Menu planning

I didn’t really get serious about menu planning until after Jameson was born. At that point, it became more than a good idea; it was the only way I could guarantee to get dinner on the table!

I certainly don’t get to this every week, but my week goes so much better when I do. Here are some of my reasons for planning my meals ahead of time:

1. Fewer trips to the grocery store on an already-busy afternoon.
2. Fewer outings to restaurants due to an obviously half-hearted reply to “What’s for dinner?”
3. Actually making dinner: knowing what’s supposed to be served in the evening means that when life is peachy for an hour in the morning, I can work on getting dinner started. And then grab 5 minutes here, 10 minutes there… rather than requiring an entire 2 hours of prep right before the dinner hour (which, of course, would be impossible.)
4. Avoiding that terrible experience of just not knowing what on earth to make on any given day.
5. Saving money and time by planning to re-use leftovers, and basing our weekly menu on sale items.

One of the things I use to help with my menu planning is a file I keep with recipes I’ve tried — and recipes I’d like to try. This way, when I’m a bit stumped, or am in a recipe rut, I can jump-start my imagination!

Most of these dishes are simple and inexpensive, and call for ingredients I generally have on hand: rice, potatoes, pasta; chicken, eggs, cheese, beans; onions, garlic, tomatoes, carrots, broccoli, spinach; etc. Some of these dishes also morph into something else, so leftovers are a bit more than just leftovers (i.e. chicken rice casserole can become a stew the next night.)

I often read cookbooks and such for fresh inspiration. I’m also trying to be more and more inspired by the seasonal availability of fresh produce grown locally. This, I think, ends up saving money, because I’m buying less out-of-season produce in the middle of winter. Probably (at least, in my simple logic) if canned and frozen veggies are the only things “naturally” available for several months a year, then those will deliver enough nutrients to our bodies to tide us over till spring comes again. But that’s a bit of a random thought, thrown in here for free. :)

To sum up, I guess, meal planning can be a real time and money saver (and aren’t we always looking for those?), and also can aid in being good stewards of our family’s health, as it allows you to think carefully about what will be eaten each evening — with less chance of a frozen pizza being whipped out. But, incidentally, if you should find yourself eating frozen pizza, I recommend California Kitchen. They’re the yummiest.


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  1. “But that’s a bit of a random thought, thrown in here for free.” haha.. that gave me a good laugh, loved the way you phrased that.

    I do love how menu planning causes my week to go more smoothly. I seem to be the queen of turning leftovers into more meals :-) One basic trick is that pretty much any dish with rice, beans, or both can be used in tacos (beef or chicken) Just stir it in before all the water is absorbed when adding the seasoning packet so the flavor is distributed through the meat and beans/rice (if you make your own seasoning often recipes use water when you add the spices also). It’s a great way to extend the food! Or just adding a can of beans to taco meat anyhow is a great way to almost double the amount of food.

    Another menu planning tip, if I may be so bold as to add :-), is to make double batches of meals that freeze well. You have cooked some for the next few weeks in advance. Often times when you’re purchasing ingredients in bulk to make larger batches you save some money too, so you’re reducing your food expense for the month as well.

    Posted by Katie | May 6, 2008, 3:55 pm
  2. Hi Danica! Meal planning is a real time saver (and sanity saver – lol) here in our house, too. I don’t know why in the world it took me until last year to try it.

    One of the things that has blessed me about meal planning (in addition to all of the reasons you listed) is to make a chart on the computer with the breakfasts and lunches filled in – I rotate our basics weekly. Then when I plan, I am only planning suppers. I keep a file of these weekly meal plans and can pull them out again when needed.
    Love to you! Q

    Posted by Quinne | May 6, 2008, 5:27 pm
  3. OK. Confession time.
    I KNOW weekly meal planning is all that mentioned above and more. I have this problem, though. I feel strangled and super held back by the rotation. So after reading this post I have decided that I DO need to get back to meal planning. However, maybe instead of making a weekly plan that rotates, which by the way- MY KIDS ABSOLUTELY LOVE!- perhaps I could make a two or three week rotation. Then I wouldn’t get bored and feel so limited. I totally hear you on the seasonal fruits/veggies concept. I can hear Mrs. Kinnen saying, “We’re just so used to being able to get any fruit or veggie any time of the year, we’ve lost the ability to wait patiently for the right season!”
    So all that to say I agree with you fully and I have been newly challenged to get back on track in this area. My kids are going to LOVE you for it!
    P.S. After re-reading the post I am now realizing that you didn’t even necessarily mean a rotating menu. I think the point is to simply be more organized and prepared, even if the weekly menu changes every single week. [Not that I have ever responded in silence to the “What’s for dinner?” question] ha!

    Posted by LisaC. | May 7, 2008, 4:00 am
  4. @ Lisa: Oh goodness! I don’t think I’ve ever repeated a week of meals twice in my life! I would get soooo bored!!! The awesome thing with having a master meal list (like Danica has) is that each week you can look over it and then put a weekly menu together based on what’s on sale, what sounds good, what works well with each day’s activities, etc. Maybe someday when I have kids helping me cook I may go with a rotating menu, but for now, I let my creativity rule. :) And if at some point in the week I decide I want to swap meals or change a meal because I still have the ingredients on hand to do something a little different that is more appealing to me, I do!

    Posted by Brietta Paladin | May 7, 2008, 5:32 am
  5. Great thoughts everyone!!!

    I LOVE planning meals. It’s fun, and as Danica pointed to, if you know what’s ahead you can plug away at it during the day.

    Something I love to do is create stationary meals that never move or change from week to week. This helps the creativiy flow for every other meal of the week. For exmaple, every Monday (REALLY busy days) is a crock pot meal. Friday mornings (CFA) bagels or toast with fruit. Sunday afternoons (church) spaghetti and meatballs with salad. Sunday evenings (too tired to really cook) pancakes with fruit (YUM!). And then there’s Saturday evenings (always seem to be running errands)leftovers from the week!!!

    Hope this works for others. It helps us during this BUSY season.
    Sarah D.

    Posted by Sarah Diederich | May 7, 2008, 8:44 am
  6. Lots of good ideas. Thanks. This is helpful since summer seems to be the busiest at our house. Sometimes we find ourselves eating at 8:00. I need to come up with some summer meals in the crock pot. Anyone have any? For some reason crock pot equals winter in my mind!

    Our only “staple” meal really is Sunday after church. Assorted sandwiches, cut up veggies with dip and cut up fruit and of course lemonade!

    Just a quick story….this past Sunday on the way home from church I realized I forgot to take bread out of the freezer! Well, for a minute there I thought I was going to have a breakdown! My gracious husband said, “I feel like noodles with butter and pepper.” So…we had everything else as usual but with noodles with butter and pepper. That’s an easy request!

    Posted by Angela Agans | May 7, 2008, 9:20 am