After many years of resisting, I think I’m ready to get on board with the idea of a rotating menu plan. I enjoy cooking, and I love finding new recipes to try. Sticking to a schedule of meals always sounded boring, and like a good way to stifle kitchen creativity. But with our second child due to arrive in a month, a busy business, a huge garden that will soon be requiring a lot of attention, and a basement remodel – I think it’s time to streamline our food preparation – or at least take the mental work out of it, so that I don’t have to spend time wondering what I should make for dinner.
I like the idea of a schedule that would repeat every two weeks, so that we don’t feel like we’re eating just a few meals over and over. I can think of a few meals off the top of my head that will definitely be included – our favorite rice and beans dish, a crock pot soup that we love, spaghetti with homemade sauce (we still have jars of sauce that I canned last fall, and they should last for another couple months)… and I know that my husband and son will have some ideas that they will want to throw in the mix too. I think I’ll shoot for 12 meals on the list, which will give me a little wiggle room for creativity and trying new recipes the other two days.
Breakfast is easy – we buy oats in 50 pound bags, and my husband cooks oatmeal every morning for us. Lunch is usually leftovers, sandwiches, salad, or something along those lines. I’ll make sure that most of the meals I put in our dinner schedule are big enough to provide us with leftovers for lunch the next day, which makes lunch a breeze.
Once garden season gets here, I’ll be able to go back to grocery shopping no more than twice a month (during the winter I shop more than that in order to get fresh produce, but in the summer and fall our garden produces enough to allow me to space out the shopping trips a lot more). With a two week meal plan, our shopping list should look pretty much the same every two weeks, and the process should be pretty simple.
I know that a lot of other bloggers have been using menu plans for ages. I remember my father proposing an idea for simplified cooking about 25 years ago. This is not a new idea, I’ve just never been interested in it before. But now I’m ready, so please share your favorite tips for menu planning, recipes that your family doesn’t get tired of, and whatever other ideas you have for simplifying the process of “what’s for dinner” while sticking with homemade and nutritious.
I don’t have a menu schedule for the same reasons you mentioned. I still like the creativity of cooking and trying new recipes. However, I do make a few recipes every month because my husband and I like them so much. I got this recipe from my Grandma, who got it from a newspaper. I have tweaked it some to suit my family’s tastes. Our family never gets sick of it.
Hoppin’ John Soup
1 large onion, chopped
1 T olive oil
1/2 lb kielbasa (sliced) (You can buy one package of kielbasa, use half and freeze the other half for later)
1 can black eyed peas, drained
1 can navy beans, drained
1 can black beans, drained
1 c. brown rice, cooked
1 t garlic powder
1/2 t cayenne pepper
1/2 t thyme
salt and pepper to taste
3 cups chicken broth
In a soup pot, heat oil over medium heat. Add onion and cook until translucent. Add kielbasa, peas, beans, rice, broth, and seasoning. Stir well to blend and heat. Use the back of a spoon or potato masher to mash beans slightly to help thicken soup.
There is also a recipe for lentil kielbasa soup that is great on the back of Target brand bag of lentils.
We don’t get tired of pasta with marinara, fajitas, or salads, largely because all three of those things can be quite different from week to week depending on what’s in the garden or at the farmers’ market. With marinara and fajitas, as long as you season it correctly you can throw in almost any veggies and it’ll taste good.
Also, we’re not doing a rotating menu right now because I’m working on eating down the freezer, but in the past we’ve had a loose plan–instead of specific meals planned out, we did themes–Italian night, Mexican night, breakfast for dinner night, etc. Seemed to work out, though it still did require some thought at the start of the week.
Here’s a recipe we’ve discovered a bit ago and already made 3 times. It’s delicious and makes enough for leftovers. http://allrecipes.com/Recipe/Chicken-Enchiladas-2/Detail.aspx
A few tweaks….instead of refried beans, I just spoon on some black beans, much easier.
I use this enchilada sauce recipe, make a 4-5 times batch and freeze the extras. http://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/emeril-lagasse/easy-enchilada-sauce-recipe/index.html
Hope you enjoy!
When you have your plan figured out, I sure hope you post it, and with recipes please! I need to incorporate more vegetables into our daily diet and I would love to see what two weeks’ worth of meals looks like for a family that places so much emphasis on good, healthy eating.I think you’re an excellent role model :)
I’ve been menu planning for years now. One thing that makes it easier is a spreadsheet we created with all of our favorite meals on it. When I make something new that we like, we add it to the spreadsheet. I don’t have a rotation of meals, I just put whatever looks good on the menu for the next two weeks or so.
I have seen a rotation idea where you create several menu plans based on seasonality- so you have three or four weeks worth of winter meals that you rotate through during the winter. This idea takes advantage of seasonal produce.
I don’t have a rotating menu plan, but we recently started creating weekly menus before creating our shopping list. It has simplified things so much. I go through our cabinets, see what we have, sit and read through my cookbooks (which I LOVE doing), and create a menu for the week. I always make larger meals than two people require, and we have lunch for the next day.
