As the old saying goes: Where there is no plan, there is no casserole.
I think that’s in the Bible somewhere. Or maybe I just made it up twelve seconds ago. How about this one: A frozen chicken will remain frozen if left in a frozen environment. I definitely made that one up.
All this proverbial insight to say: Menu plans are really nice. They help you save money. They help you eat healthier. You should make meal plans.
For all of you (and I know there are some) who find that meal planning hurts instead of helps you – I say keep doing what you’re doing to put healthy meals on the table. No need to fix what isn’t broken.
For everyone else, I’m determined to do all I can to encourage whatever it takes for you to prepare simple, healthy meals that don’t break the bank. Menu planning can be a big help, but it can also be overwhelming if you haven’t found your menu planning comfort zone.
Before I say more though, first let me share this: You should read the post Cooking Healthy Meals When the Menu Plan Fails. Even with the best of intentions, there are times my frozen chicken is still frozen at dinner time. It happens. No need to freak out, feel like a failure, or call for take-out. These ideas have saved me many times when my plans didn’t fall into place perfectly. (Hello, Life. You sure are busy.)
I want to help set us up for menu planning success as best I can. I don’t actually like the word success because we seem to think that the opposite of success is fail – and that isn’t true (see paragraph above, in which I use the word fail, but wish I didn’t and there’s nothing I can do about it now). So let’s go with menu planning empowerment, how does that sound?
By the way, what I’m about to share will not only give you insight into how I prepare healthy meals for my family every day, it will also help you understand how it is possible for me to feed a houseful of teenage boys (and often their friends) without having to sell my furniture as a way to afford it. Planning ahead saves us hundreds of dollars every year. I can’t not plan. I can’t fall back on take-out. Keeping food costs down is very important when there’s already a comma in the grocery budget dollar amount. (They eat so much foooooooood. But love them, they’re worth it, and all that.)
Empowering You to Plan Healthy Menus
1. One of my favorite ways to be inspired and gain ideas is to look at recipes. I look at cookbooks and on Pinterest, but mostly, I scroll through my dropdown menu of the hundreds (maybe thousands?) of recipes right here on my website. They are categorized, alphabetized, and even though I’m the one that put them there, I still come across recipes I forgot existed. It’s fun!
Doing this offers variety to our menu and gets my food planning creativity flowing. I typically pick seven recipes in each meal category and plug them into my menu for the week. There is flexibility, of course. There is always flexibility. My menu plan doesn’t own me, it simply acts as a guide.
Below is a screen shot of the dropdown menu on my website when I’m holding my cursor over the word RECIPES in my header. Do that, then click on any page you need. You’ll see lovely lists of real food recipes to pick from. Let your family help choose recipes to try if you like!
2. I’ve written and shared hundreds (maybe thousands?) of menu plans here through the years. They are all in my archives, found at this Menu Planning Archives link. These are fun to look through for inspiration because they are complete menu plans, full of ideas for ways to pair side dishes with main dishes.
3. Our Heavenly Homemaker’s Recipes – Search by Ingredients feature is a really fun way to plan meals based on the ingredients you have in your home. If I’m at a lost as to what to plan, I simply type in a few key ingredients I want to use (such as beef, cheese, tomatoes), then scroll through the recipes that pop up for me. You’ll see this special search box at the top right of my side bar. Use it! It’s fun and helpful!
4. I’ve put together three very thorough menu planning resources through the years: 40 Real Food Menu Plans; 1-2-3 Meal Planning; and Build Your Menu Planning Notebook. The first two share all my best tips and strategies for planning meals, plus they include tons of meal plan ideas. The thinking is already done for you!
The Notebook? Oh my goodness. That’s how I put it all together. Not only is it mega helpful, it’s cute and fun and made to order. Yours probably won’t look like mine because your menu planning needs and design preferences are likely different from mine. That’s the beauty. You print and put yours together the way it will work best for you. :)
To bless your menu planning efforts this New Year, we’ve packaged up our three menu planning resources and knocked them down to half price. Now’s the time to get into a good menu planning routine! Save yourself some time and money, letting these resources guide you.