|The Pioneer Woman: Chipotle Steak Salad|
Getting dinner on the table can sometimes feel like an impossible feat. It can bring a lot of stress to that 5 o'clock hour if I don't have a plan already in place. Menu planning has helped me to gain some peace and enjoy getting a meal prepared for my family.
Menu planning saves time, energy and money. It also helps you to stay healthy. Basically, it's just setting aside some time in your week to plan ahead of time what your menu will be.
Here are some benefits:
1. It's a money saver.
You can plan your menu around your grocery store sale ads and any coupons you have on hand.
2. It's a time and sanity saver.
No more frantically digging through your pantry at 5pm trying to figure out what to make for dinner because you've already figured out the menu ahead of time.
3. It helps you to stay healthy.
When you take time to plan you end up making better food choices. Plus, with a plan, you put an end to unintentional ordering out or hitting the drive-thru for dinner.
4. You can actually enjoy cooking now.
Since you've taken the time to plan ahead you've chosen meals that you and your family like, so cooking becomes less of a burden.
5. You can finally try some new recipes.
Planning ahead has enabled you to grab a new recipe or two and add them into your weekly menu.
6. No more dreading the grocery store.
When you plan you create a grocery list based on your menu items and you know exactly what you need. No more wandering the aisles trying to figure out what to get.
So, how do you get started?
There's lots of info out there about menu planning, but here's how I do it:
1. Take inventory.
Check to see what you have on hand in your pantry, fridge, and freezer that you can build a meal around. Especially take note of any perishable items.
2. Review your grocery store ad.
Circle any items of interest that are on sale this week. Incorporate those items into your menu planning.
3. Grab your coupons.
Coupons will give you more bang for your buck if they can be paired with a grocery store sale.
Item on sale in your grocery store + coupon for that same item = more $ in your pocket.
4. Create a menu.
Based on what you already have on hand and the sale items you plan to purchase at the store, you can create your menu plan for the week.
4. Get some inspiration.
Is chicken on sale this week at your local market? And, you have cans of tomatoes in your pantry? Grab your cookbooks or go online and search for recipes that utilize those ingredients. You already know what you have on hand and what's on sale at the grocery store. So, if you're stuck in a rut and tired of serving up the same old dishes, take that info and get some fresh inspiration using these tools.
6. Get your family involved.
Ask them what they would like for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. My husband leaves the meal planning up to me as he is very easy going and will eat anything. But, it helps me to ask him every now and then when I am just out of ideas. Plus asking the kids helps them to be involved and take ownership of the meals. We all get into a rut, so it helps to get those in your home involved.
7. Make a list and shop.
Based on the menu you created, make a list of items you need at the grocery, grab your coupons and shop. You'll find you spend less time in the store now that you have a specific list. And, when you get home you'll know that you have everything that you need for a week's worth of meals, instead of spending a whole lot of money only to get home and still not be sure what you're making for dinner.
8. Write down the menu and display it.
For me it feels like a great accomplishment to actually write down my menu for the entire week. I write it on a dry erase board on my refrigerator for me and my family to see. Looking at that just gives me a sense of relief that no matter what's going on this week, at least I know the answer to that dreaded question...what's for dinner?
8. Be flexible!
You don't have to be locked into your plan. Just because you have lasagna written down for Sunday doesn't mean you have to stick to that for that day. The bottom line is you have the ingredients on hand in your pantry for 7 dinners. If you feel like having lasagna tonight instead, then go for it. Also remember to factor in your schedule and what you have going on each night when planning your menu. If your kids have karate on Monday nights, that's not the night to plan an elaborate meal. Try a crockpot meal or sandwiches and leave the more involved meals for nights that you don't have anything going on.
When should you do this?
If you're just starting this habit, then just plan a menu for one week at a time. Choose a time in your weekly schedule that you can sit down and plan for about 30-60 minutes and use these basic guidelines to create your menu for the week.
I think you'll find that putting the time in to plan ahead will definitely benefit you and your family each day as you prepare and enjoy great meals together.
And that sure brings some peace in the midst of your mess!
Need some inspiration to get started?
Here are some easy, yummy recipes that I've tried from the web.
Just click on each to get started.
(So good for a weekend.)
(An easy one for a busy day.)
(I add cumin and black beans for more flavor and serve with tortilla chips...so yummy and has gotten me rave reviews!)
(You can leave out the BOC for an easy, yummy, basic biscuit recipe using ingredients that you probably already have in your pantry. I sub butter for the shortening.)
(An easier, healthier take on the basic baked mac and cheese with out losing any of the comfort food factor. Such good flavor...we love it!)
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