Menu plans. I have a love-hate relationship with them.
They’re so handy to have, but I often don’t take the time to make one for the week until it’s already past 6:00 on Monday evening and I’m scrambling for quick dinner ideas.
After one too many Monday evening “panics”, I realized I needed a new plan. I needed a menu plan that I could use over and over again. A meal plan with enough variety to please the entire family and enough flexibility to work even when a week gets crazy. So I scrapped the weekly menu plan altogether in favor of a revolving four-week menu plan.
Not only would a revolving menu plan eliminate the weekly Monday panic, it would help provide greater variety. Though I don’t try to, my natural tendency is to over-serve my personal favorites, like tacos (with fresh tortillas), and neglect others meals altogether.
Joshua rarely complains, but one evening he asked what was for dinner. When I happily told him tacos, I noticed a slight sigh as he said, “Oh? That’s what I thought.” Apparently tacos were making themselves all too frequent guests on the dinner menu.
If you’re like me and want the structure of a menu plan but never manage to get one in place before dinnertime on Monday, here are a few tips to create your own revolving monthly (or six week) meal plan. A meal plan that works for your family.
List Your Family’s Favorite Recipes
Jot down all the meals your family regularly enjoys. Check with your husband and kiddos to make sure you haven’t missed any favorites recipes.
You’ll likely have way more than enough recipes for four weeks. That’s a good thing.
Think Through Your “Normal” Week
Life fluctuates constantly, but what does a normal week look like for your family?
- Do you have regular dinner events?
- How often do you eat out?
- Host company?
- Does your husband work late consistently?
- Do you have late afternoon events that necessitate crockpot or freezer meals?
- What about church/school/work potlucks?
As I asked myself these questions, I realized the flaw with most my meal planning: it didn’t accurately reflect our weeks.
Since we are usually gone at least one evening each week and I know Joshua would love for me to try new recipes more often, my master plan should reflect that. Instead of planning out seven meals each week, all I needed was five… with a generous list of alternates and extra ideas in case I happen to not have time or ingredients to prepare one of the meals listed.
We also have friends and family over regularly so tried to include one or two meals each week that could very easily be turned into a company dinner.
Organize Your Meals
Once you’ve created your master list of meals and thought through your family’s normal dinner needs, it’s time for the fun part: organizing your meals.
Of course, your family preferences will determine how you divide up your meals, but I picked our favorites from the master list and roughly divided mine into these categories: Mexican, Italian/Eastern, Fish, Chicken, and Vegetarian.
Place seasonal or extra meal ideas onto a back-up/alternate list.
Create an “Easy Alternates” List
Instead of putting the simplest meals (like Breakfast for Dinner, Spaghetti, etc.) into the regular rotation, create a separate list of “Easy Alternates” for those nights when all of life seems to conspire to keep you out of the kitchen until melt-down time and you need something quick and speedy to put on the table.
Test and Tweak Your Menu
Once you’ve created your master monthly menu, test it out. Maybe a few of the recipes will need to be swapped or dropped altogether, or maybe you need to add in an extra week or two to better incorporate all your favorites, but once you have a master menu to work from, making a few tweaks is simple.
Do you use a menu plan? (If you, like me, love looking at friend’s menu plans, you’re in luck! I’ll be sharing mine next week.)