I recently posted on Facebook that I had planned my dinner menu through December 29th (about 3 weeks of dinners, at the time), and several friends asked me how I did it. So I thought I'd write up a blog post on the subject.
My menu planning starts with Google Calendar. Everyone in my family has their own calendar and we sync them all up, so I can see my husband's, my daughter's, and my own calendar all at the same time. At the beginning of the month I print out that month's calendar, with everyone's events listed.
Every Saturday I get up, have a little coffee and breakfast, then sit down with the calendar. I plan a week at a time, from Sunday to Saturday (though as I mentioned, earlier this month I just happened to be on a roll and planned for 3 weeks, to get us through the holidays). I look at the week ahead to see everyone's plans (and also verify nothing has changed since I printed it out by looking up the current calendar on my phone), to get an idea of when we will be home for dinner, how many people, and if we need to eat dinner quickly to get to some event or activity.
For example, here's a typical week:
- Sunday - plan something that may take a little longer to prepare, to take advantage of weekend availability, such as Cider Beef Stew, Beer Cheese Soup, Baked Ravioli, or Sausage & Sweet Potatoes.
- Monday - Band concert; my daughter has to be at school by 5:45, so I will make sure there is something she can fix for herself, like Easy Mac or PB&J, and plan something for just David and I (we've been enjoying Beef Lo Mein recently, and it makes exactly enough for two).
- Tuesday - David has to work late so I will plan for my daughter to eat something he doesn't particularly care for (such as mac & cheese or baked potatoes).
- Wednesday - everybody home, so I plan something we all like, such as Sloppy Joes, Sausage & parmesan couscous, or spaghetti.
- Thursday - I'll be out at a Social Media Club Happy Hour, so I'll make sure there's something that's easy for David to fix for him and my daughter, such as what we call a "bag dinner", or something crockpot like Chicken Noodle Soup or Beef Barley Soup, so he just has to scoop and serve.
- Friday - always frozen cheese pizza on Fridays, a nice no-brainer to start the weekend
- Saturday - another chance to spend a little more time in preparation, so maybe Chili
Once I have the week's menu, I'll make the grocery list. I use an amazing app called Our Groceries. Seriously. This app has changed my life. It makes making the list a breeze, as it remembers previous entries, so it's like a master list. I made a separate "list" for each aisle in my local grocery store, so I can whip through the store and not have to backtrack (not too much, anyway - I always forget something!)
To make the list, I go through each evening's dinner and make sure I have all the ingredients. If I don't, I add them to the grocery list. Then I'll make sure I add elements of lunches for the week (deli turkey, sandwich bread, fruit, something sweet). Then I'll inventory our soda selection, and add any that are low. Finally I'll ask my daughter and husband if there's anything they need, usually some drug store item like shampoo or shaving cream. Or my husband will tell me he's running low on hot cocoa that he puts in his coffee every morning, so I'll make sure I have all the ingredients to whip up another batch. (I use my grandmother's recipe for cocoa mix) Oh, and I'll also check our prescriptions and see if any are running low and need a refill (since we fill them at our grocery store).
Oh and I should also mention another menu planning resource - EMeals. I subscribed to the low-fat plan for probably 8 months, and was very pleased. While I didn't use every meal they suggested, it definitely gave me some solid ideas, and I got some great keeper recipes. Then after 8 months of weekly menus, I figured I probably had enough ideas to last me a while, so I unsubscribed. But I definitely recommend it - totally worth the $5 a month (if you sign up for 12 months). Be sure to check out all their sample menus for a taste!
OK I think that about sums it up. Let me know if you have any questions.