By TMoM Team Member, Dani Luft

In my younger days, choosing what to eat was always a “what I would like to eat now” kind of thing. As a parent, menu planning has becoming a necessary part of day-to-day living. Some of us are planners. Some think it takes too much time.

I have found that planning my family’s weekly meals ahead of time actually saves me time during the week, while reducing my stress, saving us money, and allowing me to spend more family time with my husband and girls during the week. With my menu planned, and food purchased by the beginning of the week, I don’t have to make last minute trips to the local grocery store or ask my husband to pick up forgotten items on the way home. I do one big grocery store trip on the weekend and, if I’m particularly well organized, I can make that trip once every other weekend, instead. It also allows me to pick up canned food or other staples at Target or other discount stores, saving even more money.

Meal planning allows us to make sure our meals are better balanced and diverse. We can all plan our lunch around the dinner menu. For example, if I’m making pasta that night for dinner, I probably won’t serve my kids mac and cheese for lunch. Although we do our best to keep to our schedule, there are times when we get that last minute call from friends inviting us out to eat, or we really don’t feel like having salmon for dinner.

Menu planning is easy to do, takes just a few minutes, and allows me to make good use of the many recipe books that would otherwise collect dust. I keep a small notepad on my fridge—the long notepads you can buy at the dollar spot in Target with a magnet on the back. I write down the days of the week – like a vertical calendar – and fill the menu in as I go down. As I’m creating the menu for each night, I make my grocery list and add items we need for that meal. When that week is over, I tear it off and start anew.

I try to do chicken dish a few times a week, red meat once a week, and a vegetarian and fish night once a week. I also try to mix them around so we aren’t having chicken three nights in a row. I often get bored with my recipes and would love to hear some of your favorites! Mexican night is a favorite in our house—chicken fajitas and tacos are frequent visitors to my meal plans. For vegetarian meals, we often do breakfast for dinner, which is always a hit. Who doesn’t love eggs, chocolate chip waffles and fruit salad?? During the winter, I love making hearty soups with crusty bread. I like to use my crock-pot for days when we are out of the house most of the day. In the summer, we grill at least three times a week. Marinate some chicken or meat in a Ziploc bag and throw it on the grill. Nothing says summer like grilled corn as a side dish.

Do you meal plan? What are your strategies? Post your meal planning secrets, I’d love to hear!

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