May 7, 2009
i was asked to give some tips on planning a menu. well, i'm flattered. i'm sure many of you brilliant readers could give me advice.. hint, hint. despite my lack of expertise, i would be more than happy to share my method for this all-important task. i only ask that you bear in mind that i'm a beginner. please forgive my flaws.
so, dear reader who requested my menu planning hints, here you go. this is how i roll.
step one.
it all starts with the indispensable grocery list. this is a must. while i make this list, i think in terms of meals- not single items. think ahead. scour the cabinets. scout out the fridge. feel in the know about your kitchen. that way you'll never get caught without the means of a meal. it's important to know that come planning time, you have enough supplies to get through a full menu.
speaking of planning time, i think it's crucial to set aside time to design this menu of yours. my time is monday am, right after breakfast, when the first load of laundry is spinning, and the sun is shining through the front window. if i didn't have a particular time to do it, 5 o'clock would roll around each day and find me frantically throwing something together. not that i'm against spontaneous meals. nope. i'm all about a let's throw these nachos in the microwave & watch american idol night. i feel like that is something we should be doing as newlyweds. it's important for us to have that nacho bonding time. we need to be uninhibited. right? right. anyway. pick a time & place to sit down and map out your menu. get it all squared away on your notepad so that you can set it aside and go through the rest of the week calm and composed. and if you decide to do nachos one night, no big deal. move lasagna to some night next week.
step two. getting stuff to fill that menu.
01. think about what things need to be used up. maybe the sour cream has a little bit of life left in it. make the most of it.
02. think about what the weather is like. if it's sunny & sultry, break out the grill. if it's rainy & cold, set out the crockpot, or put some soup on the boil.
03. keep favorite ingredients on hand. sometimes knowing you have a jar of salsa or a package of bacon in the fridge makes all the difference. suddenly you have possibilities.
04. do a jumble of genres. asian, italian, all-american, mexican. trying to provide a little variety helps me fill up an empty dinner spot. if you're stuck in a meat and potato rut, or tired of casseroles, switch up your format. go with a wrap or sandwich, instead.
05. mix up the meats. don't let one meat run itself into the ground. if you have chicken written down for monday, don't do it again on tuesday. you could do fish (and at our house, that means tuna), bacon or sausage, pepperoni, ham, ground beef, or turkey. spice things up. go vegetarian. or do some prosciutto. or something else that is far out of my budget range. like steak. whoa.
06. change the complexity. go all out and make a brand new entree. and serve it up with 4 side dishes. maybe even a special dessert for a grand finale. or keep it simple and familiar. have macaroni & cheese or breakfast for dinner. sometimes it's okay to make grilled cheese and call it a day. i try to pick a couple of nights that will be my easy fixing meals, and a couple of nights that will require more prep, more times & temps, more dishes.
07. collect a round of favorite recipes. keep them handy. keep them going. cycle through. if you & yours still like them, why stop? some of my essentials are baked enchiladas, soy garlic chicken stir-fry, homemade pizza, creamy broccoli, chicken, & rice, stromboli melts, baked ziti, and some of grant's favorites: tater-tot hotdish, french toast, and breakfast sandwiches. hey, no one
ever said good things have to be fancy.
08. bake something special and work your meal around it. use your baked goodness as the main feature, pick a meal that will highlight your work. whip up some cinnamon rolls or cornbread, then throw on a pot of chili. or make some fresh french bread, then add spaghetti & meatballs.
09. follow favorite food blogs. the pioneer woman, smitten kitchen, and housewifery are some of my favorites. they will keep you supplied with plenty of good ideas.
10. turn on the food network. maybe ina or paula or giada will inspire you. you could even work this in while you're working out. i've just started doing this. i finally mustered up enough courage to go grab the remote and turn the channel at the gym. i'm quite proud of myself.
11. ask for requests. maybe your husband adores your goulash. maybe your kids would like to have sloppy joes. take their wishes and make them your command. their wishes are compliments to the chef. they think you've got mad skills. embrace it.
so, after all those suggestions, let's get down to business. the whole process is rather clean and simple. here's a birds-eye view: you've racked your brains and checked your fridge, next you pick your main dishes. then select some fitting sides. you write it all up, and then you execute. and whatever you didn't end up using for this week's menu (i always have leftovers) let it roll over to next week. that's it. easy as pie.
and now, pretty please, do put in a word of wisdom in the comment section. i am itching to hear how you masterminds manage your menu.


jessica said...

