I’m a big proponent of family dinner – at the dinner table – every night. We all lead extremely busy lives. Between school, work, sports, boy scouts, pets and maintaining a home, sometimes putting a meal on the table seems impossible – but it doesn’t have to be. In my opinion, the #1 tool to enable a family dinner every night is a menu plan.
I’ve shared my menu plans on and off for a few years here – and I should share more – because I feel this is one of the most important tools we have in our arsenal. By planning out a week or two in advance, even a month, you can have a solid idea of not only what is for dinner each night, but also what to buy at the grocery each week. There is nothing worse than not only trying to figure out what to have for dinner, but then making a decision only to find you don’t have half the ingredients. The menu plan combats ALL of this.
So here are my tips for menu planning.
- Set aside time to do it. I plan 30 days at a time, which helps me make sure I’m not repeating things too much, but also lets me experiment just enough to keep it interesting.
- Don’t over-plan for the time you have available. We have Boyscouts on Mondays and usually Tuesday and Thursday are sports practice/games. I add these things to my menu calendar as I plan so I know to plan a quick easy meal for those nights.
- The menu is flexible and available for family input/changes until I shop for the week. I always shop on the weekend so everyone knows to make any changes for the following week by Friday before.
- Use a menu board or physical calendar to post the menu. While its convenient to have it in your phone or on your Google calendar, its not front and center in the kitchen each day.
- Each night, after dishes and before bed, look to see what’s for dinner the next day. Take the meat/protein out of the freezer if needed and put it on a platter in the fridge for a slow and safe thaw.
- Cook once, eat twice, or more. When you have the time to cook, make a large batch and freeze some, or at least put some away for leftovers for lunches or dinner another night that week. If I’m planning a meal that i know will have leftovers, I put leftovers on the calendar for the next night or the night after. If we have leftovers that I wasn’t planning on, or if I made an extra-large batch, I freeze them to be a quick meal on a night I just can’t get something else done. Your freezer is your best friend when it comes to great meals in a jiffy. Soups and casseroles freeze well and can be thrown in the oven or reheated quickly on the stove.
- Be flexible. There are nights when everything falls apart. I’m sick, one of the kids are sick – or a work deadline crops up that impedes your time to cook. While our goal is a family meal on the table every night, pulling soup out of the freezer or having a bowl of cereal is NOT unheard of.
- Get the kids involved. Have them take 1 night per week or per month and pick a recipe and get their ingredients on the grocery list. There’s no rule that says ONLY mom cooks around here.
If you have tips that help keep evenings moving smoothly around your home, we’d love to hear them. Share below or on Facebook!