By Shira Boss
Zero Cost Kids
Are you someone who doesn’t make a menu plan because it seems too rigid? Or you would like to have a menu plan but gosh, it just seems too complicated, so you continue to get by one day at a time?
A menu plan for the week does not have to take an hour with your calendar and recipe books! Not at all! A flexible menu plan can come together in minutes and save you oodles of stress and scrambling the whole week.
Nothing sets our day and week up to run smoothly like knowing what’s for dinner – every night. All I do during the day is glance at the menu board and I know what lies ahead. Maybe something needs to be taken out of the freezer, or maybe a vegetable or dressing can be prepped in advance. At the very least, I don’t have to make decisions. Huge relief.
Nothing gets me down like staring into the open pantry or crisper wondering what I can pull together at the last minute because I haven’t planned ahead. Kitchen magicians like my sister can pull that off. She could throw together a delectable family meal built around a single condiment! But most of us could definitely save time and reduce our stress with a plan. So let’s get started!
The Most Flexible Menu Plan
I plan a monthly menu by season – it repeats twice during the season, so we only eat the same dinner three times in three months. But the basic building block is a single week.
What I love about the weekly menu plan is that it is flexible during the week.
Here’s how to do it:
- Select 5-7 meals, depending on how many nights your family cooks at home.
- Jot down the groceries needed for those meals. Get them all at once during the weekly shopping trip.
- Display the week’s meals in the kitchen using a note pad (simplest!) or note cards (my favorite!).
- Pick and choose as the days go. You’re ready to eat, every night!
The key is you have not tied each meal to a specific night of the week. If you end up not having much time to make one of the more involved meals, just make one of the easier ones!
Favorite Menu Planning Board
This menu planning board is one of the things that inspired me to get serious about a menu plan once and for all. Other menu plans are tied to a calendar or have you writing in the dinner on each day of the week.
But look at this one! See how easy it is to switch things around?
I often do that during the week. We have certain anchors, such as Mondays are soup and quesadilla night, so I usually make the soup on Sunday (or take one out of the freezer!) and Monday’s dinner is practically taken care of. Our Monday breakfast, likewise, is always muffins and a smoothie. (Can you tell I don’t like surprises on Mondays?)
Menu Planning That’s Flexible
While placing our menu cards on the menu board, I think through what’s going on each morning and night and try to match up needs and time available. But I don’t think this through too carefully because – clippity clip & switcharoo! – meals can be moved around in a second!
It’s knowing all seven days are accounted for, one way or another, that really gives me a sense of security – and lifts a huge amount of stress.
I also move dinners with the most fresh produce to the beginning of the week right after we’ve been to the farmer’s market and store. Since we shop on Friday, that means we’re eating fussier meals on the weekends when there’s more time. Then the easier pantry or freezer meals show up later during the busy week.
Every week we have a “wildcard” night – I leave that open in case we have leftovers or something unexpected; otherwise, it’s usually something from the freezer, like risotto (with a can of tuna) from Trader Joe’s. I schedule it for Thursday night, our last night of the week’s menu plan, but sometimes during the week it gets moved up when we need something fast and easy.
Make your own menu plan
Just giving you some ideas. I’m sure this is the fastest, easiest, simplest way to menu plan. If you take just a few minutes to map out meals, list groceries, and shop once each week, you are set up for dinner success all week. Without setting each meal in stone on your calendar.
You could duplicate our favorite menu board with Post-Its or your own clippie system. I splurged on this handmade menu board from Etsy because I HEART MENU PLANNING and these boards make me happy. We have two hanging side by side, one for breakfast and one for dinner. The joy….
Again, menu planning isn’t about digging through recipes or overcomplicating things. Eat what you normally would, just think it through (and grocery shop) in advance and have a roadmap.
Once you get rolling, I’m sure you’ll love it – and find your own best system. I am constantly making improvements to our system (like re-using the same note cards, and putting notes on the back as to ingredients, cooking times, etc. – next I want to laminate!).
Please add your own tips in the comments below!
You can do this!