Remembering how to menu plan
As the end of the school semester drew near, the holidays drew near, the end of the year drew near, I stopped menu planning. I just never took the time to sit down and write out meals – there were always other things I thought I should be doing.
We still ate just fine – Simplified Dinners means a slip up in the menu planning process doesn’t throw me for much of a loop. We had our standard supplies in the pantry and I just made whatever I could with whatever meat I could remember to thaw (or used the tuna or an egg meal if I had forgotten).
But running life without a menu plan is not ideal. It’s not how I want to do things. The truth is, without a menu plan, dinner-making is more exhausting, even when there’s plenty of food to pull meals together. It’s about decision-fatigue. At the end of the day, I want the decisions about dinner already made for me, because I don’t have much energy or attention left over to give it.
So, I sat down during our Christmas break and planned out six week’s worth of meals in one fell swoop. We homeschool and have 6-week terms and then a week off, so I planned meals through our next term and during our next break, I can dedicate another forty-five minutes to planning out the next 6 week’s worth of dinners.
This process was made quicker for me because I use Google calendar for menu planning, but you can use whatever way you prefer.
Here’s how I did it.
How to menu plan 6 weeks at a time.
- Take stock of what’s in your freezer already. I had a ham, some pork, and beef soup bones in addition to the chicken breasts and frozen meatballs I usually have.
- Fill in any special days coming up: birthdays, eating out, friends over – if you already have plans on certain days, mark those.
- Decide on some standard day-of-the-week dinners. We do chicken on Mondays. I can do chicken a lot of ways, but every Monday morning, I know I need to go grab some chicken out of the basement freezer. Wednesdays are crockpot days at our house. Assign a certain type of meal to some of the days of the week.
- Fill in variations those assigned dinner types for the next six weeks. If you spread out your different options for chicken or crockpot dinners, you’ll not feel like you’re cooking and eating the same thing every week.
- Start filling in other dinner options. Think about how much time or energy is usually left by the end of the day on certain days of the week. What days are you more likely to feel like cooking and what days are good for pulling out the frozen meatballs? I usually alternate weeks on some meals – Tuesday one week might be a tortilla meal and then rice the next. Planning in six weeks chunks helps make rotations like that simpler to plan.
- Make sure you plan the vegetable and side if you need one as well as the main dish. See my post on Menu Planning: Think in Threes for more about planning a complete meal.
Each and every dinner will not happen as planned for the next six weeks, but the plan is in place so that I don’t have to think about it anymore. If I need a dinner plan, there’s one on my calendar. If I feel like getting creative, I can just move the dinner to another day or simply delete that day’s plan. But having the plan in place means I don’t have to panic at 4pm that I had forgotten to think about dinner.
And that’s why I did it.