Back when I was working full time and didn’t have a kid, I used to read blogs about women who planned out their weekly (or monthly!) menus and think, “Wow, I could never do that.” I was attached to my spontaneity. I was unwilling to give up my weekend time to do the planning.
But then I had a kid and now I’m home all the time and I’m responsible for dinner. Every night. It seems really unfair how unrelenting that task is sometimes. Every night. Everyone expects to be fed. I like to cook, but I get so bored with making dinner after a while.
For months dinner was really stressful. I’d stand in front of the fridge, in my fuzzy sleep-deprived state, and wonder what I could cook. Every recipe seemed to be missing an ingredient or two. I’d go the store without a plan and leave with a large bill and food I planned to cook until I got it home and the next day I couldn’t remember what dishes I’d been thinking about. 10 potatoes and two artichokes? I’d end up back at the store two or three times each week, lugging the car seat back and forth, getting things I still needed. I’d have the excess still in the fridge that I’d end up throwing away later. And every night I’d be scrambling to get the meal on the table during the baby’s witching hour which was always right before her father got home from work and right during when I needed to be cooking.
That was when the wisdom of the menu plan finally dawned on me.
Now, each Sunday, I take a few minutes (really, it only takes about 15) and do a survey of what’s in the fridge and what’s on the calendar for the evenings in the coming week. I write down a plan for each night’s meal and then I make a shopping list to fill in the gaps. I go shopping on Monday and then that’s it. Each afternoon I consult the menu and I know exactly what I need to do for dinner. If Bean is having a rough day I might start some of the prep in the afternoon during her nap so I can get the food on the table really fast later. If something unexpected comes up, I can switch around the menu plan to make it fit.
As a result almost all the stress has gone out of making dinner. I have a dozen or so recipes that I know the family likes and that are easy to cook and I repeat them again and again. A couple of nights a week we eat leftovers (and that’s right there on the menu: “leftovers!”) and generally one night a week we eat out. That means I really only cook three, sometimes four meals each week.
I can’t even tell you how much time this saves me over the course of a week. Not to mention the money I’m no longer spending on groceries we don’t need and the food I’m no longer throwing out because it has gone bad before I used it.
So here is my challenge to you this week:
Make and use a menu plan. Go shopping just once and challenge yourself to use everything up.
I’m not suggesting you jump in with both feet and do a big freezer/crock pot prep day (but if that’s your thing you might want to check out my crockpot pin board). I’m just suggesting you make a plan, so you have a path to follow for your week.
If you’ll be eating out three nights, write that down so you know which days you are off the hook for a meal. If you’ll be out without the family one evening, schedule leftovers or something super simple that night so you aren’t scrambling when you are trying to get out the door. If you only have energy for frozen pizza, awesome. Write it down. If you know you’ll have more time and energy one day, schedule a meal that is a little more involved if that feels like fun.
I use a little one-week calendar white board that I found a Target to track our menu and our week’s evening schedule. It lives on the side of my fridge. But you can use a simple note pad or log it into your regular calendar. My favorite recipes are in a notebook that I keep on the shelf with my cookbooks, but if you want some tips on how to do your planning more virtually, check out this great post on Simple Mom.
Give it a try and see if you can get back a few hours of your week for something other than shopping and meal-preparing. Because, really, we all have more interesting things to do than cook and shop! That’s so 1950!
Are you a menu planner? Do you have any other planning tips to share?
If this is your first time planning out your menu, let me know how it works for you!