I’ve had so many of you say to me in conversation – “I don’t know HOW you do all that menu planning!” or something like “I just can’t do that menu planning like you do.”  And, usually, I smile and say something banal in response… but what I am really thinking and what I really want to shout at you is –

WHY NOT!?!?

It’s not like it is hard.  It is not complex.  It is actually SO VERY EASY and it makes SUCH a HUGE difference in your stress levels, your family’s schedule, your family’s eating habits and your budget!

It’s almost crazy NOT to menu plan.

Seriously.

I’m sorry, as I write this, my critic on my shoulder is telling me that I probably shouldn’t be so “in your face” with this as I am being. But this is truly how I feel. 

It seems daunting, I know.  Overwhelming, at times, I’m sure.

But it is SO WORTH IT to at least TRY it.

So, I have a challenge for you.  For the next three weeks, I want you to PLAN YOUR FAMILY’S MENU for dinners for the week. One menu per week for three weeks.

And to help you do that, I’m going to give you some suggestions – so that you will have a place to get started and to help you not feel so overwhelmed.

It’s not as hard as you think it is, I promise. If it was, I wouldn’t be doing it.

Let go of the notion that you have to plan meals for every single day of the week.

I never do.

I usually plan for 3-4 definite meals and then 1-2 “maybe” meals –

things I can cook if plans change or if something doesn’t appeal to me on the day I was planning to cook it.

I never adapted to the idea of specifying which day I would cook what.

It seems to rigid to me and I didn’t like the thought that I’d have to cook tacos on a night when I really wanted soup instead.  So, instead, I come up with my list of menu items and then I pick and choose what I will cook that day based on how I feel, what food needs to be cooked first, weather, kids’ requests, etc.  I have a general plan in mind, but I leave it open to the flexibility my life demands. You can too. Don’t feel stuck in having to cook exactly in the order you plan.IMG_0286

Pick at least one family favorite per week

– one sure thing that you know everyone will love and that you can fix easily.

Try to pick at least one crock pot or oven- type meal per week.

Make one day easy on yourself – pick something you can toss in the crock pot or oven and forget about until it’s time to eat. You will love this and it will free up time for you to do something else you might otherwise not get to do because you’re busy cooking – like spending some time with your kids – or taking a walk!

Another advantage is that these type of meals usually have leftovers and you can count on two meals from one preparation! (or some really good lunches if there isn’t enough for another family dinner)

Check your freezer and your pantry before you plan

What can you cook that you already have? Save some money and utilize what you have before you go shopping.

There are some great money saving ideas on this post over at Beauty and Bedlam regarding saving money for your groceries. I’m not a big coupon girl – too many of them are for processed foods and I’m trying to stay away from those things these days… but there are still some great ideas there beyond the coupon tricks.

Try to focus on cooking from scratch and not from “convenience” foods

This may sound counter-productive – why wouldn’t you utilize Hamburger Helper or Shake and Bake to make your dinnertime easier?  Well, for a couple reasons – one, they are more expensive, two, they usually are full of processed ingredients, preservatives and goodness-knows-what-else, and three, they usually don’t simplify things THAT much. I have found that it is just as easy to make my own homemade “shake and bake” when I need it than it is to pay for the already-made stuff. And I control what goes in there – making sure my family gets the healthiest, freshest ingredients I can buy.

It’s not really THAT much more difficult or challenging to cook from scratch – and the payoff is so much better for you.

Utilize websites to help you plan

Check out AllRecipes.com or Menu Plan Monday over on orgjunkie.com – there are lots and lots of websites with links to menus and recipes.  Don’t be afraid to pick one new thing each week to try out.  You will increase your repertoire of recipes to use and hopefully find some new family favorites!

Think about leftovers and include them in your plan.

This was something I didn’t learn for a long time. I would plan five or six meals, thinking we’d have one night to eat out or something and then I’d end up with all of these leftovers and no  idea what to do with them.

Now, I plan for at least one night where we’ll eat leftovers. Some nights that is just a “free for all” type meal where I put everything out and each person picks what they want and we warm it in the microwave. The girls like these “buffet-style” dinners (as I call them – it’s all about the marketing!) as they feel like they have control over what they eat.

Other nights, I plan for a ‘reinvented’ dinner – where I plan to utilize leftovers to make something entirely new – like using the grilled chicken leftovers from one night to make chicken & rice soup for dinner another night (something that wasn’t on my original menu this week, but soup that a rainy night called for)

Here are some other tips and tricks from some of my older posts:

And so, now, the challenge is out there for you – will you accept it?

Will you give menu planning a try?!?

YES – YOU! I’m talking to YOU!

Please do.

I really, sincerely, hope you will. It’s scary to start, but once you get in the groove, it is oh, so freeing. Liberating to have one less thing to worry about – to not have that 4PM panic of “oh, my gosh, WHAT am I going to cook for dinner?!?”

If you are going to join the menu planning bandwagon, let us know in the comments… I’d love to know how things go for you – and I’m HAPPY to help you get started – cheering you on as you go!!

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