Planning what you are going to eat throughout the week, otherwise known as menu planning, may sound complicated1. After having planned your menu once or twice it will start to become much more simple and just part of your weekly routine. Menu planning can help you reduce the everyday stress of having to think through what you are going to cook. You might go from spending around 30 minutes per day trying to figure out what you want to cook to spending 30 minutes per week1. That is over 180 minutes or 3 hours saved each week that you could spend doing something else! And we all know every minute saved is previous for mommies with young children!
Additionally, menu planning not only helps you save time during the week but also money. How? Well, let’s be honest some days there is just no time to cook and when you and your family are hungry somethings gotta give1! What is the quickest and fastest option? Fast food/take-out. If you purchase take-out food for a family of 4 you could easily spend over $30 dollars per meal. Multiply that by 7 times a week that is over $200 dollars only on dinners! Menu planning can also help you save money by avoiding food waste1. Being aware of where each ingredient is being utilized in a meal can help you avoid forgotten ingredients in the pantry or refrigerator.
So how do you plan a menu1,2
Follow the next seven steps to learn how to do “menu planning”
1. Craft out a time during the week that would work best for you to sit down and plan your weekly meals1. This is the hardest part of planning a menu, finding the appropriate time to do it.
Example: Mia finds that on Saturday afternoons she has a little bit more time than other days of the week so she chooses this day to sit down for a maximum of 30 minutes to plan her weekly menu.
2. Now, think of ingredients that you already have in your pantry and refrigerator. Using ingredients already on hand will reduce the cost of your groceries and will help you use food before it spoils. Note down what these ingredients are on your grocery list1. During this step, also consider yours and your children’s daily FV needs (remember we figured out our daily needs in week 2!). Decide how you would like to distribute your needed servings throughout your meals of the day. Try and meet these daily recommendations by including recipes with FV (next step).
Example: Mia looks in her refrigerator and notes that she has carrots, mozzarella cheese, and garlic on her grocery list. She then looks in her pantry and notices she has potatoes, pasta, and bread. She notes these down, making note of those that might spoil soon since these needs to be used first. Mia also makes note that her vegetable needs are minimally 2.5 cups per day and that her 3-year old daughter needs 1 cup of veggies per day. She decides to spread out the servings of FV this way: For at least 2 meals of the day she will consume 1 cup of vegetables and for 1 snack of the day she will eat at least ½ cup of vegetables. Mia decides to distribute her daughter’s servings by giving her half a cup at lunch and half a cup at dinner.
3. Next is time to select a list of recipes you want to try2! You can find new ideas and recipe inspiration online by using websites like 3 https://whatscooking.fns.usda.gov/ or a list of others provided at the end of this blog post. For this particular website (pictured above) all you have to do is simply type the name of an ingredient in the search bar and several recipes including this ingredient will be at your disposal! This website is great because it also provides additional items to refine your search. It allows you to pick recipes based on their specific food course, nutrition food group, specific nutrients, specific cooking equipment, different ethnic cuisines, cost of the recipe, total calories, saturated fat content per serving, and sodium per serving!!
Additional tips to consider when recipe searching:
- Consider your children when trying new recipes. Be sure to include family favorites along with the new recipes! This will make children more likely to try a new food if they have a familiar food accompanying it.
- Select recipes including FV to match your FV needs!
Example: Mia goes to the “whatscooking” website and looks for recipes that include potatoes, onions, and/or, carrots (because she already had these ingredients on hand). She notes down two different recipes that will include the ingredients she already has on hand and an additional 1-2 different veggies (to meet her FV needs) that she is interested to try. Now that she has listed what she has on hand, she starts to think about snacks and other dinner recipes that she and her family might like to try (always keeping in mind to add a side dish that her daughter is familiar with like the potatoes). Mia selects recipes that will meet her FV needs by choosing those rich in vegetables for 2 meals of the day and a snack including some vegetables and fruit.
4. Using a worksheet like the “Create a Grocery Game Plan Worksheet4” can really help you plan your week of meals and what you need to buy2.
Example: Mia selects some recipes she knows her family loves and some new recipes to try for the week and writes these down on the worksheet to help her organize her menu planning.
Here is the pdf of the grocery game plan worksheet:
It should look something like this:
5. Be sure to read how long it takes to prepare the recipe and think about your daily schedule. Choose meals that are easier and faster to prepare when you don’t have a lot of time and save those recipes that take longer for your days off 2. It can also help to do “meal prepping”. This simply means that you prepare meals ahead of time on days you have more time. That means that on your busiest days all you have to do is heat them up. For example, I have a little bit more time on Thursdays, Saturdays, and Sundays, therefore, I cook my meals for the week on those days. That way on Monday evening when I have no time to cook I don’t have to think about what I am going to eat or if it’s going to be healthy, all I have to do is heat it up because I ensured myself a healthy meal when I was meal prepping and menu planning.
