Why does everyone think they need 3 meals a day? How to menu plan in 4 easy steps.
Updated: May 11, 2019
Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts. – Acts 2:46
I think we all know the feeling. You’re tired, it’s been a long day and you’re just waiting for the dreaded question, ”what’s for supper?” Ugh! Why do you people always want supper? My response is usually “I don’t know, I haven’t really thought about it,” hoping someone will suggest cereal or frozen pizza. The truth is I may not know what we’re having but I have thought about it and know I have a menu sitting there, waiting to tell me what I’m supposed to get up and cook. Sometimes I get up and cook it but sometimes we eat cereal. Either way, menu planning is a very helpful tool that saves a lot of time and makes family meals more likely. I don’t claim to be an expert at menu planning but I have found what works for us so hopefully it can help you too.
· Gather up your favorite meal recipes. I have most of my recipes in 2 locations; the AnyList App on my phone and a binder with sheet protectors. If you aren’t familiar with the AnyList app, I suggest you check it out. It allows you to make lists for just about anything; shopping, packing, to do lists, etc. and also allows you to add your own recipes and import recipes from websites, blogs and Pinterest. Once the recipe is in AnyList, it allows you to click on what ingredients you need and it automatically adds it to your grocery list. How easy is that? Other family members can download the app and you can share some lists with them so if someone needs something, they add it to their phone and it shows up on everyone’s list. So when your daughter says she needs makeup wipes, you can tell her to add it to the list, it’s no longer up to you to get everyone’s stuff on the list! On to the binder. I don’t like using my phone for recipes; it shuts off and I have to get my messy fingers on it to turn it back on. So, I print off recipes I use regularly and put them in a sheet protector in a binder. When I need a recipe, I take the sheet out of the binder and put it on the counter then if I get it messy, I just wipe it off and put it back in the binder. Easy, peasy!
· Now, grab your calendar. Whether it’s electronic or paper, grab your calendar and make sure it is up to date. This is the key to making a menu calendar that will actually work with your life! Now that I have my recipes and my calendar, I’m ready to start plugging meals into our routine. Every day I look at what kind of time I have during the day, what evening activities we have going on, what time everyone is getting home, etc. Our goal, as a family, is to eat as many suppers together as possible so it helps to know if we need to eat early so Makayla can leave to take pictures at a basketball game or if we need to eat later because Curt has a meeting. Am I gone all day? That’s a crock pot kind of night. Do I have to take Connor in to teach the Little Dragons class? That’s a prep a head and pop in the oven kind of night. My new oven has a delay cook feature so I can make a casserole, put it in the oven at 3:20, take Connor to class and have supper ready when we get home at 5. That. Is. Awesome. Sometimes there are days when I know Connor is going to take his schoolwork with him and go to my mom group at church with me then we are running errands and going straight to martial arts class, not getting home until 5-5:15, then one of the kids is going to a game at 6. That is a La Gondola kind of night (the best place in town for spaghetti and subs). If I know that’s the schedule, then I actually put La Gondola on the menu. If that is the plan then I don’t feel bad about feeding my family take-out, it’s a mom win, not a mom fail. I usually try to menu plan 2-3 weeks in advance, 3 is ideal because that means fewer trips to the grocery store which means less money spent.
· Make your grocery list. If you took my advice and downloaded the AnyList app, this part is easy because as you were planning your menu, you could also be adding items that you need straight to your grocery list! Now you just need to take stock of your fridge and pantry and add any other items you need. This is the point in my menu planning where I get on the Walmart grocery app (if you've never used it before, use my code to get $10 off) and order all of my groceries and plan a time to pick them up. If you haven’t tried the Walmart grocery app, I highly recommend it. It saves me a lot of time, money and calories because I only order what’s on my list, there are no impulse buys (you know, like double stuffed Oreos and chips and dip).
· Stick with your menu (as much as you can). All the prep work is done, the groceries are bought. Now comes the really hard part; sticking to the menu. So, with this great menu plan, my family no longer has to eat cereal for supper, right? Wrong! Life still happens and sometimes (ok, often) I don’t stick with the plan. Some days I just don’t feel like eating (or cooking) what is on the menu or I get busy and forget to make the pizza crust ahead of time. When those things happen, I just swap something from another similar night or we pop in a frozen pizza or we have an “every man for himself kind of night”, which means cereal, leftovers or whatever you can find. My best advice is to stick to the menu as best you can, check the menu early in the day so you know what, if anything needs to be done ahead of time and don’t beat yourself up on the days when everyone sits down to a nice big bowl of Cheerios.
I feel like my strategy to make a menu plan and get supper on the table most nights is pretty easy and straight forward and anyone can do it. It isn’t complicated, it just takes some time. I usually gather my stuff and do it in the evening when we sit down to watch TV, that way I can ask everyone else what sounds good for suppers and what they need for lunches, snacks, etc. My biggest challenge is usually getting in a funk where I’m so tired of food and nothing sounds good. That’s usually when we end up with just a 2 week plan because I just can’t bring myself to plan another meat loaf night. This is also a good excuse to get on Pinterest and find some new meals to try.
I hope now you feel like you can sit down and make a menu plan for your family. After you do it a couple of times, I really think you will be glad you did. It really makes supper time easier when you know what you’re making and can be fairly confident you have all the ingredients you need. Once you’ve done it for yourself, tweak some things and make it work for you. In a future post, I will share some time and money saving tips for meals.
Post a link in the comments sharing your family's favorite meal!