People often ask me for help planning out meals. "Can you give me some meal ideas?" they ask. My preference is to walk them through the PROCESS of creating menus so they can do it for themselves. There is no way I could plan out a day, week or month's worth of menus that would 100% suit a person's preferences, desires and needs. That is why the process is so important.
Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.
— Chinese Proverb
Here is the simple 5-step process that I personally use in my own home to create dinner menus. I do this once per week.
- Take a look at your schedule for the week. What nights will you be home? Are there nights you'll need to eat away from home? If you're away from home will you be packing your dinner, or will you get something from a restaurant? What nights will you be able to cook? If you're not getting home until right at dinner time you'll need something really quick. If you have at least 30-60 minutes you can plan for something more involved.
- Write in what you're having on the nights you won't be cooking. My menu might say "Saturday: Take out" - and I'll figure out what sounds good that day, but at least I know I won't need to cook. Another night might say "Monday: leftovers" – so you'll know that you aren't cooking, but need to plan a meal on a previous day that would generate leftovers.
- For the # of meals you'll cook, brainstorm ideas of things that sound good. For inspiration, I like to go to Pinterest and scroll through the pictures to see what catches my eye. If you have a rough idea of a type of food you want you can search for that (e.g. Mexican, Italian, crock pot, grilling, casserole, chicken, beef, quick & easy, etc.).
- Make sure your meals are complete. Fill in side dishes, desserts, or other items that will make the meal enjoyable or to complete your meal plan if you are on one. Try to make the meals cohesive – meaning that the foods make sense together, like what you'd get at a restaurant. For example, if I'm having a main course of tacos, I might pair it with Spanish rice or refried beans (rather than something like mashed potatoes and gravy – you see how that doesn't really "go" with tacos?). Or if I'm having
- Build your grocery list off your menus. Go right down your list of meals and write down every item you'll need from the grocery store. Check your kitchen to see if you have items already in stock. Don't forget to also write down the additional items you'll need from the store, like snack foods our household items (e.g. dish soap, aluminum foil, etc.). Also don't forget staple items that are nice to have on hand, like bread, milk, eggs.
I hope this helps you see you having a SYSTEM will make the process of planning out your meals easier. Trust me, this is worth the effort and is so much better than wandering around the grocery store hoping to find something to make, or having to constantly rely on whatever is convenient to you in the moment. You are worth putting the thought and effort into this so that you can have intentional and enjoyable eating experiences. Not that spontaneity and flexibility aren't important, but it is also comforting to have a plan.
If you'd like to see a real-life example of my dinner menus, email me at email@example.com and I'll happily send you a week's worth of them.
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