One of the priorities of our lives that I believe is most often overlooked is the value of menu-planning for evening meals. It takes time to make a menu. Creativity in meal selection can be a challenge. Finding a time when everyone can be together is hard. I get it. But, there is a way to build menu planning into your balanced lifestyle so that you have variety and can spend time with those you love most over a meal you feel good about preparing for them.
Before we can begin building a menu plan however, we need to identify the why by answering the question: Why do I want to have a menu in the first place? If we don’t understand the why, we will give up when things get more complicated than we planned on.
The "why" answer for me is simple: I don’t like having to scramble at the last minute to get a healthy meal on the table for my family. I spent way too many years rushing from one thing to the next, barely keeping things together and the way I treated my family during that season was less than they deserved. Menu planning has become a way for me to show love to my family by serving them nutritious food that doesn’t come with a temper tantrum.
What's your "why" answer? How can creating a menu for your evening meals be a benefit to you? Think about it a minute…
Since you are continuing to read, I’m going to assume you have a why and have decided you would like some menu planning strategies to help you get started. Here are my top 7.
Once a week determine how many nights the following week you need to cook for your family. There’s no point in cooking a full meal if no one will be home to eat it, or if eating out will keep chaos out of your schedule, right?
Based on the week ahead, determine the kinds of meals you will need. Do you have a busy day with no time to prepare a meal after work? A slow cooker meal may work best. Will everyone need to eat at different times? Consider an a la carte meal option. Is there a special celebration this week where you’ll want to eat out or cook a special meal?
Ask those whom you will feed for their input. Asking each member to submit one meal idea for the week helps keep everyone happy at least one night a week. And as a bonus, keeps you from having to create every meal on your own.
Write out an actual menu. Listing the meals you will cook, and which days you will eat them, can save you time both in defrosting frozen items and planning ahead to be ready to prepare a meal.
Develop a grocery store system. Once you make your menu, having a complete grocery list is key to keeping you from having to run to the store at the last minute or having to order out instead. Additionally, making a list of what you need by department will help you make it through the store faster.
Additionally, consider the value in creating an account with an online grocery service to either pick up your groceries or have them delivered to you. It takes time to get started but can save you time and money (no more impulse buying) in the long run
Prep ahead of time. Even if you have a busy work week, taking an hour or two on a weekend or free evening to make a few meals ahead of time to freeze and reheat can create a good family experience at mealtime. Also, consider prepping some ingredients in the mornings or the night before to create a faster prep-to-table meal in the evening. Last, consider making double protein portions to use for two meals, which will save you cooking time.
Enlist help. Do you have older children at home who can be taught to do some basic meal prep, or even taught to do some light cooking? (Cooking together with your children can be a good way to spend time together too!) What about your spouse? Is he willing to cook?
Additionally, consider the cost-to-peace ratio in using a complete meal service (like Hello Fresh or Blue Apron) every once in a while.
BONUS: Want more help with this? I've partnered with Health and Fitness Trainer Candace Keevil and we are hosting a Menu Planning for Success workshop in St Louis March 1. And, it's FREE! You can Register using this link: Menu Planning For Success Workshop
No matter how busy your schedule, may I gently suggest one more thing? Take a moment to examine your expectations. Your expectations of what it means to be a good mom or wife may not be what your family actually needs. There is freedom, and peace, in allowing the season your family is in to dictate your menu planning.
Join the Conversation: What Menu Planning Strategies have you used? Leave a comment below...