Example: Mia selects easy recipes that can be prepared in under 30 minutes on weekdays (M-F) because she doesn’t have much time. Mia decides to try a recipe that takes a little longer on Friday night. She further tries meal prepping on Saturday. By checking the portion size of the recipe she will be able to tell how long this meal will last her throughout the week. If a meal doesn’t have as many portions as you would like try doubling the recipe ingredients.
7. Create a grocery shopping list (more on how to do this coming up Wednesday)
Additional recipe resources I love to use:
- 101 Cookbooks: A natural foods recipe journal5 http://www.101cookbooks.com/ingredient/tomato
- This website lets you browse by ingredients or seasons: Golubka Kitchen6 http://golubkakitchen.com/recipes/
- Share our Strength’s- Cooking Matters- No Kid Hungry7 https://cookingmatters.org/recipes
- Cooking with Kids: for a healthy future8 http://cookingwithkids.org/recipe/
- Just Say Yes To Fruits & Vegetables9 http://jsyfruitveggies.org/recipes-all/
- They also specifically have a section of recipes of Healthy Snacks for Kids http://jsyfruitveggies.org/healthy-snacks-for-kids/
- Eat Fresh: Tasty Recipes on Your Budget10 http://eatfresh.org/
- Food Hero (recipes specifically for families)11 http://www.foodhero.org/recipes/healthy-recipes
- “Kid approved” recipes:http://www.foodhero.org/recipes/recipe-categories/kid-approved
- If you are a very visual person like me, Pinterest is one of my personal favorites12:https://www.pinterest.com/search/pins/?q=healthy%20recipes&rs=typed&term_meta=healthy%7Ctyped&term_meta=recipes%7Ctyped
- Found a recipe that you love but would like to substitute some ingredients13? Here is a great website:http://food.unl.edu/ingredient-substitutions
Let me know how your menu planning goes!
Happy planning ☺️
- Extension UtahState University- Food $ense. Plan a Menu. Internet: https://extension.usu.edu/foodsense/plan/menu (accessed 28 June 2017).
- Choose MyPlate. Plan your weekly meals. April 2017. Internet: https://www.choosemyplate.gov/budget-weekly-meals (accessed 28 June 2017).
- United States Department of Agriculture. What’s Cooking-USDA mixing bowl. Internet: https://whatscooking.fns.usda.gov/ (accessed 28 June 2017).
- Create a Grocery Game Plan. Internet: https://choosemyplate-prod.azureedge.net/sites/default/files/budget/grocery_gameplan_interactive.pdf (accessed 25 July 2017).
- 101 Cookbooks- a natural food recipe journal. Internet: http://www.101cookbooks.com/ingredient/tomato (accessed 28 June 2017).
- Golubka Kitchen. Internet: http://golubkakitchen.com/recipes/ (accessed 28 June 2017).
- Cooking Matters. Internet: https://cookingmatters.org/recipes (accessed 28 June 2017)
- Cooking With Kids. Internet: http://cookingwithkids.org/recipe/ (accessed 28 June 2017).
- Just Say Yes to Fruits & Vegetables. Quick and Easy Recipes. Internet: http://jsyfruitveggies.org/recipes-all/ (accessed 28 June 2017).
- Eat Fresh. Tasty Recipes on a budget. Internet: http://eatfresh.org/ (accessed 28 June 2017).
- Food Hero. Internet: http://foodhero.org/recipes/healthy-recipes (accessed 28 June 2017).
- Search. Internet: https://www.pinterest.com/search/pins/?q=healthy%20recipes&rs=typed&term_meta%5b%5d=healthy%7Ctyped&term_meta%5b%5d=recipes%7Ctyped (accessed 28 June 2017).
- University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Ingredient Substitutions. 2017. Internet: http://food.unl.edu/ingredient-substitutions (accessed 28 June 2017).
- Nutrition Stripped. The NS Kitchen. Internet: http://nutritionstripped.com/resources/the-nutrition-stripped-pantry-how-to-stock-your-pantry/ (accessed 28 June 2017).
- Header: MDR Health Inc. Ingredients. February 2017. Internet: http://www.mosdiner.net/civic-engagement/ (accessed 25 July 2017).
- Pat’s Picks. The Psychology of Menu Writing. December 2009. Internet: https://www.patspicks.com/story_stack/item/the_psychology_of_menu_writing (accessed 25 July 2017).
- Pixabay. Refrigerador. Internet: https://pixabay.com/en/bottles-food-gallon-inside-light-1868175/ (accessed 25 July 2017).
- North South Blonde. Blackened Chicken Avocado Salad. May 2017. Internet: http://northsouthblonde.com/blackened-chicken-avocado-salad/ (accessed 25 July 2017).