Menu planning is a great strategy for making the most of your time and money. A menu keeps you from throwing away food you bought, but never had time to prep. It also helps you put together a variety of meals to please your palate.
Before you sit down to plan your menu, you’ll want to make a meal list. It’s easy to get busy and find yourself in a food rut, making the same things over and over because you’ve forgotten some of your favorite dishes. If you’re raising kids, you may have stopped making something when they couldn’t or wouldn’t eat it. Having a meal list will remind you to introduce food that was too spicy, messy, or otherwise problematic in a different phase of their development. You may have had different dietary needs too, but be ready to eat something that you’d quit for whatever reason.
A meal list helps menu planning because you can see which ingredients might be used in various meals throughout the week. This streamline food prep. A menu aids you in time management because you can think about the days when you have less time or energy for cooking and can prep ahead or plan for an easy meal that evening. Read my tips for how to make a meal list here.
Use Your Meal List to Make a Menu
When you’re making a menu, consider the following:
- All that you eat. This should include breakfast, lunch, snacks, dinner, desserts, beverages.
- Where meals will be eaten. Don’t forget school and work lunches or snacks for after school activities.
- All of the people in the house eating meals. Most households have members with varying dietary restrictions and preferences. Rather than planning completely separate meals, prepare dishes everyone can eat plus fare specific to certain individuals. Make sure your menu reflects all of the food that will be prepped for all of the people.
- The energy and time required to make the meal. When you’ll have the time and energy to prepare the meals should help you determine at one point in the week you’d make a certain meal. People often don’t have the energy or desire to cook when they’re tired at the end of the week. Hence, pizza night!
- When you’ll eat out instead of preparing food for yourself. Include meals you eat out or at other people’s houses in your menu list so you don’t overbuy food for meals you won’t be prepping. Some people plan their menus for a week, others for a month. There are batch cooking methods I’ll write about in another post. For now, let’s assume you’re prepping food by the meal and making a menu for one week.
What if You Want Flexibility?
Some people resist making menus because they don’t want to be limited in what and when they can eat. I happen to be one of those people. It doesn’t mean that you can’t make a menu. Instead of assigning meals to specific days, make a list of all your breakfasts, lunches, and dinners for the week. Then, check-in with yourself about which of the meals you want that day and how much time or energy you have to prepare food. To ensure that you’re not setting yourself up to be too hungry or tired to cook on a regular basis, I offer strategies for organized meal prep here.
Now that you’ve got your menu planned, it’s time for grocery shopping. I’ve got some great tips about how to organize grocery shopping so you’re not wasting time or money at the grocery store.