Love this topic! Thank you for the great post! I am always trying to improve upon my meal planning skills. Here are a few things that have worked great for me:

• side dishes: fresh, raw fruits and veggies (my hubby hates cooked veggies, so we ALWAYS eat these along with dinner)SO easy and SO healthy

• when I plan my meals I ask my hubby for three meals he would like to eat, that always jump starts my imagination and ensures three of his faves on the menu

• we eat A LOT of sandwiches, salads and wraps (because they're fast): french dip, meatball, roasted veggie panini, breakfast sandwich, bbq chicken salad, taco salad etc.

I suck at using up ingredients in the pantry/fridge AND I cook chicken all the time... I need to diversify my meats. Any good recipes?

Christina said...

I like reading other people's menu ideas. Even if it's the same stuff I started out doing, the reminder helps me get back on track. Here are a few little things that I do:

~I only plan five day's meals. That leaves room for rearranging if we decide to be spontaneous one night or if friends unexpectedly invite us over. If I get to Saturday and have used up my entire five day's menu already , I usually give my husband the option of making something (he's a fabulous cook!), scramble something spontaneous up, or eat left overs.

~Instead of planning around different meats, I plan around side things. Each week I aim for something with pasta, something with rice, something with beans, and something with potatoes. Then I mix up my meats accordingly.

~I try to look ahead in the week and plan easier meals on nights that we have scheduled activities and more complicated things on nights that we don't have any out-of-the-house plans.

You are so right about setting aside a block of time to menu-plan. It's important to not haphazardly throw a menu together (though that does happen sometimes too). ; )

Tesa said...

Meal planning-- such a hot topic!! I know I can always use fresh ideas and encouragement!

What has been helpful to me lately is to keep a theme for each day, and then switch up the actual meal item on that day from week to week to keep variety.

*Mexican Mon: (black beans served various ways- taco salad, tortilla wraps, nachos, on a bed of rice,etc.)

*Tues: breakfast dish (waffles, potato skillet, egg casserole, pumpkin pancakes, etc.)

*Wed: Pasta (spaghetti, lasagna, cheesy noodles, etc.)

*Thurs: Soup/Stew

*Fri: Homemade pizza

*Sat: Meat(usually chicken, but sometimes turkey, ham ,pork, sloppy joes or some other meat on sale for a treat)

*Sunday: Sandwiches/Salad

Great post, Summer! Good conversation starter! :)

Anneliese said...

i have zero input on this subject...but the topic is well timed! it is my goal this summer to do some menu planning/ proactive grocery shopping.

mj said...

so excited to put your smart and savy tips to good use! thank you so much for the crash course!

Tawnya S said...

Love this post! You've already got great menu planning skills!I take the menu planning a step further by planning for the entire month...mostly out of necessity for leaving an inconvenient distance from a decent grocery store...but I've also found it helps save money - the more ahead you plan, the less you're doing last minute impulse shopping. Of course we have to get some things fresh each week, but having meals set for the month is a stress buster for sure!

marta said...

this is exactly what i need. thank you. will be going over your advice with a fine-tooth comb.

Josie said...

Thanks for the great ideas...I use these menu planners (only because they look pretty on the refrigerator)
Love your blog!

pve design said...

...what would you do if your fridge decided to up and die and you are out cold for a week....the new one arrives friday!

pve design said...

monday - meatloaf
tuesday - tacos
wed -asian, vegetarian with rice
thursday - pasta
friday - salad and pizza or a one dish meal.
weekends - we grill out, we have salads, and try to enjoy the outside!



about this blog

Hello, I'm Summer. A people-loving introvert whose hope and life is in Jesus. His promises are my passion and my ministry is homelife. This blog is a place for me to write about everyday things. Especially food. My favorite thing to do is sit around a table, lingering over a long meal with good conversation. I live with my husband and our 2 littles. We like blizzards, thrifting, grammar, guacamole, cheerful hearts, nice manners, good movies, and making simple, real, nutrient-dense food.

"If Christ be anything, He must be everything."
-C.H. Spurgeon

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