By Tsh Oxenreider of SimpleMom.net .
Meal planning can feel like one of those necessary evils. It’s not always fun, but it sure does make life easier. No one likes to stare at the fridge at 5 p.m. and wonder what they can concoct from ketchup, an onion, and a cheese stick.
Because the benefits far outweigh any negatives, and because it’s a part of home management that won’t ever go away, it makes sense to simplify menu planning as much as possible.
Here are a few tips to make meal planning a bit easier:
1. Go digital. If you’re like me, most of your recipes are online. Start with bookmarking your favorites in a program like Delicious , where you can create a recipe box and tag your finds in a way that makes sense for you ("chicken," "pasta," and "kid-friendly," for example). Then use a calendar program like Google Calendar to plan out your meals. This way, you can use the repeat feature if, say, taco night is always on Wednesdays, and you can also have Google email you what’s on the menu that night.
2. Stick with the classics. Sure, it’s fine to experiment every now and then - but if you’re a busy mom, chances are you don’t have loads of spare time to discover whether your 3-year-old will stomach duck confit with broccoli rabe. It’s perfectly fine to regularly serve spaghetti, tacos, homemade pizza, baked potatoes, and soup.
3. Cook from scratch. Believe me, this is easier than it sounds . When you aim for 80 percent of your pantry’s staples to be something that looks the same as when it was plucked from the ground, then you have so many more cooking options. It’s much easier to put twists on everyday dishes, you can improvise on the fly no problem, and it’s usually cheaper , too, once you have your pantry well stocked.
4. Cook with the seasons, not against them. Real foods (as opposed to processed) have seasons, and they tend to be cheaper when they’re in abundance. They taste better, too. Take the time to learn what produce is in season in your area.
5. Have theme nights. This is what we do in our family , and it makes meal planning so much easier. Mondays are Mexican nights, Tuesdays are pasta, on Wednesdays we make some variation of stir fry, Thursdays we eat something from the Crock Pot, Fridays are our homemade pizza nights, Saturdays are when we experiment and try a new recipe, and on Sundays, it’s fend-for-yourself leftovers. And around and around it goes.
6. Repeat. Especially when things are busy - like during the holiday season - it’s logical to rotate a two-week menu plan over and over. If you plan out 14 meals for two weeks, and then repeat them for another two weeks, that’s eating the same meal only twice per month.
7. Plan for a month. Or, you can sit down and plan out meals for the entire month in one fell swoop. Sure, it might take an evening, but then you’re done for a whole 30 days. This is especially helpful when you’re anticipating a busy season .
These are just a few ideas - there are other families that successfully menu plan a bit differently, so find what works for you.
Remember, menu planning is a tool to help you - you’re not a slave to it, and it shouldn’t rule your life. My menu plan changes often as things arise and as plans change. And that’s okay, because that’s how family life goes. Find your groove, and develop a system that makes your home life simpler and more peaceful . You don’t need to impress anyone - you just need to enjoy meals around the table with those you love.
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