Making Menu Planning a Snap: Seven Ideas to Avoid the Fast Food Lane

You may have seen me mention on Facebook that there are not many white spaces on my calender this month. The last thing I want to think about is what to make for dinner! School is winding down which means programs and field trips and lots of end of the year activities. Summer sports are starting–Potato is playing T-ball this year.  And the girls are gearing up for their dance recital in June. Not to mention, J-bug is making her first Holy Communion in a few weeks (and so is my nephew) and my youngest sister is getting married at the end of the month, so there are events planned around all of that.

Do you menu plan or fly by the seat of your pants when it comes to deciding what to make for dinner? I have jockeyed between being uber prepared by once a month cooking (Yep, Janene and I have done the once a month cooking thing together a few times!)  and being under prepared which results in a higher food bill due to trips through the drive through or a call to the pizza shop up the road. Even though menu planning does take a small investment of time at the beginning of the month or week the investment pays dividends when you are standing in front of your open refrigerator paying for it to cool your kitchen while you try to decide what you can do with a half dozen eggs and wilted celery.

Here is a small list of resources I have used in the past that help me avoid the fast food lane and hopefully they will help you with your menu planning.

The Grocery Game – For the budget conscious planner (which is ME!). This website matches weekly coupons to store sales. It lets you know when you are getting the best deal so that you can stretch your grocery dollars further by stocking up on items you use regularly. There is a fee for this site and you can find the information for free on the Internet in other places. However, I find that the Grocery Game is easy to use–they do all the work for you reliably, week after week. For me, it has been the easiest, least time consuming, way to keep up with my couponing habit. I have saved over $4000 dollars at my grocery store over the past 12 months and I believe it is due to my habitual use of this website. The fee is worth it to me. I plan many of my meals around the weekly sales that I see using this site.

The Meal Index– If you have done any cooking for your family over any stretch of time then you may have amassed a mental list of family favorites and go-to meals.  The key is getting all of those meal ideas out of your head and onto paper so you can access them quickly and easily the next time you are stumped about what to make for dinner. Simply set aside about twenty minutes and sit down with pen and paper. Make a list of seven to ten different categories. Examples: Mexican, Italian, Family Favorites, Breakfast for Dinner, Meatless Meals, Grillin’ Favorites, Crock Pot Meals etc.  Then think of all the meals that you make and plug them into their respective category. Believe me you will be surprised to see your list quickly fill up.  Make it a goal to think of five or six meals in each category. At the end of your brain storming session you will have a minimum of 35 meals. Now just plug those meals into your calander! Rotate them around each month and don’t forget to save some space to try new recipes or eat out.

Pinterest — Go there. Browse your friends’ food boards. Type in a meal and see what pops up. There are limitless ideas here, complete with yummy looking pictures!  I always check out Pinterest if I am looking for a little inspiration to try something new.

Grocery Store Fliers–I love Tuesdays–that’s when the new grocery store flier is delivered to my mail box. I get a peak at what is on sale and start the wheels turning right there about what we might have for dinner the next week.

Once A Month Mom–I mentioned above how Janene and I gave once a month cooking a try. Once a Month Mom is your one stop shop for all things freezer cooking. They’ve got tons of menus complete with grocery lists, recipes, and how to’s for cooking a month’s worth of meals in one day. There are lots of cooking tips and ideas about how to customize the process to fit your life style (like mini-menus, and diet conscious recipes: like whole foods, gluten free etc.) If it’s your first time looking into freezer cooking I recommend you start HERE.

Facebook — It seems like a no brainer. Every so often, I have asked the question: What are you having for dinner? And friends have posted away, giving lots of ideas that I can use for my own menu plan. I have also posted my favorite recipes and recommendations.  There are Facebook Groups popping up all over the place relating to food and what to make for dinner. A quick search will have you swimming in dinner ideas in no time!

Menu Plan Monday — Have you met Laura at I’m an Organizing Junkie? She hosts a weekly link-up called Menu Plan Monday where bloggers flock to link up their posts that feature weekly menu plans. You will find recipes and meal ideas galore! Janene and I have both linked up there before and you can also find some of our favorite bloggers linking up each week if you are ever stumped, a few clicks will get your creative juices flowing!

I hope these ideas keep you from floundering at meal time!  Please let me know in the comments if you’ve come across any must share resources!

{Disclaimer: I have not been paid or perked to mention these wonderful websites. I find them to be valuable resources for myself and couldn’t resist sharing them with you!}

Comments

  1. says

    Good hints. Years ago, I made a cookbook of all my favorites (and add to it as new ones emerge). Easy photocopying recipes on 8×11 paper and put in binder. The cool thing is I now give it for wedding presents. 

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