There are three things that make me feel like I’m winning in my home life:
- making my bed
- cooking dinner
- and keeping a tidy home.
Today, we’re going to talk about what it takes to get dinner on the table, family menu planning.
Family Menu Planning in 3 Steps
As I thought about the way I menu plan, I identified three steps for simple meal planning.
- I have a running list of my family’s favorite foods and try to keep the ingredients on hand.
- Dinner is the only meal I plan.
- I have narrowed down my recipe resources to a trusted few.
Let’s walk through the steps one at a time.
Step 1: Keeping Inventory & Making Grocery Lists
There are many, many ways to keep track of what you run out of and make grocery shopping lists, but my favorite way to keep a grocery list is on the Cozi app, I just add to it as we run out of things, and as I add recipes to the menu. The app can be downloaded to your phone and accessed on your computer. You can share your lists with others who have the app as well.
We also write down items we run out of on a dry erase board, then I add those items to my grocery list before grocery shopping. This system actually works well.
You could also use a note pad, inventory checklist or roll of butcher paper.
Our running list looks something like this:
Our Grocery List
Fruits and Vegetables
Fresh or Frozen
- green beans
- zucchini (in the summer)
- diced tomatoes
- tomato sauce
- tomato paste
- ground beef
- deli sliced ham
- Almond milk
- vanilla almondmilk or coconut milk yogurt
- plain greek yogurt (used as sour cream or as a base for dips)
- GF sandwich bread
- spaghetti noodles
- spiral noodles
- GF flour
- corn starch
- baking soda
- cocao powder
- tortilla chips
- rice cakes
- dark chocolate
- dairy free ice cream
- peanut butter
- almond butter
- salad dressing
- red wine vinegar
- olive oil
- pickled jalapenos
- Mexican Coke
- Dr. B
Having a running list gives me a peace of mind one, because I don’t have to remember it, and two, because of my dietary restrictions. A list makes me feel more in control of what I eat instead of food controlling me.
You’ll notice in the example below that being familiar with your list also helps you with meal planning.
Step 2: Family Meal Planning
Usually, I get a craving for a particular dish and use that meal as the starting point for the rest of the week. For example, I was craving boiled shrimp. So, I added the ingredients for a shrimp boil to the grocery list. Keeping in mind my craving for shrimp and the food I already had on hand,that week’s menu looked like this…
Monday– Shrimp boil
As I prepared the potatoes, I decided to save some to use in a Balsamic Chicken recipe I wanted to try.
Tuesday – Balsamic Chicken
This recipe called for potatoes, green beans and grape tomatoes. I’m planning to use the other half of the frozen green beans for bacon wrapped bundles as side dish with salmon this week.
Wednesday – Fish tacos
My husband uses the unused corn tortillas to make breakfast tacos.
Friday – Chicken and Dumplings
You’ll notice that Thursday was left blank. And we ended up eating sandwiches instead fish tacos on Wednesday. The reality is that we were too tired to cook Wednesday, and we filled in the blank on Thursday with take-out.
Tip: Whether it’s last minute plans, being too tired, or not feeling well, the fact is that life happens, so set reasonable expectations and be flexible.
And that’s okay because the key to successful menu planning is flexibility. So make room for leftovers on your menu. Have rummage night. Pick up a rotisserie from the grocery store. Keep some quick recipes on hand. Order out occasionally.
Our grocery list has several grab and go breakfast items. Since each of us gets up and leaves at different times in the mornings, having those items on hand is the extent of menu planning for breakfast.
Even when my daughter was little, there were certain breakfast items that were kept low in the pantry for her to help herself to. Helping young children establish independence and be self-sufficient is a great confidence builder.
Lunch is also self-serve based on what we have on hand: sandwich fixings, leftovers, deli-style foods…
Of course, when my daughter was little, I packed her lunches for school. She took over that responsibility in middle school. Again, giving children chores creates a sense of ownership and pride as a contributing member of your household. And it’s one less chore for you.
Step 3: Collecting Menu Ideas for Simple Meal Planning
Sometimes finding ideas is the hardest part of menu planning. As I mentioned, I often start with something I’m craving, then go from there. Other times I get ideas from displays and samples while I’m grocery shopping.
But if I’m lacking ideas, I turn to my favorite resources. Affiliate links are included. I may earn from qualifying purchases.
- The Pioneer Woman – We love the Pasta with Tomato Cream Sauce
- Southern Living – The Slow Cooker cookbook, the magazine, and the Southern Living Facebook page. The cookbook is available new and used on Amazon. The used hardcover is listed in very good condition for only $4.93. I’d snatch it up if I didn’t own it.
- Restaurant Favorites – We try to create our own version at home. You can can also search Copykat Recipes online for your favorite restaurant cuisine. That’s where I got the recipe for Olive Garden’s pasta e fagioli.
- Cravings by Chrissy Teigen – I’m still exploring this cookbook, but so far the fish tacos and the pan seared scallops with warm corn salad are big hits in the Hines house.
I suggest finding a recipe storage system that works for you. I prefer keeping a recipe binder of our favorite family recipes, but you may prefer an online system or Pinterest. Every now and then, go through your collection to sort and declutter. If you hadn’t tried that log cake recipe you clipped out of a magazine 15 years ago, you’re probably not going to make it. Just for a (not so random) example.
Whatever your menu planning process, I hope you experience the joy of eating healthier, passing down family recipes, and teaching your kids cooking skills.