Even though I’m a registered dietitian (and develop recipes for a living!), I have struggled to start, and follow my own family menu plan. I hope my confession gives you a bit of peace of mind, knowing you’re certainly not alone in this struggle! Creating a menu plan can feel overwhelming and stressful as a busy parent, especially when you don’t know where or how to start. Over the last few years I’ve found my menu planning groove, by keeping it simple and doable. I’m going to share my process with you!
Menu planning doesn’t have to be overwhelming or stressful
The truth is, a good weekly menu plan can save your sanity and make your life a lot easier. We all know this! There’s nothing worse than coming home from work or daily outings without a dinner plan then scrambling to figure something out last minute, with hungry kids crawling up your legs. Right?! Menu planning can also save your family quite a bit of money and cut down significantly on food waste. And if better balance (nutritionally speaking) is part of your new 2022 goals, menu planning almost always results in more balanced meals.
To make things more realistic and attainable for myself and my family, I’ve decided to make things really, really simple — no fancy templates or complex, gourmet recipes here! Just a realistic plan that I can stick to and that makes sense for my family and lifestyle (which is a bit chaotic these days with 3 kids in 4 different activities!).
Here are my 3 keys to successful menu planning:
Only plan supper meals:
Yep, you read that right! Forget about planning out the entire week of meals and snacks—that’s too much (and a lot of pressure to try to stick to!). Breakfasts tend to be simpler and more repetitive (in our house it’s usually oatmeal, eggs or smoothies), and lunches tend to be easy — leftovers from dinner, or easy options like sandwiches, wraps or finger-food lunches (here are some school lunch ideas for you to try).
Instead, focus on dinners only, because they’re generally the more time consuming and labour intensive of the meals. And they can usually spill over to future meals (like lunches or leftovers throughout the week). Once you’ve mastered suppers, you can venture into other meals if you’d like — or not!
When it comes to recipes, think SIMPLE:
As tempting as it is to buy a new stack of beautiful cookbooks and spend a fortune on expensive ingredients that you’ll only use once, keep it simple. Forget the fancy, complicated recipes and focus more on easy, nutritious, quick meals that your family loves. I have a collection of simple, healthy and kid-friendly recipes that I rotate through, and you can start your own too! My website is a great place to start because I’ve tested these recipes over and over again with my own kids! But there are many wonderful websites out there with great recipes, and fantastic cookbooks too. Here are a few to get you started:
Keep the recipes that you find in one place so they’re easy to retrieve, whether that’s a document on your computer or a file folder of printed recipes — organize them in a way that makes sense for you!
Some families find it helpful to choose a daily theme for recipes, so Mondays are Meatless Mondays and Tuesdays are Taco Tuesdays, One-pot Wednesdays, and so on and so forth. Doing this provides a bit of a template for your menu, which can simplify things. I’m a big fan of one-pot meals because they’re not only easy, but don’t require a lot of cleanup, which is key! I also like to choose recipes that make for good leftovers that freeze well. Which brings us to the next tip…
Batch Cook (and Repurpose)
I never plan to eat a meal only once (if that makes sense). I always think ahead and plan to eat it at least three times, or repurpose one part of it for another meal later in the week. For example, if one night we have barbecue chicken breasts with veggies and quinoa, I will cook two or three times as many chicken breasts as we need and plan on making things like barbecue chicken pizza, chicken fajitas or chicken fried rice and veggies with the leftovers throughout the week. If we’re making spaghetti, I’ll make a triple batch of sauce and freeze two thirds of it for future meals. If you spend the time cooking, you may as well make extras!
See… menu planning doesn’t have to be daunting if you simplify things and take the pressure off. When you focus on one meal to start (supper), choose easy, nutritious recipes and try to get the most out of each meal, you’ll find that meal planning is easier than you thought, and much more helpful than you ever imagined!