We've all been there! Its been a rough day. Laundry and housework needing attention, toys all over, kids screaming, bosses calling, husbands needing something. Oh my word! After a quick glance at the clock, you realize it is time to be cooking dinner. You race to the kitchen and see that you, again, do not have anything out for dinner. "What's for dinner?" someone asks. You feel like snapping. You run to the pantry in hopes that when you open that door, some magical meal will just pop out and have itself ready for you. But, alas, that does not happen. WHAT IS FOR DINNER!?!
I have been there (and truth be told, still do get there from time to time). But, a few years ago, I decided I needed to get a grip on my menu planning. My mom was a menu planner. I learned to appreciate the skill from her. But, I wanted to take this to a whole new level of insanity. :) I decided I wanted to plan out 7 days a week, 3 meals a day, for 2 whole months. Then, I would plan to use that menu as my base for the next year. It took me a few days, lots of planning, but the rewards have been rich! I have my menus planned out for the year, and I have found it saves on our grocery bill as well to have it planned out.
How in the world do I pull off such a feat? Well, I am here to let you have a peek at how I formulate a two month fully functional menu.
Step 1 - I made a list of the meals we enjoy broken down by breakfasts, lunches, dinners, desserts, breads, salads, soups, casseroles, etc. (top pic) Every single one. I keep it as a working word document so I can add a winner at any moment. This has also been tweaked as taste or dietary needs have changed over the years. (After I took this pic, I realized it could use some updating again. We have changed some things dietary wise recently.) I pull this working meal list out and then I am ready for step 2.
Step 2 - When I am ready to sit down and plan for the year, I like to keep things simple. I have made a planning template (bottom pic) for a layout of how I want to plan out the 2 months worth of foods. I print this up making any notes on how many times I want that type of meal, who will cook when, when I want to try new recipes, etc. If I want themed dinners, I jot that down, too. This year I decided we would have a theme each night. This is my favorite method to plan by. Here is how we are doing our meals this year:
Sunday - kids and papa cook, mama's day off
Monday - Mexican Monday
Tuesday - Italian
Wednesday - Chicken or Fish
Thursday - Beef or Pork
Friday - Pizza and movie
Saturday - Soup Saturday
5th Sunday - Kids pick day
You can tweak the themes anyway you like. We are tossing in a French meal once a month as well. If you like Chinese or something else, add that in. Make it work for your family.
My breakfasts and lunches are fairly easy. I have about 2 weeks of rotating meals that we go through. We usually have eggs, granola and yogurt, toast, pancakes (once per week), and biscuits or muffins. I have a couple special breakfasts that we make but they are for special times only. Lunches are fairly simple, too. Soups, sandwiches, baked potatoes and broccoli, quesadillas, tacos or taco salad, coconut chicken and fries, macs and cheese, hot dogs usually make up our lunches. After teaching all morning, I need to get meals on quick (this year my sweet oldest is doing lunch Monday through Thursday). Once I have all notes written down and my master meal list together, I am on to step 3.
Step 3 - With all the prep work done, its just a matter of filling in the blanks. I print out Money Saving Moms one month menu planner which you can find here. I fill it in completely. I don't add snack choices down but there is an option there if you want to. Most of our snacks are grab and go so I don't need to. I label at the top Month 1 and Month 2. And, you're done! It takes about a week of work (which for me happens during our TV time when I can actually think), but I have a working 2 month menu that has been a huge blessing to me!
When I am ready to plan and shop for the week, I have a different planner. I like this one from Encouraging Homeschool Mom. It will do two weeks at a time. I prefer to consult my menu each week though that way I can work the menu and our schedule together. I may need to be somewhere and need to be sure that a crockpot meal is in place, or we may need a bag lunch because we are heading to DC for a field trip. I also have a printable shopping list that I made years ago (the same time I made the working meals list), again all broken down by department. I sit down with both of these and begin my weekly plans.
First, I mark down all dates of importance. Birthdays get super special treatment here and favorites are always fixed so that day is usually totally changed around from what I have written down. After the special scheduling notes are down, I just consult my main menu pages with the corresponding week and write them down. If I have found a new recipe I want to try, I toss that in instead of something already written down. I enjoy trying new things so allowances are made for them. Sometimes special requests are made, and I try to see if that works as well.
Once it is all written down, I mark up my grocery list with what we need for those meals down to the last veggie or fruit. And, I add whatever other things we might need. I am not a huge couponer since I do most of my shopping at Aldi, but if I need to do those things, I do that then as well. Saves time in the grocery store later.
And, folks, that it! Yes, it is alot of work at first, but the weekly planning may take me a half hour each week. It has saved me tons of time and money to work out a menu this way and given me much peace. And, mostly, I can get up each morning, glance at my menu, take out what we need, and answer those "What's for dinner" questions.
I hope this has helped you and you can see the benefits of such a crazy feat! If you have any questions, please leave a comment below! Happy planning and Bon Apetit!