Menu planning has saved us so much time, frustration, and money!
For years I based meals on trying different recipes and what was on sale at the grocery store.
More recently I have simplified for two reasons. My husband is now on a restricted diet for medical reasons, and I have a very busy life at present. Our breakfast and lunch are the same most days of the week: oatmeal, grapefruit, tea and bread for breakfast; sandwiches and raw vegetables for lunch. For our evening meal, I try to make a favorite meal (stew, curry, roast chicken in the slow cooker, etc.) that will last for three or four main meals. It doesn’t matter that we have stew three nights in a row. When I get home from work, I just reheat a meal. As simple as TV dinners, but homemade.
Long ago my husband had suggested simplifying the meal schedule, but that seemed boring to me in the old days. Now I wish I had started much sooner. It is a real joy not to have to figure out what we are going to eat each day. We still eat well, I still enjoy cooking, but the hassle of deciding is gone. And believe me, that “deciding” part does add time and a level of stress. I am definitely happier on the new regime.
I’m with you. I’ve never planned, but we just had our second and I’m completely overwhelmed. Anything to simplify.
Here are two meals that I’ve included in our rotation:
I have struggled with the “perfect” system for menu planning.
I finally found something that works for me.
I downloaded an excel spreadsheet from here
I like the Weekly planner. It is awesome because it is set up so as you decide what meals & sides you would like to put in your master plan you can add them to the correct tab, then they show up in the drop boxes on the Weekly plan.
It is a work in progress for me. I added another column on the right side that lists what I have on hand that needs to be used, like what I have in pantry or freezer. This way it is already there in front of me so I can easily see what I have to work with when planning the next weeks meals.
I also type in at the top of each day any special activities for that day to keep in mind, like Karate class on M & F’s so I remember we have to have a quick supper in time to make it to class.
You don’t have to take the time to add items to the tabs so they drop down, you can just type them in, or print the planner blank. That is what I did the first time I used it, then along the week I wrote down what we ate, what I needed to buy from store, and what we had on hand. On Sunday I took that paper and added all that info to my ss. I save each of the weeks as a new tab so I can keep all my info and see what we have had in the past. Eventually I will be able to make this into a rotating menu that I think we will all be happy with.
It is a cool little spreadsheet that you can use in a number of ways, but it really appeals to the computer nerd in me, lol :)
I carry this one sheet of paper with me all week using it as my planner for everything really, as I make notes on the back of anything along the way, I have my grocery list on it so when I am at the store I know exactly what I need. Under the notes section I even list any bills that need to be paid etc. Now it is all in one place & I am no longer wondering what to fix for supper at 4pm.
Colleen 365lessthings.com says
Like you I resisted using a menu plan for years but with the special dietary preferences in my home at the moment it is so much easier to plan ahead. One person is vegetarian while another is on a low carb diet.
I use google calendar to keep my menu in and I have set it to repeat every three weeks. I am finding that three weeks is a little repetitive for me and am going to try to add some more menu options so I can stretch it out to a four week rotation. If I took the time I suppose I could also set up a shopping plan to sync with the menu but I haven’t got the organised yet. Most of my recipes although different actually require a lot of the same ingredients so that makes it easier to shop for without having to plan too much. I usually leave a day free in the rotation to try a new recipe.
I also keep all my appointment, occasion (birthdays etc) and holiday/vacation details in google calendar and just print it off at the beginning of each month and hang it in the kitchen.
Cooking is becoming a no-brainer for me now and that makes my life a whole lots easier.
I have been planning menus for a few years now, and boy does it make life easier! I started doing it by the week, then 2 weeks and then a month at a time. I printed out a blank monthly calendar and wrote each day’s meal on it, so I could see what we’ve had recently and so I cold plan the next week’s menus. I saved all of the monthly calendars and put them a spreadsheet. Now I have with entire year’s menus planned on it. It’s one less thing to worry about. I’m not OCD about it. We’re constantly changing things around based on time, season, sales at the supermarket, and what we’re in the mood for, but after a few years of doing this, I’ve been able to come up with some fast, easy and nutritious meals and my family doesn’t get bored with eating the same things all the time.
Good luck with this. I hope it all works out for you
I have been planning menus for a few years now, and boy does it make life easier! I started doing it by the week, then 2 weeks and then a month at a time. I printed out a blank monthly calendar and wrote each day’s meal on it, so I could see what we’ve had recently and so I could plan the next week’s menus. I saved all of the monthly calendars and put them a spreadsheet. Now I have with entire year’s menus planned on it. It’s one less thing to worry about. I’m not OCD about it. We’re constantly changing things around based on time, season, sales at the supermarket, and what we’re in the mood for, but after a few years of doing this, I’ve been able to come up with some fast, easy and nutritious meals and my family doesn’t get bored with eating the same things all the time.
