Plan Ahead 9 Weeks of Meals With A Menu Guide
I've mentioned before how I naturally kind of stink at cooking. But over the last few months I've had to pull it together and make food at home. My autistic son Micah has always had tummy issues so we had him on a pretty strict GAPS/SCD diet from November to January to help heal his leaky gut syndrome. This means I sometimes need to make two meals at once or just change up old habits of picking up fast food.
To make the process a little easier, I made a little menu guide that covers the rest of the family for 9 weeks at a time. We rotate the menu every two months without getting sick of eating the same things over and over. And this way I can focus my full attention on giving Micah substituted foods without worrying about what everyone else is going to eat. It was super simple to make and has saved me the headache of "What's for dinner?"
Want to try making your own? Here's how to put your own menu together...
Step 1 / Make A List of Dinner Meals
I tried to shoot for 45-50 meals that I was comfortable with and that I knew my family would eat. Being married for seven years has helped me kind of stockpile a good chunk of favorites. If you don't have that many though, you could always just rotate 5 weeks instead of 9. It's also helpful to choose meals with ingredients you're familiar with and that are easy to find.
Step 2 / Create Your Blank Menu
I did this by numbering 9 lists from 1-6 (Since we eat out for dinner once a week on date night that eliminates one night for us.) Then leave a little room at the end for listing all of your favorite sides and desserts.
Step 3 / Pair Up Like Meals
For as many meals as you can, pair them with something that has similar ingredients. Or another way to think about it would be, "What would be a great leftover meal?" For example, Fajitas one night can make great Quesadillas another night with the leftovers. Or Spiral-sliced Ham one night can become Ham & Swiss Sliders another night with the leftovers. You can also do this based on what store you're going to. Like if I'm already shopping at Trader Joe's for the special Bruschetta we like, it makes sense to make both Chicken Bruschetta Sandwiches and Bruschetta Pizza with TJ's pizza crusts that same week. Pair up as many as you can and then assign the pairings to a week on the menu.
Step 4 / Add Three Themed Nights
Every week, I plan three nights with a theme. You don't have to use mine but I'll share to get you thinking. For our themes we do one Breakfast-for-Dinner night, one Fancy Sandwich night, and one Throw-It-Together Night. That last one is just easy throw-together meals like soup, salads, nachos or casseroles. I've heard of others doing Meatless Monday or a Pizza Night on Fridays. Think up three of your own and check your master list for meals with those themes. Then pop them into the menu.
Step 5 / Add The Stragglers + Something New
At this point you should have 5 meals for each week covered (Pairing + 3 theme nights). Now go ahead and add any stragglers from your master list to the menu. I tried to think about what we might be sick of as I did this. For example if there was already three Italian-type meals in a week, I'd assign something different like Mexican food to that week. If you find any gaps left over, go ahead and write in *Try Something New.* For those days, maybe add a recipe to try from Pinterest. You might find something awesome to add to the rotation.
Step 6 / List Sides & Desserts
Our sides pretty much consist of a Vegetable/Salad/Bread so it's not hard for me to quickly add sides that would go well with the dinner meal of the week. For my menu, I just left room at the end to list out our options and then each week I pull from it when I'm planning a grocery trip. Same thing for desserts - I just list options and pull from it. Since I'm not much of a baker, we usually just do fruit for dessert (and the adults sneak some chocolate haha).
Tips For Using Your Menu
Try your best to stick to it - I try not to tell my husband what the meals of the week are before I go grocery shopping because there will usually be a "I don't feel like that one this week." I've found that so many meals I didn't feel like on grocery day actually might sound good later in the week. So it's best just to stick to the plan, be thankful there's actual food on your plate and move on. It's really hard to keep the rotation going if you mix things up too much.
Grocery shop once for the week if you can - Every once in awhile we have to go twice if we run out of ingredients early or forget something. But that extra trip always ends up with additional snacks and messing up our meals. So much money is saved just by staying out of the store!
Breakfasts & Lunches - I feel like these are so much easier to plan on the fly so they are not on my menu. If you want to get super organized though, feel free to do the exact same steps above for these meals. Some breakfast theme ideas: Smoothie Day, Oatmeal Day, Fruit Cup. Some lunch theme ideas: Soup Day, Wrap/Pita Day, Fancy Salad Day. Then just fill in with leftovers.
I hope this makes sense! Feel free to comment with questions or any meal planning tips of your own:)
Want to download my menu? Click Here.
Linking with AP Tuesdays at New Nostalgia.