How to Get Started with Menu Planning

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how-to-get-started-with-menu-planningOne of the most important budgeting tips you hear is “plan your menu.” What does that mean exactly? What meals should you plan, and what meals are okay to simply let happen? Planning your meals for the week is an important way to control your food budget and ensure you and your family eat healthy. These tips will help you create effective meal plans.

What is your eating situation?

How busy is your week? Do you have a lot of time to cook meals or are you rushed in the evening to get food on the table. Often times we rely on fast food, delivery, or prepackaged frozen meals because we simply have no time. You can cook fresh, healthy meals at home without rushing. If you have a slow cooker and a little time to plan, you can have a fast meal as soon as you walk in the door.

What is your food mood? Heavy stews are wonderful in the winter, but often we prefer lighter foods in hot weather. Bad days and rainy days sometimes have us craving comfort food. Be mindful of these shifts when you plan your menu for the week. Check the weather and check work schedules. If someone has a stressful meeting or a big test coming up that week, plan their favorite comfort food for that evening.

Map Out Your Meals

Once you understand your eating situation, map out your habits and plan for them. Sit down with your pen and paper, write out the days of the week and the meals you have to plan for. Start by recalling the meals you ate over the last two weeks. What meals tend to dominate during different parts of the week? Do not forget breakfast, lunch, and snacks as well.

Once you have your habits mapped out, you have a basic plan for a menu. Decide what changes you want to make and put your recipes together. These are your go-to meals every week. If Monday is always taco night, you will know exactly what you need. If Wednesday is always leftovers, then you know how to portion out Monday and Tuesday meals.

Collect Recipes

The danger of a planned menu is that it becomes monotonous. Once we are bored with the meals, we begin to eat out again and the menu goes by the wayside. Begin collecting other recipes and insert them into your weekly routines. This can be anything from a new crockpot variation to a new way to spice up a quick-fry fish.

Find out from others in your home what they want to try for a meal and look up easy to prepare recipes. You can start your own recipe journal. You also want a calendar just for noting your meals. This will help you avoid a boring culinary routine. If you notice that you have had pasta three days this week, you know to toss in something new.

Cook Around Themes

You do not have to do this very day of the week, but at least 2 days a week where the meals are themed is fun and predictable. You can make the themes focused on a specific type of meal, for example Friday is always homemade pizza night.

You can also make these days broad themes. Tuesday will always be Asian night, where you and your family find recipes you can create that are Asian-themed. Friday can always be Italian night, where you seek out authentic Italian recipes instead of the same pizza or spaghetti stand-by. You can also explore your own cultural culinary heritage as a theme night as well.

Do you menu plan or just wing it?

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