You know planning a menu is a good thing, but sometimes it only feels like another chore to cross off the to-do list. Well, end that once and for all by putting your menu planning on autopilot!
You guys, I have not been feeling the love for menu planning for quite some time now. That makes me sad because without a menu plan, our meal time is definitely not what it should be. I’ve been resorting to quick prep meals (think frozen pizza, pasta with a jar of sauce poured over top and grilled cheese & tomato soup…) Not good! Between picky palates and no desire to cook, menu planning took a real nosedive in the last year or so. On the other hand, the grocery stores were probably quite happy, because I was spending more since I had no plan. 🙂
That brings me to today. I’m pleased to say, I’ve found a system that works for me! Actually, I’v put menu planning on autopilot! It initially took a little bit of work upfront (still only 4 steps!), but now we’re smooth sailing.
Here’s how I put menu planning on autopilot:
Step 1: Brainstorm
This part took me the longest. I sat down one afternoon (interrupted by the 4 year old and baby, often) and wrote down all the meals we like to eat. Our family favourites. My goal was 60 meals, but I quickly realized that was a lofty goal. In the end, I came up with 40 meals. Enough for 8 weeks of eating when I allot 5 meals a week. I like to leave 2 days free for last minute events, trying out a new recipe and Sunday dinner at my parent’s house.
Here are the meals that made the rotation. Keep in mind that they must be simple, enjoyed by all family members and not require any weird ingredients:
- Slow Cooker BBQ Sauce Pork Chops
- Sausage and Potato Bake
- French Toast
- Chicken in basil sauce
- Balsamic Beef Roast
- Pesto pepperoni pizza
- Creamy chicken soup
- Sweet & Sour chicken and rice
- Sloppy Joe calzones
- Peanut chicken pasta
- Pesto pasta
- Fettucine Alfredo
- Balsamic almond chicken
- Chicken Cacciatore
- Baked Beans
- Sesame chicken
- Perogies & Sausage
- Melt in Your Mouth Chicken
- Hamburgers & pasta salad
- Sticky garlic chicken & broccoli
- Chicken pesto stuffed shells
- Maple pineapple ham
- Chicken satay with peanut noodles/rice
- Ramen Vegetable stirfry
- Soy sauce pork tenderloin
- Greek Chicken
- Shredded beef sandwiches
- Chicken Broccoli Alfredo
- Hamburger soup
- One pot pasta
- Chicken Fajitas
- Black Bean and Salsa Burritos
Most of these meals can be made with pantry staples, which are easy to stock up on when they’re on sale. Also, I whipped up a couple of printables for you to help you brainstorm. A “Our Favourite Meals” sheet and some recipe cards! (click on the images to get the free printables.)
Now, once I picked all 40 meals, I wrote each meal down on an index card. Sometimes I wrote the entire recipe (if it was not found online or in a cookbook). Other times I wrote the name of the meal and where the recipe could be found (Pinterest, page 3 in a cookbook…etc.) I also wrote down side suggestions and any adjustments I like to make to the recipe.
Step 3: Place them all in a recipe box/binder
Next, I placed all of the index cards in an empty recipe box that I had, in no particular order. You could place the index cards in a binder with protective sheets instead, but I liked the idea of a recipe box.
Step 4: Pull out a week’s worth of meals and place in front
Here’s where the autopilot comes into play. Since I’m only choosing 5 meals a week, I pulled out 5 random index cards and placed them in the front of the box. I put a divider card behind the five recipes so I know when I’m done for the week. Once all 5 meals are made, I rotate those index cards to the very back of the recipe box.
Step 5: Repeat Step 4 over and over!
On Sunday, when I pull out the 5 meals for the week, I also create my grocery list. I write down everything I don’t already have in the pantry/fridge/freezer.
Now, you could take this a step further and look at your store flyers first to determine which index cards you should pull out for the week according to what’s on sale. For example, I may not want to make the Balsamic Beef Roast this week because I don’t have one in the freezer and I don’t see a sale at any of my local stores. However, pork chops are on sale so I’ll make the slow cooker BBQ Sauce pork chops instead.
Does that all make sense? This system has been life changing for me! I hope it might work for you as well if you’ve been struggling with menu planning.
Have you found a menu planning system that works for you?