Chances are if you’re considering integrating a menu plan into your life, it’s because you’re looking to simplify cooking. Let’s face it, we’re all busier than we’ve ever been, yet we don’t want to compromise on bringing the family around the table for good, wholesome food.
Sure menu planning starts off easily enough with a sheet of paper labeled ‘M-F’, but it is after that we often tend to get stuck; chewing on the end of a pencil, waiting for inspiration to hit, while we flipping mindlessly through cookbooks or surf cooking sites.
It’s too easy to waste time trying to deciding what to make.
Today I’m excited to share with you a quick way to plan out the weekly meals by implementing a menu plan that takes into account YOUR unique schedule and helps outline an appropriate meal for each unique day.
A New Way to Menu Plan
I plan my meals around a THEME, rather than a cuisine type, or a food category. These are realistic themes that I know categorize a typical week in my home and with those in place, I simply fill in a meal that would be a good match.
By keeping to the theme, the dinner options are narrowed down, making it easier to decide what to make when. This approach to menu planning is slightly different than most, but is has proved to be very functional for our crazy household, and it’s a lot of fun!
Sound complicated? Not so much. Let me explain.
Menu plan by theme
I begin, not by numbering a page from 1-7, or listing the days of the week, but with my seven ‘themes’ for the week. (Bear in mind that your themes may be different, but more on that thought later.)
Assume that adjectives such as ‘affordable’, ‘healthy’ and ‘seasonal’ apply for each theme as much as possible.
The themes are:
Assigning Themes to Days
Once I have my themes, I then fill in the blanks. With my agenda at hand, I pencil in possible days for each theme. For example:
- I’ll assign Friday to ‘Special’ if I know my in-laws are dropping by.
- A less hectic day will get a ‘Freeze’, as I will go into production mode and make 2 or 3 times the recipe to stash away.
- ‘Fast’ is one of those day I can see we have afternoon plans.
- ‘Kids’ can be pretty much any day I feel I’ll have enough time to cook with (and clean up after) the boys.
Once each day of the week has a theme, it’s easy to run through it and fill in an appropriate recipe.
Let’s take a closer look at my themes and how they end up practically dictating what I should cook, thus eliminating the head scratching.
Typically a meal that the boys can be involved in the preparation. Not-so-coincidentally, these meals are always something I know the kids enjoy eating.
Menu Ideas: pizza, wraps, spaghetti & meatballs, Peach & Ginger Glazed Salmon.
A dinner planned with company in mind. We entertain a lot, and since we do, I can’t afford to go all out each time, but these meals are slightly more special and there is usually a dessert penciled into the margins.
Menu Ideas: Seafood Pasta, Roast Beef dinner, your tried & true ‘company’ dinner.
Batch cooking 101! I’ll prepare 2-3x a recipe and freeze some. A day is assigned to this theme in which I know I’ll have a solid chunk of time to execute.
Since I write two happenin’ food blogs, yes, often I’ll plan a meal specifically to blog about. This is when I’ll experiment with a new recipe–and occasionally attempt to expand the children’s palate. (Note: not always a success.)
Menu Ideas: Ossobuco, anything in my ‘to try’ bookmarks.
Ah, I’m all about the comfort food. It varies with the seasons, fluctuates with our budget, but it never fails to bring a smile.
Menu Ideas: Salt-Roasted Chicken, Shepherd’s Pie, Baked Ham.
Every family has to have it, the just-walked-in-the-door-and-everyone-is-starving lifesaver. I’m fortunate that everyone in my family loves eggs and hubby considers ‘breakfast for dinner’ perfectly acceptable. Fast can also be a pre-prepared meal from the freezer.
Menu Ideas: Frittata, Sesame Beef Lettuce Wraps, Steak & Cheese Sandwiches.
if I don’t plan to use up those garbanzo beans or that whole wheat couscous in the back of the pantry, they may slide by unnoticed while I’m reaching for a third slice of pizza. Not only are most pantry staples budget-friendly, but a good choice for the health-conscious. “Garden” is my summer option. A reminder that, yes, I need yet another zucchini-based meal or they will rot!
Menu Ideas Pantry: Bean & Cheese Burritos, Risotto. Menu Ideas Garden: Pasta Primavera, Cobb Salad,
Now, not everyone has a food blog or kids and so your home may have different themes. Whether they are ‘Beach Day’ or ‘Daddy cooks’ or ‘Soccer’, they should reflect what your family embraces (Comfort, Kids) as well as considering your weekly schedule (Fast, Special)
I encourage to you try this method for yourself. It may take some getting used to and you’ll find your themes may even change from season to season. Around here it’s pretty much a given that ‘Barbecue’ replaces ‘Comfort’ in the summer and ‘Fast’ becomes the theme several nights a week, as I put longer hours in the garden.
Keep track of what you’ve made in each category, and what were the biggest hits & misses.
What are a few words that define your week? Care to share potential menu themes?