • If possible, look at your grocery store flyer to see what is on sale when deciding on meals.
  • Choose the order of your meals based on when ingredients will expire.  For example: I try to use ground beef recipes within a day of buying it, but I can wait a few days to prepare chicken dishes.
  • Try to mix things up so that you aren’t having similar things back to back.
  • Create a leftover day.  Not only does this keep you from wasting food, it also is a kind of free day where you don’t have to do much prep.  Just reheat and eat!
  • Keep a stash of quick-serve, simple meals on hand.  We try to always have spaghetti and grilled cheese ingredients on hand so that they can be an alternative when an unexpected schedule change causes a labor-intensive meal to become impossible.  They also work if a sudden illness or injury keeps you from being able to spend a lot of time in the kitchen.
  • Consider freezing leftovers to be used at a later date.  As we get older and our seats around the table get fewer, this is becoming a better option.  This mentality keeps empty nesters and single adults from thinking they can’t make home cooked meals.  Just invest in some good freezer containers and inventory what is in your freezer so it doesn’t go bad.
  • Be flexible.  The unexpected happens.  Most of the time a meal that becomes impossible today can be shifted to tomorrow or the ingredients can be frozen for a more convenient time.

If you’ve never attempted to plan a weekly menu (I know some who plan a month at a time!), I think you should give it a try.  It may seem like a hassle to sit down and think it out, but I suspect you will be surprised by how much better your week will go with a plan.  You may not be able to see it as easily, but I also think if you continue meal planning, your health will improve.  You’ll be saving money too – by planning with sales, reducing fuel consumption with fewer trips to the market, making good use of leftovers, and not succumbing to the siren song of restaurants and pizza deliveries.

Happy planning!

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2 thoughts on “New Year – Menu Planning

  1. Anna says:

    menu planning has long been my down fall. I always want to do it so badly but I just can’t get into it. We shop by the month (we’ve found it is easier to keep our budget down that way). This means I have to have at least a general idea of what I plan on making. Since we do monthly shopping though I have found that I don’t have to be as M-F meal planning. It is helpful because I know I have ingredients for most everything I would typically cook so I can just decide to make whatever on a particular night instead. It is has been helpful minus the few times I thought I had something but didn’t. I am hoping to get better at meal planning though. I don’t want such a strict household that I never do anything “off schedule” but I think a little more structure would definitely help. I have been enjoying your little five week series. I had planned on doing something very similar actually in February for my blog. Looking forward to next week!

    • Heidi says:

      Anna, I would love to have menu planning and shopping done for a month. One big problem in doing that for me is the size of my freezer. I did once go with a neighbor to a freezer meal venue. It was great, but we split the food between us so I didn’t have to put as much in my freezer. It was so nice to be able to just have everything ready in just a couple of steps whenever I needed a spur-of-the-moment dinner idea. I am somewhat rigid in my meal planning, but that is mostly because I don’t think well on my feet. For awhile I’d designate my usual day off to experiment with new selections. My work as a temp now doesn’t lend as well to my proposed meal selections (I may get a job after I’ve already shopped for the week), but thankfully my husband is expanding his abilities in the cooking realm and will sometimes prepare my idea if I’m home late. Our family is pretty boring compared to most, so that probably makes advanced scheduling easier too. Looking forward to your series!

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