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There was a time when I was really good about keeping a menu plan at the ready. I typically would menu plan for about a month at a time, though we included several meals into the month’s menu plan more than once. You know, being both domestically challenged and kitchen hopeless, my repertoire was only so large.
Somewhere along the way, I’ve gotten a little iffy on my menu planning. I got tired of having many of the same meals over and over, and we pretended that it was okay if we were getting meals out many times a week.
This year, I’ve been working to try to get back into menu planning before 6 pm each night. I’ve worked on both monthly plans and weekly plans. Here is a great weekly menu planning template (a free download) that I made. (If you want to plan longer than a week at a time, just print out more than one.) I’ve been doing better. Not perfect, at all. But, better.
Here are eight ways to put together a menu plan when you’re stuck for ideas
Have set themed nights on your menu calendar.
Give yourself some parameters for when you’re scheduling dinners for the week or month. If there are different theme nights, it helps to narrow your choices.
Some examples of theme nights for dinner include:
- Large/Traditional Family Meal (or what we called “Feast”) — this is perfect for those Sunday after dinner kinds of meals
- Ethnic (or you can break it down and have Italian Night, Mexican Night, Asian Night, etc.)
- Easy Meal – such as sandwiches, leftovers, etc.
- Pizza Night – maybe sometimes it’s homemade and sometimes it’s delivery
- Meat and Sides
- Soups/Stews – on a one month plan, I only add this once because it is not a favorite of most of the kids
- Kid’s Choice – this is another once a month addition. In a three month rotation, each of the kids gets to pick them meal plan, as long as it isn’t too crazy.
- Something New
- Breakfast for Dinner
Poll your family about what to add to your menu plan.
Often, my family will say, “Oh, I don’t know.” But, if pressed, they’re actually a good source of feedback. During my last planning, my kids offered suggestions for eight of the fourteen slots. That was only after I pressed a little harder when getting the “I don’t know” answer.
Plan according to store sales.
If you are very kitchen hopeless, I’d perhaps skip this for now. If you are currently relying on mostly getting your meals from prepackaged meals and restaurants, just menu planning alone should help your budget. Wait to try to save money by using the ads until you become a more well rounded cook.
Now, if you are already accomplished in the kitchen, using the weekly sale fliers to plan your meals is not only a great source for ideas, but it’s also a way to save money. Just look through the fliers and build your meals around the best sales. If there is a really amazing sale on something you use a lot of, such as chicken breasts, then go ahead and stock up for future weeks by freezing some packages for later.
Use a menu planning site.
I would only recommend this as a tool for menu planning, unless you’re very adventurous and don’t mind trying new meals every day. But, even if you don’t want to try something new every single day, my friend Dana uses it as a tool to add a few new meals to each week. So, don’t look at this as an all or nothing deal. Some examples of menu planning sites include eMeals, Menu Planning Central, and Eat at Home.
You could also try eBooks like Feast in 15, which includes two weekly menus, which can be a great way to start your menu planning, or How to Menu Plan: A Step by Step Guide for Busy Moms.
Pull out all of your favorite cookbooks.
Now, remember that yesterday we decided that you’d get some cookbooks if you didn’t already have some, right? (Go check them out at the library, if you don’t want to buy any.) Sit down with some of your favorite cookbooks with a some sticky tabs in hand and mark recipes that sound good. Find old favorites that you have forgotten about as well as totally new recipes. Using sticky tabs will help you not have to go through them quite so thoroughly next time you want to grab them out.
Consult Pinterest for meal ideas.
Again, referring to yesterday, I know that I said that if you’re particularly kitchen hopeless right now, you’ll want to stick with recipes from cookbooks with larger test kitchens so you can be more assured that recipes don’t have errors (though they still might). So, if this applies to you, only grab recipes from sites that you find through Pinterest if you’re pretty sure they look fine and are within your cooking abilities.
There’s one thing that I can say for sure about Pinterest – it’s totally full of meal ideas. Here is a link to current pins in food and drink from lots of different users. And, here are links to my boards for breakfast, lunch and dinner, sides, snacks, and desserts.
Create a one, two, or four week rotating schedule and just keep using it.
If you go with a weekly menu plan and keep using it over and over, you might get tired of those meals, but if you’ve chosen some balanced and healthy meals, it’s better than a 6:30 pm run through a fast food drive thru. Ideally, if you really want to keep just using the same plan over and over, I would recommend either a rotating two or four week plan. If you could get a good, solid monthly menu plan with little or no repeats, it won’t seem like a chore to follow this plan for quite some time.
I would recommend, however, that you throw in a day or two a month where you label it as “try a new recipe.” This will help mix things up, plus you’ll find recipes that you might want to add to your current menu plan.
Plus, if you’re a kitchen hopeless, it will give you some practice at trying some new meals. Just try to have a back up option other than take out food, in case your new recipe is a flop.
Shop from your pantry, fridge, and freezer
Form a menu plan based on what you already have in your home. Take an inventory of your pantry, refrigerator, and freezer, then see what you can mix and match to form as long a menu plan as possible, whether that be three days, a week, or a month.
Now, if you’re domestically challenged, there may be two problems with this:
(1) You might not have much food around to work with, since you rely heavily on prepared foods or food from out.
(2) You might have plenty of food, but no idea what to make with it.
Don’t get stuck on this one. Do it or don’t do it. Don’t let this one make you feel so inept in the kitchen that you throw your hands in the air, toss your apron in the corner (seriously – if you don’t have an apron, get one – it can make you feel more like you know what’s going on in the kitchen), and grab the phone book to call for pizza delivery.
Okay – that was funny. I suggested that you looked up the pizza delivery number in the phone book when we all know you probably look it up online. Or, if your local pizza place has a particularly memorable number, you might already know it. Don’t feel convicted if you really do have a number memorized. One of our local ones sticks in my head because of a fun math thing I noticed about it once. I’m with you, sister. There’s no shame.
What are some of your favorite tips for menu planning? What works for you? What doesn’t work for you?
10 Days of Hope for the Kitchen Hopeless is part of the Autumn 2013 Hopscotch from iHomeschool Network, which features 10 day series from a variety of blogs on topics including household management, parenting, homeschooling, family life, and more.
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