Coming up with a healthy, family-friendly meal EVERY night is just not easy. Scanning your fridge for ideas at five 'o clock makes it much more stressful. Even if you've tried it before and failed, reconsider some variation of meal planning. We're here to help get you started...
Basic menu planning means looking in your fridge to see what you have to use up (thereby wasting less), looking in your recipe book/cookbooks at what you might feel like making the next week or so, considering what is in season, and possibly checking out sales/coupons where you shop. Next comes writing down your list of meals, along with the ingredients you'll need, and heading to the store. We find we usually have to go to the store at least twice for a two week menu: once for basic staples and the items from our menu that will last a while, and again for the items that must be bought within a couple of days of making the meal.
For more on basic menu planning:
• Small Notebook shared a great idea of creating a spreadsheet that basically combines your menu plan for five days with a grocery list template so you can just check off what you need for those meals you've written in for that week. A very clever idea.
• Simple Mom has talked about menu planning quite a bit on her blog and her suggestions are the ones we've integrated into our own system. For example, having a theme for at least a few nights of the week makes things simpler for us. So we know we'll probably have homemade pizza on Friday and pasta on Sunday; we'll have fish one weeknight and a vegetarian meal another. She also suggests planning a menu for two weeks and then repeating that for the last two weeks of the month. Suddenly you've got a whole month's worth of meals planned.
If you're looking for recipes, consider spending some time looking at Cookbooks in Barnes and Noble. We've found Martha's Everyday Foods magazine to be a great resource for appealing recipes with a few fresh ingredients. If you choose things that are simple and sound yummy to you- you're much more likely to make this happen. We also love the recipes we've found in Real Simple.
Freezer or Batch Cooking is another option that works for a lot of families. You can cook a few meals or all of your meals on one day for the whole week, or even month. Or you can just double a recipe and freeze half for a second meal. This is what we tend to do most. Again, we like Everyday Foods and Real Simple for freezer recipes.
• Simple Mom also has a great post on Batch Cooking. She covers "Freezer Meals" and offers recipes. She also covers "Once a Month Cooking" as well as "Cooking and Freezing Staples from Scratch". If you're thinking about planning ahead a little, this is a great resource with more links.
Meal Planning Subscriptions are for you if you just don't think you can find the time or meals to do traditional menu planning. For a fee, these websites will send you weekly menus and grocery lists. Yes, you'll still have to go to the store, and cook them!
• The Scramble
• Relish Relish
• Dinner Planner.com
• Meal Mixer
• Dine Without Wine
• Saving Dinner
We'll be honest. Meal planning is still a work in progress for us. We try to leaf through our recipe binder and look in the fridge before shopping. We jot down a list of meals, and sometimes add one spontaneously at the store if we're inspired. The week really does go smoother if we've done even this. The key is to find something you can manage. Don't try to come up with some super system for 365 meals (as we once did). You'll never complete your menu plan. If you just start with two weeks, or even one- and save your list (preferably with necessary ingredients on the back), you'll soon have a stack of menu plans you can use again and again. The key is to just start. If you need a little inspiration, like something cute to write your menu on, check out this Meal Planner download we featured a couple of years back from Future Girl.
How do you menu plan for you family?
(Image: NSW State Records.)