Would you be more likely to plan out your weekly menu if meal planning was easy? Here are some tips and tools to make meal planning easier…which will keep you from cringing when someone walks in and asks, “What’s for dinner?”
The last thing a busy woman needs in the evening is to dread having to get dinner on the table. Many of us dread it not because we mind the cooking so much – the problem is that figuring out what to cook takes more thought and brain power than we may have left at the end of the day (or was that just me?) Fortunately, it’s easier than ever to sit down once and have a weekly menu plan that will give you the answer to that dreaded dinner question.
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Easy ways to track your meal plan
There are several ways you can keep track of your weekly menu plan. One way is to post the menu, after you’ve made it, on the refrigerator so that everyone in the family can see it. Anyone who’s able to read can take a peek and see what’s going to be on the table. These magnetic meal planner boards also allow you to see them easily when you’re working in the kitchen.
- This dry erase menu planner is 17 inches by 11.5 inches so you’ve got great space to plan our breakfast, lunch, dinner, and snacks.
- This chalkboard-look menu board has a completely different look which I love. It looks like a menu sign you’d see hanging outside the door to a cute little restaurant – so fun.
- This cute little menu board isn’t fussy looking and has places to record your dinner meal and grocery list. If you don’t plan three meals a day this might be the option for you.
- Finally, a weekly dry erase board can be used to not only record your meal plan, but to record other activities for the coming as well. This one is a multi-functional calendar to let everyone know what’s going on during the week.
We’ve kept a small white board on the fridge for ages as a way to leave notes for other family members. Everyone in our house knows that this is the place to go look if you wonder where someone went or if there’s a message for you. These meal boards simply take that routine a step farther.
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Keep meal planning supplies close at hand
If you do want to use this method to plan and track your meals you’ll want to keep your markers and dry eraser near by. I’ve always kept mine in a little magnetic cup attached right by the board. I do not believe in having to go looking elsewhere when I need something. These keep your supplies right at hand where you’re going to need them.
- A set of two plastic magnetic bins is a great place to store your dry erase markers and eraser.
- Magnetic wire mesh trays would blend in nicely if you’ve got stainless steel appliances.
- This set of three mesh locker organizers works just as well attached to your refrigerator or magnetic white board to hold pens, pencils, and paper to help you with your meal planning and shopping list.
- These flexible magnetic pockets will hold a variety of supplies – sticky notes, coupons…whatever you need handy.
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Paper menu planners make meal planning easy
While I absolutely am in favor of posting the weekly menu where others in the house can see it, I also like being able to reference my work again in the future. After all, I’ve gone to the trouble of planning, why should that time, energy, and effort be wiped away at the end of the week with a dry eraser?
- I like that this weekly meal planner has a tear off grocery list. Makes it easy to grab what you need on your way to the store…and you’ve got enough sheets to last all year.
- This weekly menu pad is just a little larger than the first one – it’s 7×10 inches whereas #1 is 6×9. It also has a shopping list you can tear off.
- This cute meal pad with lemons actually has 60 sheets so you’ll get more than a year of use from it.
- Finally, this What’s For Dinner meal pad looks a little cleaner in case you prefer a more minimalist look.
Each of the meal planner pads above have pages that can be torn off each week. Most also have a place for you to add items to your shopping list.
The nice thing about being able to tear the sheets off is that you can put them in a file or hole-punch them to keep in a notebook. This allows you to reference them again later when you’re feeling low on inspiration and need some ideas of successful meals you’ve served in the past. You can also make notes about what dishes were hits and which were not.
Create your own system to make meal planning easy
I have even planned out our weekly menus in a simple spiral notebook. Here’s how I kept it neat and orderly:
- Use a dedicated spiral — don’t use this notebook for other things or you’ll end up misplacing it (and looking for it when you’re ready to start cooking!).
- Use one page for each week.
- Create a grid or table. You’ll want 4 columns. .
- Label your columns as follows: day/date, entree, side dishes, and dessert (assuming your family eats dessert)
- Now list the days of the week down the far left side. I always liked to put the date too.
Now you have a neat, homemade meal planning notebook. It gets the job done and is easy to hang on to refer to later.
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Tips to make meal planning easy
When you start planning out your weekly meals here are a few reminders and tips:
- Before you plan any meals, be sure to note any family activities that may take you away from home that night or that will require a super fast meal. You don’t want to plan something elaborate or time consuming only to walk in the door and realize that your son has a basketball game tonight and you don’t have time to cook what you’d planned.
- Assign each night a particular meat or cuisine to make it easier to come up with ideas and locate recipes.
- Consider your family’s weekly rhythm. If you know everyone (including you) is exhausted on Friday nights then be sure to plan something super easy for that night.
- Plan for leftovers. You don’t generally need to prepare something new every night of the week. If you’re having garlic lime chicken on Monday, cook enough chicken at the same time for quick chicken tacos on Thursday. There’s no reason you should spend all your time in the kitchen!
- If your kids are old enough, plan a night that they cook. Be sure to include them in the planning process if you do this. It’s a great way to teach them how to plan, shop, and cook. You’ll be doing yourself a favor in the long run when they can help out on nights you’re too busy to do it all yourself and you’ll be teaching them a life skill that all too often gets overlooked (until a child gets out on their own and then can’t boil water).
- Don’t forget to plan for veggies, side dishes, and desserts.
- Plan for nights when the appliance will do the major lifting. Making use of a slow cooker (my favorite appliance in the whole world!) or instapot can save you lots of time. There were many nights when we walked in the door and dinner was ready. All I had to do was open a can of fruit and throw some frozen corn in the microwave and we were done.
- If you have picky eaters in the house do yourself a favor and don’t plan to try a meal of all new recipes at one meal. Don’t ask how I know this – just trust me.
Meal planning doesn’t have to be a complicated, time consuming process. The goal is to simplify your life so that life is easier when dinner rolls around. You’ll find that the more you meal plan the quicker it gets. You’ll have old meal plans to refer to and can even repeat the meals on a rotation plan. I have a good friend who makes a quarterly plan and simply repeats it over and over. She sat down once, made her plan, and now it’s on autopilot.