So when I saw the 6 week long Plan It - Don't Panic menu planning series at Keeper of the Home I was inspired. What if I made six weeks of menus to cycle through?
That wasn't their specific challenge, but I decided it needed to be mine. I read some great posts on the topic of larger menu planning, and two in particular inspired me to plan for more than a week at a time.
Menu Planning Resources: Two Week Rotation (from Simple Mom)
Simplifying Grocery Shopping and the Benefits of Monthly Menu Planning (from Passionate Homemaking)
So I pulled out my cookbooks and started a spreadsheet. It was time to take my menu planning to the next level. (You can read through my drawn-out process here, or just skip to the simple solution below.)
Three Steps to Creating a Massive Menu Plan
1. Know what works for you and your family.
I know some people are great about using the internet for all their recipes and even for their planning. I am not one of those people. I make such a mess when I cook that my computer cannot be anywhere near me, and I don't want to keep running back and forth to the desk to see how many teaspoons of which spice go in this? But if that works for you, more power to you! There are lots of posts out there on how to make the most of that.
When I was evaluating our family's eating habits, I noted the following things:
- Our end of the (shopping) week meals will probably need to have frozen or canned produce instead of fresh. So for example if I decide to do the grocery shopping on Wednesday, Monday and Tuesday night's veggies are probably not going to be fresh.
- I get bored having the same meat a couple nights in a row, so I want to make sure and mix up the meats so we don't end up with chicken three nights in a row.
- We do vegetarian Fridays. So not only do I need to plan a bean-based meal for Friday night, but I also have to make sure we have no or very few main dish leftovers from Thursday night's meal.
- I don't worry about planning breakfasts or lunches. I tend to either make a ton of waffles on the weekend or muffins during the week and that gets us through for breakfasts, along with fruit. Lunch is almost always leftovers; sometimes on the weekend it'll be salad and macaroni and cheese or grilled cheese. No need to plan that.
|An un-staged glimpse into our pantry. You're supposed to be looking at my cookbooks, but I got a kick out of looking at the shelf above. Do you like how the chocolate hard shell is blocking out all the organic veggies? I've got a long ways to go.|
2. Go through your cookbooks and pull out your favorite recipes, along with any new recipes you'd like to try.
This part took me the longest - I have a lot of cookbooks and enjoy slowly paging through them. I compiled the recipes in a spreadsheet that noted the main ingredient, whether it went in the slow cooker, and most importantly the cookbook and page number.
3. Start putting weekly menus together.
Now is the time to decide if you'd like to do a weekly rotation like the ladies I linked to above suggested. This would make it pretty simple. At first that's what I was going to do.
But then when I started to put the menus together, I found that to feel more restricting than freeing. So I scrapped that and just started pulling out our favorite meals and tossing them onto different days and weeks.
It was fairly easy to fill in the first three weeks, but I found it tougher to fill in as I went on. I thought about going back and spacing out our favorites by inserting several new meals to try. For now, though, I just condensed the menu from six weeks to five. If I feel like mixing it up and trying something new, I can easily replace one of our stand-bys. But seeing as the holidays are coming up, I think it's in my best interest to stick with foods we love (and I already know how to make) for the next ten weeks. Come January, perhaps I'll spice things up with those new recipes on the spreadsheet.
The Easy Way
Now is where I have to confess that I got sidetracked and a bit overwhelmed at step two above. For (wince) six weeks in a row. Perhaps going through all my cookbooks was overdoing it just a bit. More importantly, after all that I later realized there was an easier way to make several weeks of menu plans. Just do your menu planning one week at a time, as usual, and (this is the important part) keep those scraps of paper that you wrote the menus and grocery lists on. After six weeks, compile what you already have, and voila! Your massive menu the easy way, complete with shopping lists!
Here's my finished product. (Sorry it's tough to see - click to enlarge.) You may notice that I did leave Saturdays blank. That's in case we want to go out to eat or visit family or something. If we are home every night that week, I'll just pull something out of the freezer. (Or give in and get grocery store fried chicken. So unhealthy. So tasty.)
Have you ever tried planning more than a week of menus at a time?
For more menu planning goodness, go check out six weeks of menus at the Plan It - Don't Panic series.