Getting Started: Menu Planning Basics
When it comes to dinner time, there is usually a panic that seems to set it for the the whole family. The question of “What’s for dinner?” comes up and you are left to try and scramble some food together to form a meal, or end up having to order out a meal that may not be the healthiest option for your family. An easy fix to the meal scramble and wonder of what to put on the table, is the option of menu planning.
Meal Planning can be done in many different ways and customized to however your family eats. Your meal planning schedule can be adapted to your families needs and you’ll soon see that you will save not only more time, but money on eating out and wasted food ingredients.
Meal Planning can easily get overwhelming, but by following a few menu planning basics, you can create a plan that can be updated every week at the blink of an eye.
Menu Planning Basics
1. Start With The Family
The key to meal planning is getting input from your family first. Get a list together of everyone’s favorite meals, favorite sides, and new things that they want to try. Keep this list handy to always turn back to if you are looking for new menu ideas. This ensures that you can still throw in new foods and menu items to the dinner table, but by keeping at least something familiar, you can calm little nerves at the table.
2. Check Out What You Have
Before you go to the grocery store, take inventory of what you have in your pantry and freezer. You can see what you need and what you already have. Sometimes all it takes is some creative planning with a can of corn, ground beef, and salsa, to create a Mexican dish that the whole family loves, with ingredients you didn’t know you had. Keep a dry erase board in your pantry with a list of things you need to buy. (You can get a small dry erase board for around $10).
3. Search For Recipes
Thanks to the Internet, we can now do a quick search of recipes you haven’t tried yet, or are super easy to make. Search for recipes that can be used in the crock pot, family friendly, or that are budget friendly. Keep a folder on your computer or in Google Drive of all the recipes that you love. This way, you can always turn back and get inspired before planning your meals for the week. Another great idea is to create a Pinterest board of recipes you can add to your meal planning. Title it, “Weekly Meal Plans” to give you some motivation and new ideas.
4. Creating The Board
There are tons of great ideas on Pinterest and on the Internet for DIY Meal Planning Boards. You can either go out and buy a weekly menu planner, or you can make one yourself. Put the meal plan in a central location, on the refrigerator preferably, so that the whole family can see it. A dry erase board with a magnetic back is perfect for this.
You can also keep a binder of recipes and menu planning ideas. Some people have also created menu plans, keeping copies, and just re-using it once a month. I have Meal Planning Cards for you to keep and print – these are just the right size to post on your refrigerator or keep in a binder.
Insider’s Tip: Start with meal planning for just week day dinners – weekends are a great time to use up any leftovers from the week! Starting small will help you get the hang of the process and not be overwhelmed.
Generally, the rule of thumb is to create your menu plan for the week, and write a list of everything you’d need for that week. Not including any fresh items you’d want to get for your meals on certain days, try and do all of your shopping for the week in that one day. With your list of ingredients, you’ll find that you are saving money by buying only exactly what you’d need, instead of going in and out of the grocery store everyday hoping for an idea.
It’s also a good idea to check out your local grocery store’s website to see if there are coupons for any of the items you are going to purchase. If you’d really like to save money, check out the week’s store deals and match them with coupons before making your meal plan for the week, and work your recipes around those items.
Insider’s Tips: If you are new to using coupons, you can find out more on my Couponing: Where to Begin post. You can also look for coupons daily in the Coupon Database, which is up-to-date with the latest coupons from the internet, newspaper, magazines, mailers, etc.
By following these menu planning basics, you can save yourself the worry and stress of wondering what to put on the table come dinner time.
Do you have more Menu Planning Tips? Leave them below in a comment to help those just starting out.