Monday, September 10, 2012

7 Steps to Weekly Menu Planning

Honestly, I geek out on menu planning a little bit. Looking at all the pretty pictures, pinning the good ones, planning a full menu and mapping out a shopping scheme is like the perfect intersection between a creative outlet and an exercise in control.

It took me a while to start menu planning for dinners, and I get why it feels so daunting. The research and the planning seem intimidating and time-consuming. There’s good stuff on Bravo to watch. And there’s good carry out in town. Why would you menu plan?

If that’s your mindset, I challenge you to try menu planning for one week and see if the food is better and the planning, shopping and cooking take less time than shopping daily and spending time trying to come up with an idea on the fly for dinner. And we know it should cost you less than carry out. To get you in gear, here are seven steps to help you get organized and motivated.

Write down complete menus (main + sides) that your family already likes

A list on a phone showing main dishes plus side dishes that take little time


That way,  if you’re ever stuck for an idea, you can trust your go-to’s. Even write down your “fastest dinners.” In my case, a “fastest dinner” is something like store-bought rotisserie chicken, garlic bread and salad. I find the best place to store a list like “fastest dinners” is on the phone for handy ideas in the store.



Have recipe sources and apps at the ready 

Picture of a weekly menu planning paper pad and a recipe app called Paprika


To plan, you may need some new, good recipe sources. My personal favorite is, in particular their Dinner Tonight feature, which has 45-minute healthy menus with main dishes plus sides. You also need a way to document your menu. Writing it down makes you more committed to the process! I buy these weekly pads (at left) from the dollar bins at Target and use them to jot down meal ideas.

If you want to take your game up a notch, I highly recommend (and am obsessed with) an app called Paprika, which is a recipe browsing, storage and weekly meal planning tool. It functions as a universal recipe box, allowing you to grab recipes from pretty much anywhere, save them, add them to weekly menus and even pull the ingredients into a shopping list. Brilliant app! Well worth the $4.99 price tag.

Plan dinners that work for your household schedule

If you know you won’t be home all day, marinate in the morning so you can grill quickly at dinner time. Or if you know you need to run kids to a team practice at 5pm, plan something like a slow cooker chicken tortilla soup that can be ready when you are.

Write down your menus for the week and plan the shopping list

If you want to be hard core and really streamline your grocery shopping, make your list according to the categories and layout of your store. As you write your list, group it by dairy, cleaning items, produce, etc. so that you don’t miss anything as you move through the aisles.

Do one substantial shop per week if it can yield at least three dinners

To make your shopping trip work harder for you, think about prep-once-make-twice options such as pork tenderloin, flank steak or boneless, skinless chicken breasts. For example, if you’re marinating those items, prep one quantity to cook now and put the rest in a bag with marinade to freeze for another time. The marinated "Unbelievable Chicken" and Asian Flank Steak from earlier Weekly Menus would work well.

Get your pantry stocked with staples 

A display of flavorful pantry staples to have for cooking, like sesame oil, maple syrup and canned tomatoes


Think about the 5-10 meals your family tends to enjoy most and make sure you’re stocked up with key ingredients. You’ll find those ingredients will tend to be the flavor and texture powerhouses like sesame oil, brown sugar, diced canned tomatoes, balsamic vinegar, brown rice or quinoa, maple syrup and soy sauce.




Challenge yourself to try something new

Even though you may have those 5-10 favorite dinners in rotation, try one new thing per week. If you’re working with picky eaters, try a variation on something they already like. For example, if your family likes spaghetti and meatballs, try something like Greek Pasta with Meatballs.

Are you up to the challenge?? Please tell us what’s on your menu plan this week!

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