Type in Menu Planning into a Google Search, click on images and bammo you have a thousand choices of ways to plan your families meals. Some of them are super cute! But those cute ones usually involve cutting things out, turning them into little magnets, or pockets, or... In my busy life I just don't have the time. Nor do I have the time to even sit down like once a week to plan out my meals.
On the flip side, I personally don't like to plan an entire month at once either. For me coming up with 30 different dinner's in one sitting is just a bit too much. I have two (2) methods to share with you to consider trying yourself.
The First Menu Planning Method is: I plan a 2 week menu for Spring/Summer and then for Fall/Winter.
This means I'm only menu planning twice a year!
Why a 2 week menu and not 1 or 4? It's just my own personal preference. The lady that taught me, only planned a weeks menu. Meaning EVERY Monday was say, spaghetti night, Tuesday, Taco night. My husband needs just a bit more variety than that, and I just can't seem to map out an entire month at once. So, I plan out 14 meals and then simple use it every two weeks.
I think the key to this system is both that it helps you plan and stay within a budget, (helps you not go overboard at the store.) You don't have to worry that some of the cute pieces to your planner have gone missing, and you only have to sit down twice a year to plan. BUT, you can always be flexible and swap the nights around, it just puts on paper what you are probably doing already and just don't realize it!
So let's get you started.
First draw a line down the middle of a piece of paper and on one half write down all the meals that you cook regularly and that your family enjoys. Now, underneath that list add in your meals that work for the season you are planning for: Grilling outside during spring and summer, soups in the crockpot during the winter, etc.
On the second half of the paper look at your meals and see what you can do to use the left overs for other meals. For example: Spaghetti leftovers can be used to make Pizza subs, etc., Grilled chicken leftovers can be cut up and used to make a pot pie or toss onto a ceasar salad.
Now, think about your families schedule. Is Tuesday night crazy? Then keep that in mind for what meal you might be writing down on your Tuesday nights.
Take a blank monthly calendar page like this free printable from Picklebums.com
Starting with the first week, look at all your meal options on your list, including how to use up leftovers etc. for a second meal, and taking your schedule into consideration, start filling in your dinner menu's into each week day slot. Then fill in the second week.
Jan's Tip: Don't forget to add in some flexibility. I always had a "freeby" night, which meant takeout, or leftovers, or fend for yourself. You can always just use it on some unexpectedly crazy night, or even grab a menu from another night and just "swap". You haven't wasted your groceries, cause it's gonna come back around in 2 weeks! My Daughter-in-law suggested one night a week for them might be "try-a-new recipe night" that would add in some variety too! (Thanks DeAnna!)
Repeat the same 2 week menu's onto the last two weeks of the month.
Now, using a scrap paper start writing out the ingredients you'll need from the store for these menu's. Divide it into sections like produce, meat, dairy, canned/boxed etc. Fill in everything else like cereal, milk, bread etc. and using this list type up a master shopping list and print it on the back side of your menu or on a separate page.
Slide menu and grocery list into a page protector and when you go shopping you can use a grease pencil or a dry erase marker/(or the new dry erase crayons) to mark through what you don't need or what you've picked up while you shop. It'll wipe clean when done.
The Second Meal Planning Idea is: By theme: Say every Monday is sandwiches, Tuesday: Italian, Wednesday: Mexican, Thursday: Crockpot, Friday: Takeout/Date night Saturday: American foods, Sunday: The Big Dinner. When you need to grocery shop just fill in your 2 week menu with what type of sandwich, Italian, Mexican, etc that you want or is on sale, etc. Now this idea gives you some structure plus some flexibility all built into one idea!