As people have been posting about their New Year’s Resolutions, I noticed a trend. Lots of you want to cook more for your family and successfully menu plan. Hooray for more home-cooked meals in 2018! I grew up with a mom who is a killer cook and we had family dinner almost every weekday night. Because of her example, I try to do the same, though admittedly my dinners are often more simple than hers ever were and sometimes we eat ours in the car on the way to a game or event, but I do cook for my family more often than not.

However, last year I got into a rut. I felt like I was always making the same things, no one would give me suggestions, my kids were only eating a few bites of dinner, and I was so sick of cooking and eating the same food!! At just the right time, my church put on a menu planning class that kick-started my desire to cook again and helped me figure out a new and easy way to put dinner on the table every night. So, I thought I would share. It is simple enough for me (I am not one for complicated, multi-step, fluffy or check list kinds of things), and it has made shopping and dinner so much easier around here!

Simple Meal Planning Steps

Step 1. With your family make a list of all the meals you make. You will be surprised by how many things you actually know how to cook! Here is a look at ours to inspire you…happy to pass along any recipes that look good for your family too!


Step 2. Place those meals on 3 x 5 note cards, or you can make them as pretty as you want and laminate them so they can be used forever.

Step 3. If it is helpful for you, write the recipe and ingredient list on the back of the card to make your shopping and planning even easier. You can even add the side dishes to the back that you like to make with the meal.

Step 4. On Sunday (or a day of the week that works for your family), get the cards out and have your family decide on meals for the week. In our family we choose 3-4 meals each week. I know one night will be leftovers, one night will be something simple like quesadillas or grilled cheese, and we usually go out one night or grab pizza or something. This also gives flexibility for me if I decide I want to cook something different one night.

When we choose meals we try and mix it up, so we have a few parameters. You can’t choose something that was chosen the week before, and mom and dad can veto anything we have eaten too often. We also require variety…we are not eating pasta three days a week and things mom and dad love have to be part of the eating rotation too (curry!). At times I will also also direct the choices by what I know we need to use up. For example, if I have a fridge full of peppers, I will put fajitas on our meals rotation that week. Or, if someone chooses Pot Roast, I will add French Dip Sandwiches to the que because that is how we use up the leftover meat.

I don’t put specific meals on specific days. Our life changes and our schedule is fluid, so I make what works for us that day. If we don’t get through all the meals that week for one reason or another, we roll them on to the next week. Which leads to one caution: make sure the meals you choose work for you. If you know the week is crazy, time intensive meals should not be on the list. If the week requires early prep or crock pot, let your family know! If you don’t make it work for you, it won’t happen for more than a week!

Step 5. Do it. Force yourself to go to the grocery store (or pick up your Clicklist) and do your best to follow the plan. It was amazing how much easier cooking was when I didn’t have to think about WHAT I was going to make for dinner, but it does still require you to plan and cook, so don’t be surprised that this still does take some effort.

A few other tips:

  1. Have things on hand that you can use for side dishes if you don’t want to think about it. I always have ingredients for a big salad, veggies to roast or eat raw, fruit to cut up, and a simple homemade bread recipe that can round out any meal. We don’t always have time for side dishes, but it’s nice to have them on hand when I need them or when I know the main course won’t stretch.
  2. Know your staples. We always buy certain items at the grocery store that work for breakfast, lunches, and snacks. They are healthy things that I know our family eats and enjoys, so it is easy for me to keep them in stock. I add variety depending on what is in season.
  3. You don’t have to eat everything. Some of the dishes I cook (and some of the family favorites) are heartier than the way I like to eat on a regular basis, which is where the sides come in! If I make a dinner that is a little heavier than I like, I eat a small portion of that and fill up on the healthier sides. This allows me the freedom to cook comfort food and stick to a healthy, moderate eating plan. To read more about that, click HERE.
  4. Don’t waste your food or your time! Figure out how to make your family eat leftovers. Maybe it is by cooking something once and freezing half, maybe it is waiting a day or two before you pull it out again, maybe it is reinventing the main course (pot roast to french dip sandwiches…teriyaki chicken to stir fry…grilled chicken to BBQ chicken salad). At the very least, share it with someone else if you know you can’t eat it all! If you are throwing away you money and time, you will never stick to meal planning or dinner making.

I hope these tips and tricks make meal planning something you CAN do in 2018! I know a little planning makes dinner so much more enjoyable!

For a few of the recipes we love, click HERE!