Menu planning sounds time-consuming and dreadful. If you have trouble with deciding what to eat then maybe the way I plan will help you. We like to eat based on certain themes each day of the week. It definitely narrows down the whole conversation that starts with “what’s for dinner?” Our plan still leaves space for us to be creative as long as we stick with the theme. Once we have a foundation, we are great to go. For instance, I love structure but “free day” may be the day that I get to fix veggies my way (sautéed with crushed red pepper) or I can have a meal that I experiment with to expand our list of meals that we enjoy. My daughter is old enough to find and fix her own meal. Free day is a day that she would coax me into having pizza or something else. This is still fun for both of us because we get to make our own pizzas (if I compromise) and tease one another about how great the other’s pizza tastes. If I opt out of the pizza deal then we have separate meals but we still eat together. “Free day” is the only day that our meals would greatly differ despite our “diets”.
My household eats based on themes because I tend to function better with structure. Every week there is a full breakfast day (actually today and my daughter loves this day), a pasta day (another day that my daughter loves because this is her day to cook and experiment), a leftover day, and other fun days that we enjoy. My daughter is not as structured as I am so that is why I include a free day. We also have different diets but because we have our days based on themes, it does not affect our menu. If I fix a full breakfast (without meat) but my daughter wants meat then dinner remains as initially planned but she may fix three slices of turkey bacon to have with her dinner. However, my daughter wants to join me in going meatless so we have days set aside that are “meatless” so this helps her with her goal as well. Meatless days would be a day for me to make sure I alternate with new foods as well as foods my daughter already loves to help her reach her goal of being meatless six days a week.
Now for the actual meal planning, it is not stressful if you stick to meals that you already eat and enjoy. If you can think of at least 14 or so dishes that you like to eat then you are good to go for menu planning. Being flexible and having fun (aka experimenting) will take you the rest of the way. Let’s say that you have a breakfast day as a theme (yummy). You can have pancakes and all the sides one week on “breakfast day” then try an omelet (or breakfast bowl) the next week. The following week you may have some type of oatmeal or grits with shredded potatoes (in olive oil) or other sides and a smoothie. The third week you can have a breakfast wrap and fresh fruit. If you really enjoy breakfast for dinner but run out of ideas then you can also look up breakfast menus of restaurants or even breakfast ideas of other cultures.
My daughter and I are huge breakfast and pasta fans so we can go far with these themes and it makes up most of our favorite meals. My daughter (as stated earlier) has a goal to be meatless six days a week so I have two days that are set as meatless for her to move toward her goal in baby steps. While I can fix lasagna for a pasta day, it is better if I fix lasagna for a meatless day and transform one of my daughter’s favorite meals into a meatless option that she would still love. I know that eating pasta often may not be a great idea but I am not trying to change overnight. March is when we will exchange our “pasta” day for a different but healthier theme (probably “farmer’s market”).
If you want to try out the themed menu plan then you may find that you like to change your themes more often. I have changed our themes to try out foods from different countries each day of the week. You are also free to experiment with different themes that match with your future food goals or current interests. We have had a vegan week, a gluten-free week, a Mediterranean week, and salad week.
There are many other ways to plan a menu but this is what works for me so I thought I would share in case anyone else is struggling. Simply take two weeks’ worth of food and put them into categories/themes. Then give each day of the week a theme. If you tend to have leftovers then leave a day for leftovers. This can be a day that you actually eat cooked foods from other days or make a meal of the leftover fruits and veggies in your refrigerator to keep them from wilting or going bad. Once you run into the third and fourth weeks then get creative, repeat, or add an idea from a restaurant that fits your theme. Change a food (add a veggie, bake, or sauté) from the first week and make the third week a mix of previous weeks as I showed you for the “full breakfast” theme. After a month or two of this then you will have expanded your menu and maybe even doubled the number of meals you enjoy (and cook).
Have a great time planning meals.
– Mayah King