My method for Menu planning includes drawing a calendar on a piece of paper (They are also quite easy to find and print out) usually to last a month of longer. Then I usually take it to a meal with me where my family and I will start brainstorming about what we want to eat. Sometimes I feel that my family can only think of about 5 different meals (as they certainly have there favorites!) but still it is nice to hear what they do like so that I can include it (just because it is suggested doesn't mean that we will eat it but generally their requests are pretty easy and normal) and then I start thinking through my what I like to make as well.
When considering what I am going to put on the menu I think about these things:
- Does it use things we already have on hand? Since we stock up on most things well ahead of time (through growing or buying in bulk or buying quantities of loss leaders) This is an important consideration for me.
- Will it go along with what is already planned for that day? For instance for Sunday Dinner I want something that can either be fixed very quickly or can roast in the oven while we are at church. If I know I teach music lessons late that afternoon then I plan an easy supper.
- Are we having a variety? I like to rotate the various meats (Beef, Chicken, Fish, Pork, etc.) and the different Carbs (Potatoes, Breads, Rice, etc.) and the different fruits or veggies so that we don't eat the same things back to back.
- Will we be having company or will we be gone? Important things to consider when making a menu.
If I have trouble coming up with ideas then I will pull out cookbooks and look through them for ideas, I have also looked at old menus and once in a while I will look at other peoples menus online. I have found however that generally my style of cooking, what I have on hand and what we like never quite matches up with anybody else.
On our menu I write on Breakfast and Supper Menus and with the only lunch menu being on Sunday. The other days of the week we try to eat leftovers for lunch unless we are having company - If we have company for lunch I generally make soup.
I don't always get the full menu filled out immediately, often I will leave some of the last ones blank as I haven't thought of something for them and then I will fill them in later on when I think of something or if we end up using something written down further up (for instance if we go some place else for a meal or if I end up making something else at the last minute).
I love using a menu as a tool but I don't feel tied to it. If an evening comes and I am inspired to make something other than is on the menu or if something in my fridge needs to be used up then we will make a switch.
When planning a menu it is important to be realistic. It is fun to look through cookbooks and find all sorts of new meal ideas but unless cooking is a really fun hobby for you it is quite likely that you will get tired of always making something new and will wish to go back to some easy old standbys. I know that because I have done just that before! Now I try to through a few new recipes in there but for the most part I stick to the tried and true.
Menu planning is very helpful when you are trying not to grocery shop so often. I try to only grocery shop once a month (or even less- but not counting quick stops to get milk) and this way I can make out my menu -using mostly things I already have on hand- and then go shopping later where I can pick up a few things that we may be lacking.
Here is a link to an old menu plan I did (a 6 week rotating menu that we no longer use as I got tired of it and we have change to a healthier diet) some time ago in case you want an example.
Do you use a menu plan? I would love to hear your thoughts on this!