Getting started with weekly menu planning
People say it all the time – being organized and prepared makes life a lot easier. As a mom, you know it to be true. But the whole “being organized” part is really REALLY tough. I don’t care if you stay at home or if you work a 9-5, getting dinner on the table every day is a struggle.
Over the years, I’ve worked on various methods to get dinner on the table. Everything from stopping by the store every day to get what I need for dinner that night, to cooking freezer meals ahead of time so all I have to do it pop it in the oven.
The solution to actually surviving the week and eating real food every night lies somewhere in the middle of those two extremes. It’s not realistic to stop at the store every day – you would go insane. And spending a whole day doing nothing but cooking would never work either.
So what so you do?
I started a few years ago with a goal of eating at home more often, while also serving real food (meaning I’m not picking up pizza or take-out.) I want to cook meat and vegetables that I prepare and we eat together as a family. And over the course of doing this, I’m teaching my girls the importance of a balanced diet, how yummy real food can be, and if I’m lucky, how to cook.
So here is an outline of how I do it – and I promise you after the first week or two it won’t take you more than a half-hour of prep time in addition to your trip(s) to the grocery store.
Step 1: Go through your recipes, and make a list of things you might like to eat this week.
Just list out things you’re thinking about cooking and eating. Sometimes I ask the kids if there’s anything they want (they usually say pizza.) If you have a stack of recipes, browse through them to see what looks good and to get ideas.
Step 2: Figure out what you have
Stand in front of your pantry, refrigerator and freezer and jot down the different things you have on hand that could go into a meal. This should take 3-4 minutes. Stick to the three main categories: meat, starch/side and veggie.
Step 3: Match ‘em up
Look through your list of things you want to eat to see what matches up to your list of food on hand. You might find 2-3 dinners that fit the bill. The trick is to find stuff that you WANT to eat this week, and that doesn’t take a lot of time to cook (try to keep full prep and cooking time under 1 hour for weeknights, a little longer on weekends or when you have more time.)
Step 4: Plan your meals
Pick 5-7 meals to cook this week. Pull those recipes out of your stack and keep them with your list. Flesh out the list with side dishes, vegetables or salad if needed.
Go back to your calendar and look again at your schedule for this week. If you’re like me, you have a couple of nights where not much is happening, but others where you have to cart kids around to sports or piano, or when you have to go to a meeting. Assign your meals to different nights according to what you’ll have time to prepare.
Step 5: Make your grocery list & go to the store
You know you have some of your ingredients on hand from step 3. But you’ll need to purchase the other items so you can cook all of your meals. Make your list by going through your menu and recipes to see what you’re missing.
Once your list is finalized you can go to the store. Bring your coupons with you so you can save some dough.
Step 6: Execute
Now that you have a weeks worth of menu items, you can be comfortable knowing that you can cook for your family.