I struggled for years to menu plan. It was always on my to-do-list. Yet I rarely did it. The dreaded 4pm question would hit: What are we having for dinner?
After baby #2 was born, I got serious. It was clear that the mayhem would only get worse through the years unless I solved this problem and learned how to menu plan!
Your own plan is the best plan!
First we tried a menu planning service (Fresh20) for a couple months. I loved having a grocery list and a prep plan laid out for us. I knew what we were having and what to do when!
But their plan didn’t work for us. Basically it was waaaay more complicated than they advertised, and it just wasn’t enough calories.
Bob finally snapped and complained, “I can’t do this anymore! I can’t spend 2 hours in the kitchen only to eat a piece of lettuce wrapped around an undercooked lentil!”
Create a custom menu plan
So, I set about to create a system just for us. It’s taken me a year to hone it but now we have a whole year planned out according to the seasons. I am so happy to have solved this ongoing problem in our life!
This plan will work for you too! If I struggled for so long and can do this, so can you!
It’s amazing the relief and joy I get from having a structured menu plan. I know what we’re having when (sometimes I move dishes around during the week), every ingredient is on hand, I can prep some of the meal in advance, and we eat a great variety of dishes.
highlights of a seasonal menu plan:
- Eat something different every day all month – then repeat the month twice during the season
- Seasonal ingredients and dishes (casseroles for winter, salads for summer…)
- One grocery trip per week, with a list
- Plan by categories for variety (soup night, salmon night, beans night, etc.)
Start with categories
Here’s how to create your own seasonal menu plan, in just 2 steps!
At the beginning of the season, choose 6 categories of dishes, plus a “wildcard” night (leftovers, a pantry meal, takeout, etc.). (One of your nights could be eat out, or take out, or whatever fits your routine.)
For example, our categories for fall:
And for spring:
- Soup 1
- Soup 2
As you can see, in the spring I took eggs and salad off the board and added casserole and a second soup night.
Then choose 4 dishes
Then, choose 4 dishes to make for each category, for week #1 through week #4.
This is easiest to do as a table, with categories down the side and weeks 1-4 across the top. Fill in the grid with four dishes across each category. When you’re done, read down the column for each week’s menu!
- choose 6 categories of meals
- choose four dishes to make in each category
Eat different, every night!
Once you’ve done that simple process, you have a menu plan with something different to eat all month.
The next two months, repeat the plan (not the planning – use the same plan!). That means in the whole season you’ll only eat the same dish 3 times.
Repeat for the next season.
This plan has so many benefits I can’t even explain them all. It’s extremely flexible. You can choose family favorites off the top of your head, or you can hit your cookbooks or do what I’ve done and create boards on Pinterest and go hog wild mixing in new things to try.
New Season, New options!
Every season, you can keep some categories the same (we will always have a salmon night!) and have fun coming up with new options. You could do International Night, or Kids Cook, or Slow Cooker….
You can keep some recipes the same – true family favorites – or adjust the ingredients to celebrate the seasons. I like to “rest” a recipe for a season. Keeps things fresh!
Works for breakfast too!
I also use this system to plan our breakfasts. So when I shop, I get all we need for breakfasts and dinners for a whole week, then staples for lunch and snacks. E-Z.
Our breakfast categories right now are:
- Muffin and Smoothie (Every Monday. I’ve had great fun trying different combos!)
- Crockpot porridge (Grains in the slow cooker so they’re ready in the morning!)
- Oatmeal (Usually also made in the slow cooker, with different variations.)
- Special (Pancakes, French toast, German pancake – things that take more time.)
- Easy (The lazy day: English muffins, yogurt and granola….)
- Encore grains (Another word for “leftovers” of the porridge or oatmeal!)
- Wildcard (Unlike the dinner plan, I do plan what we’ll have on this day, because I hate waking up to two chirping little birds and not knowing what to give them!)
There’s nothing like knowing what’s for dinner (and breakfast) and knowing all of the ingredients are on hand. Having a plan lifts a weight from your shoulders. I encourage you to try a seasonal menu plan, I think you’ll love it!
You can do this!