Menu Planning Ideas

by Maria on May 17, 2013

cupboard menu plan{This post is part of a series called, “Maria’s Dine-In Challenge.” For details on the challenge click here.}

Menu planning doesn’t have to be stressful, it’s all about finding the approach that works best for you. Like I mentioned in this weeks video, I feel a little bit like the pot calling the kettle black with this post. I am not the worlds best menu planner, not even close actually.

Luckily I have found a few menu-planning approaches that work well for me. For me, the key to feeling more confident with meal planning has been finding an approach that fits my personality and lifestyle. Today I want to share three different ideas. Two that I use and the other is one a friend of mine uses. My friend Alberta is an organizational master. She has an awesome system for menu-planning that saves her a lot of time and headache in the meal planning department.

I think we can all agree that having a menu plan frees our minds to focus on the more important things in our busy lives and takes the stress out of one of our many never ending tasks. Plus, I find that when I have a menu plan it has a positive effect on how I approach grocery shopping and organizing my kitchen.

Menu planning on cupboard

Alberta’s Rotating Menu Plan

I met Alberta about five years ago when we were living in New Jersey. I have had the pleasure of eating in her home (she is a great cook) and seeing her awesome menu-plan in action. Alberta has a gift for organization and believe me when I say you could learn a lot form her, I sure did in the few short years I lived near her.

Alberta uses a rotating menu plan, and has managed to create it in a way that still allows for a great deal of variety. You will love her menu planning approach. While you are over on her blog make sure to check out her families Thanksgiving Eve Tradition, and her post on eating Quinoa for Breakfast. Alberta and her sisters have many other awesome, creative and resourceful ideas on their blog. Her sister just made the cutest skirt ever out of an old bridesmaid dress.

Calender Menu PlanningOn the Calendar Approach

One of the two ways I have had success with menu planning is by sitting down on Sunday evening with my calendar and writing in a meal for each day of the following week or sometimes two or three weeks. I take into account what is going on each day so I can decide if I should do a quick meal, a crock pot meal or if I have enough time to do something a little more time intensive.

I usually keep the same groceries stocked and most of my meals can be planned from those items. This is the perfect approach for busy weeks. Putting the menu plan right on the calendar helps me make sure I am being realistic about what can be prepared on our busiest days, and if I feel like something other then what I had planned on a specific day, it isn’t too big of a hassle to pull a switch-a-roo.

This takes me about 5-10 minutes on Sunday night and saves me a lot of stress during the week.

Meal Ideas on side of fridgeNote Card Meal Planning Approach

My Friend Rebecca taught me how to meal plan this way. She kept a note card on the side of her fridge with meals listed that she had all the ingredients for. She would decide each morning which one she wanted to make and then cross it off that night after she made it. I remember thinking, “Now, why didn’t I ever think of that.” This approach was made for me, food rules my life, and there is no guarantee I will wake up craving what I have on the menu plan for that night. I have used her meal planning approach often and have found a way to make it really work for me.

I take the Rebecca’s note card approach a step further by making lists of things I have on hand for breakfast, lunch, and snacks. I keep them on the side of the fridge or taped inside the pantry. I have found that by keeping these other lists where I can see them and where the kids can see them, it takes the stress out of the frequently asked, “What’s for lunch?” “What can I have for a snack?” questions.

I like the note card approach because it is simple and works well for the stage of life I am in. It really helps me to eat out less, because in those common moments of hunger and stress trying to figure out what we will eat when we get home form running errands or whatever we are up to that day, I already know there is a whole list of ideas on the side of the fridge and it keeps me from throwing in the towel and heading for the nearest drive-thru. I also love having a reference for the kids to pick what they want for a snack or for breakfast and lunch.

Note Card Menu PlanningIf we run out of something I have listed on the snack list I cross it off, or if I make something like banana bread or energy bites I add it to the list. When the cards start looking too ratty I make new ones. Keeping these list of what we have in the house really helps me use up what we have and cut out waste. I do a similar list system to help me keep track of what I have in the freezer and pantry. I will be posting about soon.

Like I said, I am far from a perfect meal planner, and there are plenty of times at our house, when organization goes totally out the window for a while, but I always come back to these two meal planning approaches that have worked for me over the years. Don’t forget to check out Alberta’s Rotating Menu Plan, It is AWESOME! I hope you can find something here that will help you in your own attempts at meal planning and being intentional about feeding your family. After all, that is what this whole Dine-In Challenge was meant for.

How do you do your menu planning? Do you use any special apps or computer programs for your meal planning? I would love to hear what works for you.

Stay tuned for a post on my favorite kitchen tools!


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