Tip of the Day Tuesday: Menu Planning Tips

I used to menu plan sporadically. When I did this, I found that by the time I got home from work, I didn’t even what to think about what to make for dinner, so we usually ended up going out or picking up something from a drive thru. Not only was this incredibly healthy (which I’m sure inevitably played a role in my weight gain), but I also don’t even like to think about how much money we wasted.

Menu planning takes some time to get used to, but once you get it down, it is definitely worth it!

Here are some tips if you’re just getting started:

1. Make a list of your favorite family meals ~ Sit down as a family and let everyone share their favorite meals. Make a list to refer to so you don’t have to brainstorm ideas when you first start meal planning. This “list” will be a great resource and will make your meal planning much easier.

2. Browse cookbooks, recipe blogs, and other online resources ~ I like to try at least one recipe a week so I don’t get in a cooking “rut.” We have discovered some new family favorites this way!

Here are some of my favorite cookbooks right now:

Fix It and Forget It Big Cookbook: 1400 Best Slow Cooker Recipes

Girlfriends on The Go – A Busy Mom’s Guide to Make Ahead Meals

Pioneer Woman Cooks: Recipes from an Accidental Country Girl

Here are some of my favorite online resources:

$5 Dinners – I have been reading her blog for about a year now and I got her book for Christmas and LOVE it. She’s got lots of great, practical, kid-friendly (and affordable!) recipes.

A Year of Slow Cooking – I would be lost without my crockpot and this blog has some great recipes! She spent an entire year cooking every day in her crockpot! If you’re looking for gluten free recipes, so has tons! I got her cookbook for Christmas and love it!

Balancing Act Basics – DeAna and I went to college together and started swapping recipes long before either of us had a blog. She’s got lots of great recipes and pictures, too!

On My Menu – When I get in a “rut” and am looking for new ideas, Marci’s blog is always an inspiration for me. Plus, there are great pictures and our kids are similar ages, so I figure if her kids like a recipe, mine will probably like it too!

Our Best Bites – Our two favorites so far from this site are the Cashew Sweet and Sour Pork and the Spicy Honey Chicken. I’ve heard lots of the dessert items are great, but we haven’t tried any of those yet.

The Menu Planning Monday posts at orgjunkie.com are also a great resource because you can browse hundreds of meal plans each week!

3. Consider what you have “on hand” and browse your weekly grocery store ad circulars for ideas – I meal plan one week at a time to keep down my grocery expenses. As I’m sitting down to plan for the week (I usually do this on Friday nights or Saturday mornings), I think about what I have on hand and look through the grocery ads to see what is on sale so I can plan around those two things. This helps me to rotate my stockpile and also helps me with my grocery expenses.

4. Plan a variety – I usually try to plan a variety of meals each week rotating through beef, chicken, pork, and pasta dishes. Some people like to plan “theme” nights when they are meal planning (taco bar, potato bar, etc.).

Your menu is just a “guide.” It doesn’t have to be an “absolute.” I do all my meal prep work in the mornings before I go to work and sometimes, I will find that what I had planned for Thursday sounds really good on Tuesday, so I end up making it that day instead. By having a menu for the week, I at least have a plan, and I’m not scrambling to make decisions about what’s for dinner at a time when I’m not really in the mood to make dinner and it has also cut out last minute grocery trips (where I always end up spending way more than planned) and we have been able to cut our eating out budget to a third of what it was over the past year (we’re currently at $50/month!). Plus, we get to spend “quality” time together as a family.

Did you plan a menu for the week or do you have other menu planning tips? Please feel free to link up and share below!