I hate menu planning.
But homemade, nutrient-dense meals are not just going to show up on the dinner table all by themselves. Especially during this busy season.
Actually, I should say I used to hate menu planning. I was hating it because I was making this detailed plan that, invariably, I’d deviate from, and despite dinner being served on time, I’d still feel like a failure.
I was believing the lie that the more detailed a plan I made, the more chance I had for success. But success is more often found in simple systems that are easy to put on repeat.
What I needed was a flexible plan that took minutes to make and worked no matter what the week threw at me.
That’s when I developed the:
Flexible Menu System
This system takes less than 10 minutes once a week and gives me peace of mind and space to think about other things than food (glory!). It’s just 3 1/2 steps and will surprise you with how painless it is.
1. Jot down at least three dinners that sound appetizing in the next week.
I do this on a scrap of envelope or cardboard if I can’t find a notebook. If this feels like menu planning, trick yourself and call it a Wish List. I try to choose meals that are appropriate to the season, but sometimes I just don’t feel like it. So there.
Get meal ideas from:
- recipes you’ve pinned on Pinterest
- a magazine
- a new cookbook
- your favorite eCookbook
- call a friend and hijack her menu plan (I’ve totally done this)
- Poll facebook (always eye-opening!)
2. Add a few more family favorites to your Wish List.
You know, those meals you find yourself making every week because no one complains about seeing them again and again? (Ours weekly favorites are homemade pizza, anything wrapped in a tortilla, and anything grilled).
3. Jot down 3 breakfast ideas.
That’s all you’ll need because you’re gonna eat each of them twice, and the 7th day? We’re gonna be spontaneous (Yehaw!!!)
3 1/2. (Optionally) If your lunches need to be packable, jot down 3 lunch ideas.
But if you usually eat lunch at home–you get to skip this step! Lunches will be leftovers, mkay?
OK, that’s it. You just made a week’s meal plan. In less than 10 minutes. And you still have brains cells left. You gotta love it.
What’s that? That doesn’t look like much of a plan? Ahh, you see it’s enough–the rest is in the execution…
How to Execute your Flexible Menu System
Once a Week:
- Think through each meal and jot down the ingredients you need to buy in order to create that meal. If you have a robust pantry and freezer, you may only need an item or two to complete each meal. If you haven’t shopped in a while, well then, it’s a good thing you’re making this list, right?
- Go shopping and buy the stuff you need for the meals you’re in the mood for. Add or replace items in your cart if you see a good sale. The key is to be let your list guide but not bind you!
- Bring Food Home. (Elementary, I know.) If you bought fresh meat, check the expiration date and toss it in the freezer if you don’t think you’ll be in the mood for it before the expiration date.
OK, now comes the most important part of being a free-spirited meal planner: for just 6 minutes each day, you will have to think ahead. Just 6 min. and then we can go back to being spontaneous as larks, OK? And this 6 min. is divided in two parts, so I know we can do it.
- First 3 Minutes: As you’re making breakfast each morning, look at your day and make an educated guess how much time you’ll have to prep dinner, and what meal from your Wish List fits the day’s mood and meal requirements. Once you’ve decided, do one small thing to help prepare for that meal, like pulling meat out of the fridge, making salad dressing, or starting some dough to soak or rise. I’ve found that if I think about dinner just a little bit in advance and do just a teensy bit of advance preparation, the task of getting it on the table is much more natural and less stressful. It sometimes even feels fun. You’ve been warned.
- Second 3 minutes: As you’re cleaning up dinner, decide what you feel like for breakfast the next morning. Again, do one small thing to facilitate that meal before you leave the kitchen–setting pantry ingredients out, soaking grains, or even just setting the table. When you wake the next morning the hardest part of breakfast (trying to decide what to make while you’re still asleep) will be past you. It’s a feeling nearly as good as that first sip of coffee (or so I imagine, as non-coffee drinker).
If you’ll take 10 min. a week to quickly brainstorm a few meal ideas, shop with a list, and incorporate just 6 minutes of forethought into each day, you will be setting yourself up for success in feeding your family well, and nobody got carpal tunnel from endless list making. Glory.
Do you think this flexible plan would work for you? Give it a try by listing 3 dinner ideas real fast in the comments. You’ll inspire my next menu planning session (thanks!), and maybe find something to add to your Wish List this week!
This post is an excerpt from my book Your Real Food Journey. If you like this simple system for streamlining your kitchen, you’ll love the rest of the book! Grab yours on Kindle or in full color paperback (qualifies for Amazon Prime free shipping!). Makes great Christmas gifts, too. 😉