As homeschooling moms we have a lot of regular tasks that take our time and energy but they are necessary, so we have to do them. Through the 19 years of homeschooling and homemaking, however, I have tried to simplify and streamline these tasks so that they take up less of my time and energy. One of these tasks is menu planning. It is a particularly difficult task for our family as we have special diets and palates that don't always combine well. I have two children who can't have casein (milk protein) or gluten. My husband has been a vegetarian for years. Most of my kids are picky eaters, only liking American-style foods and I crave variety and foreign dishes. One of my kids won't eat anything that is mixed together, like a casserole. And then there is the issue of getting the most for your money. What solutions have I found through the years? How do I accomplish the task of menu planning?
- First I would suggest that you get a blank calendar page to make up a master monthly menu. Most of us tend to eat the same dishes over and over again, so I have found that you can pretty much get everything you like to eat in a one to two month master plan as people tend to eat the same things over and over each month or two, with a few variations.
- At the top of each column, instead of the usual "Sunday...Monday...etc" write categories for the things that your family likes to eat. An example may be: 1) chicken, 2) hamburger, 3) Pasta, 4) Crockpot (in winter) or Salads (in summer), 5) New or Occasional dishes (which would include holidays), 6) Fish or Beef and 7) Pork. You could make the categories anything you like, however, customizing it to your family's tastes. My family likes to eat tacos more than anything else and I have found that they like me to serve it once a week! So, one of my categories is just Tacos.
- Now, begin filling in the chart with your family's favorites. Some categories will be easy to fill up and others might take a little more work. You might even find that you need to change the category headings as you see where your family's favorite recipes fit.
- Once you chart is almost finished, you will see that there are gaps here and there. You can fill them with new recipes you would like to try. This is where Pinterest, blogs that you like or a menu planning system, like Build a Menu, comes in handy. Build a Menu has lots of really great tasting recipes and has them in categories which include Dine on a Dime, Family Friendly, Low Carb, Low Fat/Sensible Portions, either just Gluten Free or Allergy Friendly, which all have no gluten, dairy or nuts, Vegetarian, Clean Eating, Slow Cooker, Grill-A-Meal and Trim Healthy Mama. You could even use these categories at your header categories in your own personal master monthly menu. You can pick from any or all of the categories each week, so you are not stuck with one type of meal. There is even a "Cheat and Eat" option for breakfast and lunch which is just an option to include items that don't need a recipe, such as a frozen pizza or a box of cereal to your menu. When I reviewed Build a Menu previously, the only thing I didn't like about the program was the fact that there wasn't a way to add in your own recipes, but now Build a Menu has added a new feature in which you can add your own recipes!
- Make a shopping list based on your menu choices. If you do this step once, then you can use the same menu and shopping list over and over again without any additional work. You can do this entirely on your own or you can use a use an online menu planning system to help you with this step. I have found Build a Menu a lifesaver on this as well. The program has a built in shopping list generator. As you pick the recipes, it automatically generates a shopping list with estimated costs, divided into categories for easy shopping. And now, your own recipes will be added to the shopping list as well as the menu, so you should know exactly what you will be spending! The shopping list shows you what recipe each item is used for and it computes your shopping list in such a way that if you need a half an onion for one recipe and another half an onion for another recipe, the shopping list will reflect one onion. This saves money and waste. I have found the cost estimates to be very accurate. In this way, you can adjust your menu to fit not only your family's tastes and preferences, but also your budget. If the total is running too high, just switch out a more expensive dish with a less expensive dish, until you meet your budget.
- And so now you have a month or two of meal plans that you know your family will eat and you know what you will be spending on them. All you have to do is add in any special occasions that come up the week you are shopping, that might influence your menu, such as holidays or birthdays. You now have a menu that you don't spend a lot of time creating each week that fits your budget!
And if you are convinced that Build a Menu can help you with your menu planning, you might want to hop over there right now because they have a sale going on in which you can get a 12-month access to their program for only $35!