Stuff We’ve Tried: Menu Planning

Stuff We’ve Tried: Menu Planning

One of the things I struggle with in this life of mine is deciding what four people are going to eat for every meal, day in and day out. I read a book once about a woman living in Paris after her children were grown, and she writes something like, “I can’t believe I had to decide and prepare what so many people were going to eat every single day.” I think of her often. She knew.

When I read that, though, I didn’t think that sounded like a big deal. I started menu planning for myself in my mid-30s when I started eating healthier. It was mostly just pragmatic; I hate going to the grocery store all the time. If I decided what I was going to eat, I could make a list and go just once or twice a week.

The complexity that results from trying to get small children to eat and enjoy healthy foods is an entirely different thing. I really want my girls to grow up healthy and having healthy relationships with food, so that’s a bit of pressure on this whole endeavor. And while my husband is pretty agreeable, he’s a normal guy with tastes and preferences of his own. I sometimes wonder if, as family shopper and chef, I could just decide what I want and let the chips fall where they may. “Eggs with peppers and onions for everyone!” “Tuna with tzatziki for lunch today!”

The one- and three-year-old might have something to say about that.

So my point? This menu-planning thing isn’t for the faint of heart.

What I used to do is use my old Excel template from my former life and write in what we were having for every meal, sometimes with different colors for different people (babies have their own separate menu!). Then I’d come up with the grocery list. This exercise would take me an hour or more, and I pretty much hated it, but would do it most weeks just to avoid the “what am I making for dinner?” panic.

So I read on a blog last year some options for menu planning that were online. I gotta tell ya’, many of them were just glorified Excel spreadsheets, and others were pre-set menus. (“My kids will never eat that!” my reader voice exclaimed, annoyed.)

But then I came across Plan to Eat. People. I get paid no money for telling you about my love for this site. I am just a rabid fan.

Basically, I have come up with a couple “menus” – rotations of the typical things we eat for breakfast and lunch. With one simple drag, I populate breakfast and lunch for an entire week on the menu planner. I am slowly adding in all of my most-used recipes (which, if they’re online, I can do with one simple click; if not, I just type them in quickly). So for dinners, I look at the calendar to see when we’ll be home, when I’ll have time to do any amount of cooking, etc., and drag into the planner our dinners for the week.

Here’s the beautiful thing: your shopping list is populated as you build your planner. So once I’m finished planning the menu, I spend five minutes on the shopping list taking off things we already have (because all of the ingredients (and amounts) show up on the shopping list), and I’m finished. What used to take me an hour or more takes me no more than 10 or 15 minutes. And they have a great mobile site, so I just pull that up on my phone at the store and click off things as I put them in my racecar cart (it’s the best thing with two kids!).

Is this the answer to the world’s problems? No. But it makes my life dramatically easier, and no matter if you’re cooking for one or six, I think it can make yours easier too.

Melissa sig

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