“Save It” with Menu Planning


It’s 4:30pm, what are you having for dinner?  If you have no clue, then you could benefit from menu planning.  My house is busy and full of activity from 3-6pm. Trying to come up with dinner ideas and prepping for it during these hours only creates more chaos and stress.   Menu planning has given me freedom while my family benefits from the nutritious and delicious meals I prepare!

Most people groan when they hear menu planning…”Takes too much time, “I can’t plan ahead like that,” or my all-time favorite excuse, “Nah, I like to be spontaneous!”

For me, taking 20 minutes or less a week to plan 7 dinners doesn’t sound as painful as the panic I feel when I have 3 hungry boys and a husband waiting for dinner and I STILL don’t know what to serve.

Plus, let me tell you about the grocery bill when I’ve run to the store at 4pm searching for dinner ideas or the bill from throwing in the towel and going out to eat!  Ouch!

Honestly, menu planning is a gift from above!  I haven’t always been a menu planner.  But, in order to save money, streamline my shopping, lessen the waste of expired food and give my days more time, I have become a devoted menu planner.

Now, there are weeks when we don’t stick to the plan because of unforeseen obligations or an invite to friends’ house, but it’s okay…that’s called spontaneity!  You need to be flexible and adaptable in your planning.  In the end, it’s always better to have a plan than not.

The first step in menu planning is taking stock of what’s in your pantry, freezer and refrigerator.   Then, look at the grocery ads on Wednesday to see what’s on sale.

From all those resources, then you plan your meals.   Allrecipes.com is a great place if you suffer from “menu creativity”!

You can type in your ingredients and the website will come up with different meals using those ingredients!  If this is your first time planning, think about your family’s favorite meals and start with those.  Eventually, you’ll break out of the norm and start experimenting with new dishes.  I’ve  event evolved toplanning breakfasts now!

The next step is to look at your calendar and plan meals according to your activities.  Leftover night is best when you’re too busy to do any prep while a quick and easy meal works when the kids have soccer practice. I should also mention the benefits of preparing healthy meals vs. eating out or having prepackaged foods all the time.  Meal planning gives you the opportunity to create well-balanced, healthful dinners without much effort!

Once you have a rough idea of your 7 meals, make a grocery list.  Check the Sunday inserts, Coupons.com, Smartsource.com, or Redplum.com for coupons.  Then head to the store for ONLY what is on your list.

Stick to your list and you will see huge savings!  I encourage you to be creative with what’s already in your pantry and freezer first before heading to the stores…you may surprise yourself and your wallet!

My middle son always asks, “What’s for dinner?”  So I created a Menu Plan Board (pictured) from a 12″ x 12″ frame with glass.  With a dry erase marker, I write each week’s plan on the glass.  It washes off with a wet towel!  Having the board not only tells my family what dinner will be but it also makes me accountable to my planning.  When it’s right there in black and white, you can’t ignore it!

Today, cooking dinner for my family is no longer a chore instead it’s something I enjoy!  Every morning I automatically know what I need to prep…defrost the chicken, plug in the crock pot or relax since it is leftover night!  Menu planning is a great way to; save money, reduce wasted food, gain some control in your life, provide healthy, well-balanced meals and give you more time in the day.  C’mon, who wouldn’t want all those things?

Here’s my menu plan for this week:

Sunday: Creamy Chicken & Rice Soup, cottage cheese and toast

Monday: Bean and Cheese Burritos, chips and salsa, cheesy broccoli

Tuesday: Lasagna, kale & cabbage salad, mandarin oranges

Wednesday: Taco Fritters, applesauce, carrots and ranch

Thursday: Leftover Buffet

Friday: Dinner out

Saturday: Cheddar Ranch Hamburgers, tater tots, nectarines

Want a chance to WIN a menu-plan board like the one in the picture?  Scroll down to the “Comments” section and either leave a comment or share your own menu plan for this week (it’s always fun to share and see new ideas!) and your name will be added to the random drawing.  Winner announced in next week’s blog!

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Erin Eisenman-Turner is proud to be a native Missoulian.  Along with her husband and three sons, they raise chickens, pigs, rabbits, and vegetables at Turner Family Farms in the Orchard Homes area. When the farm chores are done, the coupons clipped and the blog written, you can find Erin exploring Montana, collecting antiques and trying to maintain a well-run, happy and organized home for her family.