How to plan a menu

So you’re convinced that you need a menu plan but don’t know where to start, huh? Or, you’ve been menu planning for ages but just know there must be a better way, right? I’m not going to say that I’ve decided the perfect way to plan a menu, but I will say that I’ve found what works for us. Here’s how it works in our house:

1) Decide what meats you plan to serve. You can base this off of what you have available in the freezer, what’s on sale at the store, or just what you feel like eating. We are pretty frugal so we base it around what’s already at the house and what’s cheap at the store this week. Generally we have pork loin, ground beef, and chicken.

2) Find recipes that fit with your meat choices. In this house we are careful to only use recipes that don’t have specialty ingredients that will only be used for one dish. We make exceptions on occasion and have found some real winners that now line our pantry (i.e. balsamic vinegar and sweet chili sauce), but we’ve also discovered a few things that we hate (the rest of the world may love it, but coarse ground Dijon mustard will NEVER again come into this house!)

Don’t be afraid to experiment some, we usually have at least one new recipe a week (mostly because I get bored cooking the exact same things over and over again.) We also have at least one cheat meal (a quick and easy meal that can replace any other meal during the week.)

I like to have a good stockpile of recipes that our family loves, and I organize them in my control journal according to the type of protein used. It saves me so much time to have all my recipes arranged that way all in one centralized location. When I find a new recipe on the internet that I want to try, I bookmark it in a folder labeled for its main protein. I can’t tell you how convenient it is for me to organize this way! I don’t have to sift through twenty chicken recipes to find that one pork recipe I am looking for, I just open up the pork folder and there it is!

3) After deciding on recipes its time to plan. Do you have days where your cooking time is minimal? Plan a crockpot meal that day. Do you have a special feast day for your family? We like to do something special on Fridays, sometimes that means a full seven course meal, sometimes that means pigging out on nachos and hot dogs, plan accordingly! If you homeschool plan around any large projects that may be coming up. No one wants to spend hours helping with a project just to turn around and spend the rest of the day in the kitchen. Plan your meals around your life, not your life around your meals! Be sure and make a back up copy, I can’t tell you how many times my menu plan has been used by a toddler to sop up spilled milk!

4) Make your grocery list. Start by making a master list of everything that you will need for every recipe. Even if you think you have it, write it down so you can double check yourself. be sure and write down how much you need. If you have three recipes that call for a whole onion, don’t just write down onions, write three onions so you know exactly how much you need.

Now that your master list is done, check your pantry, fridge, and freezer. If you have the items needed, cross them out. As you find the items be sure and set them in a special place, like the front of the pantry or the top of the freezer so they will be easy to find when you do need them!

5) Go shopping! Be sure and either pre-approve take out with your husband, throw something in the crockpot, or designate another member of the house as chef for the day before you leave. You may come home ready to rock, or it may be one of those days where nothing went as planned and you are absolutely exhausted when you finally make it back home. Sit back and relax and enjoy the fruits of your labor!

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