On those busy days when you’re up to your eyeballs in commitments, it can be very tempting to hit the drive-thru or grab a pizza, instead of cooking at home.
One of the ways we’ve simplified the dinner rush is by getting started with menu planning. When you have a plan, you’ll eat better, spend less, and enjoy the meal more.
Since we’ve been planning a menu each week for awhile now, we’ve come up with some additional tips to make it easier.
Menu Planning Tips for Busy Families
- Schedule your meals a week in advance. This is one of the most important planning tips for meals. Knowing what you are going to eat throughout the week means less chance that you will stop off at the closest fast food joint for a convenient, but unhealthy meal. I like to plan my menu on Sunday evenings when it’s quiet. It gives me time to take an inventory of my freezer and pantry and plan meals around what I have on hand. I can add the ingredients I’m missing for a particular recipe to my grocery list. I write my menu on a dry erase board that hangs on the inside door of the pantry. If my husband gets home from work before I can get home, he knows what to start making for dinner.
- Look for bargains. Carve out some time to clip coupons and check out the store ads to decide where to do your shopping. If one ingredient is a common denominator in many meals, consider buying in bulk to save money. Common staples like milk, eggs, bread and sugar can be bought in bulk as well. Don’t forget to stack those coupons for the greatest savings.
- Search online. After a while your family will get tired of chicken and rice every Thursday. You can get into a menu rut sometimes. Use the Internet to search for new and exciting recipes. Learn to put a twist on old recipes for a new taste. Or visit the library and check out cookbooks and cooking magazines for more culinary inspiration.
- Have a leftover night. After preparing meals for five or six days, there is bound to be some food left over. Designate one night to be leftover night and let everyone mix and match for dinner. Sometimes I will deliberately plan for leftovers. For example, the leftover beef roast from Sunday, becomes a shepherd’s pie on Tuesday.
- Cook your meals in advance. After deciding on a menu plan for the week, go ahead and fix as many meals as you can. Choose a day when the entire family can help like Saturday morning or Sunday afternoon. Each person can take one meal and fix it for the following week. Once everything has cooled, store it in sealed containers or casserole dishes to be frozen until the night it is needed. Once-a-month cooking (or once a week, if that’s all you can muster) is a fabulous way to have a stash of great tasting meals on hand for busy nights.
- Do prep work in advance. All of the meals can’t be cooked at once. Some foods just taste better freshly prepared. For them, do as much prep work in advance as you can. Enlist your kids to help chop (give them the kitchen shears instead) vegetables, dice cooked meat and mix together dry ingredients. The night of the meal, all that is needed is to add the wet ingredients and bake. By avoiding pre-packaged foods and convenience items like bagged salad and stir fry veggies, you’ll save a fortune on your grocery bill.
- Let the family help. Encourage your family to not only help with the meal preparation, but also in helping choose what to have. When kids have a say in what’s for dinner, they’re more likely to eat it.
Looking for more dinner time inspiration? Check out 5 frugal dinner strategies for busy families for more ideas.