Good luck with this. I hope it all works out for you
I’ve always liked a loose schedule that can accommodate what’s in the fridge and what we might be in the mood for. It can be as easy as the standard go-to spaghetti and sauce or something fancier that might come from a cookbook. For example:
Sunday–traditional meal (we do a roast/veggie/potato)
I’m not much help but interested in the idea. To the extent that I’ve done this successfully, I’ve written down a list 31 dinner meals (we tend to do routine breakfasts and leftovers or routine stuff for lunch) and then go to the list about once a week, pull items off it, and then crossed them off over the course of the month. Just to be clear, that’s not 31 separate meals, it might, e.g., include “spaghetti/garlic bread/salad” twice, as we typically eat that about twice a month. So it’s very simple and it helps me remember ideas I might forget but doesn’t necessarily help much with stuff like seasonality. It can be a way of avoiding preparing easy but not hugely healthy go-to meals too often.
I also dislike formal meal plans, so I keep my pantry stocked with staples for the dishes we like, buy what’s on sale and basically wing it, based on what I bought that week.
One idea that I keep meaning to implement is this one [http://littlenannygoat.blogspot.com/2009/05/what-heck-it-30-meal-plan.html].
Basically you and your family sit down and come up with 30 “favourite” dinners. You put each of them on a card (and laminate it, if you’re Nanny Goat), then every week, you fish through the box, pull out that week’s cards, and you’re good to go.
You can assign them to days if you like, or (like me) just have a basic idea of what’ll be eaten during the week. I like the pool of 30 — enough variety without being overwhelming — and I like the flexibility of weekly “draws”, mostly because in my house we get into food “moods”, so ingredients seem to swing through heavy phases.
Good luck finding a system that works for you!
I’ve heard of others doing this as well, but I’ve never tried it. A lot of people say that it ends up saving you money in the long run, because you don’t end up buying a lot of miscellaneous cooking supplies that you’ll only use once. I’ll be interested in learning if the menu plan saves you money. :)
We have had a rotating menu for years, but it’s kind of a loose schedule. one day a week it’s pasta something: mac and cheese, goulash, speg, etc. Another night it’ll be chicken: roasted, fried, grilled, whatever we’re in the mood for. One night is ground beef: hamburgers, meatloaf, sloppy joes.
If we are tired of baked potatoes, we switch out sweet potatoes. Try to vary the vegetable, throw in an occasional salad.
If we’re in a hurry and “brain dead”, we just have breakfast for dinner and scramble some eggs, or mix up some pancakes.
Now that it’s just my hubby and me, we are much more relaxed, but we usually make up a plan for the week on Sunday night. Whoever is home at supper time just gets started.
One of my goals this year is to give meal planning a try. I can’t wait to hear how it goes for you!
Karen (Scotland) says
We don’t follow a rigid menu plan as I never know what we’ll “feel” like a week in advance. What we want to eat depends on the weather, how active we’ve been, whether we’ve had a large lunch etc.
What I do is think of roughly ten meals that we could have over two weeks and make sure I have the ingredients (larder or fridge) on hand.
I aim for a mix of
– carbs (potato, pasta, rice, other)
– flavours (plain, mediterranean, slightly spicy)
– proteins (meat twice a week, fish twice and lentils/egg/beans the other nights).
– price (mostly frugal but a treat of salmon or nice meat sometimes)
– difficulty (mostly easy but I’ll make sure homemade pizza is on a day I have time to chop for Scotland!)
I do our own version of “ready meals” that can just be pulled from the freezer. This makes a WORLD of difference. Bolog, lentil bolog, mince, ragu, pizza sauce, pizza dough, some veg (like beetroot), chicken stock and chopped up roasted chicken can be batch made and frozen in family-sized portions. This saves time and effort during the week if I’m rushed. It is SUCH a good feeling batch cooking and freezing up ten portions of bolog… :-)
This week, our “plan” (just an idea list, really) looks like this:
Carbonara and pasta (had to use up the bacon this week)
Lamb, potatoes and veg (last year’s beetroots from freezer)
Vegy stir fry and rice (will throw some green lentils in)
HM pizza (dough and sauce already in freezer, will use any veg left in fridge))
A chicken for roasting, potatoes and veg (importantly, the chicken will be used for stock and the leftovers chopped. This will all be frozen and used for chicken noodle soup as a main meal later.)
Back up meals are always – omelette, pancakes (with mushrooms, cheese, ham, tomatoes, and a raw carrot for starters), pasta and frozen ragu sauce, pasta and pesto and any veg on hand.
Sorry this is so lengthy but wanted to share our system as it works for us – a rough plan in mind, basic ingredients to hand, think roughly a week or two ahead.
(I also should add that I often take lunch into mind as the “big” meal of the day, especially when my husband is at sea. Our three youngest eat best during the day so we often have a hearty soup or pasta on days they get up particularly early.)
You haven’t posted in a bit — hope all is OK!