Menu Planning

As you probably would have guessed, I like to plan my menus ahead of time. This is probably my most hated task of all the household things I have to do. (That and making homemade baby food.) I used to do it week by week, then I increased to month by month, then every 90 days. Finally, one day, I decided to make a year-long rotating menu that will last forever. It’s wonderful. The task of making it was tedious and stressful, since menu planning takes a LOT of thought and concentration. However, once that terrible 6 hours was over, I had a wonderful menu that I never ever have to worry about again.

Here’s how I did it:

I started by making categories of each sort of meal that I make. My categories are: Soups, Grill, Homestyle chicken, homestyle beef, sandwiches and wraps, Mexican, Italian, and miscellaneous. Then under each category, I listed all the meals that I make. For example: Mexican – chicken enchiladas, steak fajitas, stuffed quesadillas, tacos, tostados, etc; Italian – chicken parmesan, lasagna, pizza, spaghetti, ziti, calzones, etc; Sandwiches & wraps – turkey bacon ranch sandwiches, BLT wraps, grilled sausage sandwiches, club sandwiches, shredded chicken sandwiches, etc; Homestyle beef – meatloaf, pot roast, tator tot casserole, cheeseburger calzones, etc. When I had everything listed, I assigned each category a day of the week. (I combined the homestyle chicken and beef and split both categories over 2 days to help my schedule work for me better.)

Sunday- Soup (winter)/ Grill (summer)

Monday- Sandwich/wrap night

Tuesday- Homestyle

Wednesday- Leftovers/misc

Thursday- Mexican

Friday- Italian

Saturday- Homestyle/misc

Once I had my days assigned, I could fill in my calendar. I just made a table in Microsoft Word that has 7 columns and 52 rows, rather than a regular calendar with numbers. This is because the dates change every year, and this way I don’t have to go in and retype the numbers every year. (I keep the finished product in a sheet protector on my fridge, so I can write with dry erase the dates to keep them straight if I need to.)

Filling in the calendar:

Here’s the hard part. I wanted a menu that was varied, and that I could use leftovers in other meals that week. This is the part that took a LOT of time and planning. On my list of meals, I notated each dinner that I could make with leftovers (i.e. chicken noodle soup with leftover chicken, my sausage sandwiches use leftover sausage and cheese from calzones, steaks on the grill, then steak fajitas a few nights later). Then, I looked at the meals I could make before that to provide the leftovers needed.

I filled in the homestyle meals first, since these are usually completely from scratch. I go right down the column, filling in all the meals from my list, rotating beef and chicken and other. Then, I fill in other meals around it that I need leftovers for. Finally, I go down each column, filling in all my meals for each day/category. Once I had all the meals filled in, I had 10 weeks of dinners planned. Since I didn’t have exactly 10 meals in each category, I also added a few *night off*, *improvise*, or *try new recipe* dinners sprinkled in. Then, I took those ten weeks and copied and pasted to fill in the whole year (with the exception of Sunday, which is different seasonally).

So, once this was all done, I had a years worth of menus planned. 10 weeks is about the perfect rotation for us, because we aren’t eating the same thing every week, so when everything comes around, it has always been a while since I made it and it sounds good again. Every January, I go in and add new recipes I’ve tried throughout the year that we’d like to add to the rotation, and sometimes take out old recipes that we no longer seem to like much. (I made beef stroganoff for about 3 years before I figured out that nobody really liked it and we were all just tolerating it. 🙂 It got replaced by a new favorite, the cheeseburger calzones.)

Here’s an example of one of my weeks (the L means make leftovers and the U means use leftovers)

Steak (L), baked potatoes, corn on the cob

Hot dog & cheese wraps

Roast chicken w/mashed potatoes (L)

Improvise

Steak Fajitas (U)

w/ refried beans

Calzones (L)

Creamed chicken over biscuits (U)

w/peas & carrots

I usually only put the main course and maybe a side on the menu, but I also usually serve vegetables and/or fruits with it, depending on what’s in season or on sale.

Like I said before, this is a lot of work to make, but once it is done, it is pretty much done forever. It was one of the best uses of my time yet. Every night, we know what is for dinner and we know that we have the things we need to make it. This plan also helps me save money, because I know that leftovers are going to be eaten and not thrown away. And some things don’t use all of a package, like I don’t need a whole tomato for a few BLT wraps, but since we are having tacos that Thursday, I know it won’t go to waste. I also save money by knowing how much of something I need to buy when it goes on sale. I know how many cans of black beans I will use in the next few months, so I can buy enough to get us to the next sale, without worrying that they will sit in the cabinet and expire.

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