I learned the many benefits of menu planning during my time working as a nanny. Being responsible for feeding a family of four, having a plan was key. Soon I was hooked on having weeknight meals mapped out in my own household as well. Having a menu makes for a more focused grocery store/farmer’s market trip and helps to reduce food waste, as you won’t buy anything that you don’t intend on using.
1. Use What You’ve Got
The best way to kick-start the planning process is by checking your fridge, freezer and pantry to see which items you have that can be incorporated into your menu. Knowing what you’ve got will help guide you as you browse recipes, and will ensure that you don’t buy unnecessary items. Doing a once-over of your fridge also helps to encourage the use of leftovers into your menu plan. For instance, if you’ve got a pot of brown rice hanging out in your fridge, you could incorporate it into a stir-fry. Let the items you already have available serve as inspiration as you begin to browse through recipes for the coming week.
2. Cookbooks are key
3. Follow a Template
Choosing a theme for each weekday takes some of the guess-work out of the type of meal to prepare on the given day. My template is an example of how to break down the week. Of course, it’s import to keep things fresh, so feel free to switch things up as you get more comfortable. Click here to see my custom template.
4. Prep Prep Prep
Think of weekends as your chance to prep for the menu you’ve prepared for the week. Slice some onions and keep them in a plastic bag in the fridge, cut your broccoli or cauliflower heads into florets, cook a big batch of your grains to be used throughout the week, and so on. You can also prepare a large salad at the start of the week. I love the simple combination of arugula, chopped red cabbage, and grated carrots as a delicious base salad. These small steps will help you feel more confident about being able to work through the recipes you have chosen when the weekday rush hits.
5. Keep it Local
Whenever possible, shop for locally sourced produce. Buying directly from farmers reduces your carbon footprint and supports your local economy. Another perk to farmer’s market shopping is that you are likely to find more varieties of the familiar fruits and vegetables than are available at the grocery store (I recently found purple brussels sprouts!). After planning your menu and writing your shopping list, highlight the items that can be readily be purchased at your local farmer’s market.
6. Embrace the Process
Have fun with your planning! Put on some music, get out a few colored markers and sticky notes to keep tabs on recipes you want to try. I’ve found it helpful to designate a day for planning the following week’s menu (my day is Sunday). This makes it much easier to map out grocery store trips and take into account any leftovers or items in the pantry that need to be used up. You could even get one of those fancy chalkboards to write your menu on when you’re finished. Then, pat yourself on the back for a job well done.