How to make a Menu
Do you live and die by your menu? Or maybe you’re hit and miss? Do you wish you had a menu but are not quite sure where to even start? So instead, you secretly hope your family asks for cold cereal or scrambled eggs for the 3rd night this week. Or maybe you love that feeling that comes at 5:00 not sure what you’re eating for dinner that night, and you get to play fridge roulette yet again.
Our days, nights, weeks (you get the idea) go SO much smoother when I have a menu that I actually use! Knowing what we’ll be eating helps me be able to shop, prep, AND ask for help, instead of trying to throw something together last minute. It also allows me to ENJOY meal time! Believe me when I say, there have been way too many days, weeks, and months of no menu for me to compare it to! Not only do we eat healthier when I have a menu planned, we also spend less than half the amount on food. Whether it gets wasted when it goes bad, or because we grab something on our way home knowing we’re too tired, busy, lazy, or just not sure what to cook when we get there!
As you start building a menu it will get faster and easier…so stick with me and keep at it! We’ll all be here doing it together.
Where to start?
For me making a menu requires a few different things
First, our family (and my personal) calendar. Yes, our schedule helps determine what we’ll be cooking that night for dinner (or breakfast and lunch too for that matter) . Busy afternoons and evenings are perfect for crockpots, freezer meals, or other quick dishes. Where as a less busy day means I have a little more time to spend in the kitchen prepping and adding sides that may require extra time. I try to mix things up so we get a good variety, even though my family doesn’t seem to care as long as there’s food to eat 🙂
Second, a meal list. This list is made up by the whole family, with the help of our recipe box, recipe books, and of course Pinterest. I have meals broken down into different categories and sub categories. For example, Chicken, Beef, Seafood, Meatless and then things like, Soups, Mexican, Grilled. You could also rate them as far as prep time, and ease so when it’s someone else’s night to cook they know what to expect. As you go to fill out your menu it’s much simpler if things are in categories.
I also recommend having a category for meals you know everyone in your family likes (hopefully you have a few of these, even if it’s mac n cheese, or pizza). I’m lucky in the fact that my family will pretty much eat anything I make, but there are definite favorites (like chicken roll ups or chimichangas) that I know everyone loves. There are also a few things, like Salmon, that I make when a certain child will be gone for dinner. My kids learned early on that saying eww gross, or that looks disgusting, earned them an empty plate and they got to cook a few extra meals.
There are MANY ways to make your menu, but the MAIN thing you need to determine is, WHAT WORKS FOR YOU! It doesn’t matter, what the Dinsmore’s, the Jackson’s or the Neilson’s are doing, if it doesn’t work for your house! The whole point of having a menu is to make it easier on you, not to add more stress! I’m sharing a few different ideas, see if one works. If if doesn’t, switch it, or mix and match it. Remember, easier meal times are what we’re going for!
4, 6 or 8 week menu – At one point we had an 8 week menu that we just repeated. This doesn’t work for our family now because our schedule is different each week and some busy days land on a heavy meal prep meal. It may work for you and your family though. If you do choose to do a set menu I recommend adding one or two days a month as “random” days to add new or not rotated meals. This helped with variety in our menu when we did menu this way.
Another option is setting up different nights of the week as different categories.
Monday = Family Favorites Tuesday = Mexican Wednesday = Grill Thursday = Meatless Friday = Pizza or Pasta Saturday = Leftovers aka clean the fridge Sunday = Breakfast for dinner
You get the idea.
A few other categories we’ve used when we’ve made our menus this way are; Italian, Comfort Foods, Soup/Sandwich/Salads, Asian, Seafood (I usually switch this one off every other week), Casserole, Crockpot, and All American.
Do your family members take turns cooking different nights of the week? We’ve had different phases in life that we did this. Whoever was is charge of cooking that night decided what we we’d be having (within reason). The menu was made monthly on a Sunday evening with everyone helping. This didn’t last long because it took For-Ev-Er to get a menu planned…we all dreaded it! They decided they’d rather me make the menu and tell them what they were fixing. This also gave them experience helping with different meals instead of sticking with meals they already knew how to make.
Currently for our menu I just try to keep things rotated between types of meat, and categories so we’re not eating Mexican food with chicken 3 nights in a row. I always have a stock of freezer meals to rotate in on busy days that really help keep me on track!
Don’t plan your menu on Monday. Monday’s are hard enough, so why would you add something you dread to that day?! Besides, by Monday morning I like to have all of my groceries in my house for the week (or at least be picking them up or having them delivered that morning).
I like to make a 4 or 8 week menu because I find myself adding in more variety when I do this. If I schedule out our menu weekly we seem to repeat meals more often and things start getting repetitive. I write out a brief menu for the month on the calendar. I then add in sides as I fill out our weekly menu plan so I can add fresh fruit/veggie from things on sale that week. I like to have our weekly menu finalized on by Thursday or Friday for the following week. This gives me time to check ads that come out on Wednesday, get groceries ordered, and shopping done over the weekend. There are many weeks we end up with a meal we didn’t end up making and fresh ingredients were purchased for. Finalizing our weekly menu allows me to add it into the next weeks menu without wasting food already purchased.
If we’re grilling meat for our main dish, say on Tuesday, I like to cook extra and add it to quesadillas, salads, or sandwiches later that week. I’m also a huge believer (and doer) of making 2 and sticking one in the freezer. It takes very little extra time and effort, and no extra mess, of making two. Yet, saves you so much time, effort, and mess when you’re able to pull something from the freezer. I’ll be doing a whole separate post on this coming up.
Remember, the point of this is to make your life easier, not more stressful! It may take a few months to get things figured out what works best for you! Don’t try it once and decide it doesn’t work for your family. Instead make adjustments and make it your own! Your menu planning won’t look like just like someone else’s it will look like YOURS!
And if cold cereal or scrambled eggs make it on the menu 3 times in one week, IT’S OKAY! Just try to make sure you’re eating it together!
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