I have been writing on Planning With Kids for over 10 years now. Over that time I have written many posts on menu planning as I am such a huge advocate of menu planning. It is a simple tool parents use to help make family life easier. But there isn’t one post on the blog that details everything about my menu planning process so I have collated all the essential information here in this post for you!
1. Criteria for the month
Each month I will note down any particular criteria I may have when it comes to menu planning. Depending on the season of the year or the season of family life we are in the criteria will change. Here are some examples of the types of criteria I will use at different times:
- One fish meal a week.
- Plan one meal a weekend where someone else in the family will cook.
- Plan one weekend meal that can be used for school lunches.
- One night a week allocated to left overs.
- High rotation of kids’ favourites – I will tend to this around exam time and make sure I make bigger volumes of meals that I know the older kids will eat as a snack while studying.
- One vegetarian meal a week.
- Two double batch meals a week if I am wanting to stock the freezer in the lead up to going away.
2. Decide on a daily theme
As I plan on a monthly basis, I need to make sure I am taking into account the regular activities we have for the family. Knowing what activities are on each day is crucial to a successful meal plan – there is no point planning a roast Wednesday night when I am in and out a number of times. On Mondays I want to have a meal that I can cook in the morning and will be ready to serve or heat and when I get home from the last training run.
To create a daily theme I simply write down all the activities we have each day and then allocate a type of meal that will suit that day. Having a theme for each day also then makes planning super easy. If like me, you plan a meat and veg meal once a week, it is easy to plan this out for four weeks without having to think too much. The four meat and veg meals for the month could be chops and veg, fish and veg, schnitzel and veg and sausages and veg – four meals chosen for the menu plan in mere seconds! The same could be done for curries if your family like mine love them – beef massaman curry, yellow chicken curry, butter chicken, vegetarian thai curry or roasts – roast beef, roast pork, roast lamb, roast chicken.
Daily themes add variety to your menu planning in a simple and time efficient manner. Below is an example of what our looks like at the moment:
|Monday||Football training 5.30pm - 7.00pm||Bulk meal (made ahead)|
|Tuesday||Soccer training - 7.00pm - 8.00pm||Curry|
|Wednesday||GSV soccer - until 5.30pm|
Football training - 6.00pm - 7.00pm
|Thursday||Phil's football training||Meat and veg|
|Friday||Football training 6.00pm - 7.00pm||Homemade fast food|
|Meat and veg|
3. Children’s and Husband’s Input
My children are very used to menu planning, so when I do a monthly planning session I will ask them to give me at least four meals that they would like. I then slot their choices into the relevant days theme.
Sometimes building the monthly menu plan taking into account everyone’s choices requires me to do a little creative tweaking to fit it all in, but it usually works super well and it means I have to think of less meals to be planned – bonus for me!
Another bonus of getting the kids contributing to the menu plan is I find there are less complaints about what we are having for dinner. They may not love the meal we are having on the current night, but they can check the plan and see what we are having for the rest of the week and there will be meals they like and have chosen coming up. They understand everyone has different preferences for their favourite meals and as a family we need to accommodate this.
We do have some parameters for meals the kids choose. Any meal can only be repeated twice in the month and they can only choose one homestyle fast food, like pizza or hamburgers.
I have a super simple document that I use to capture the kids input and my husband’s input for the family menu plan. I print out this sheet and have the family fill in their preferred meals for the month. The kids don’t have to complete it, but they almost always do because they want to make sure some of their favourite meals are included. The husband on the other hand rarely does, but he never complains about what I serve up, so that is okay!
I also have a template where I write out our activity matrix and theme for the day which looks like this:
You can download these template here:
4. Create shopping lists
From these weekly plans I then create four separate shopping lists so we can buy all the ingredients we need for the week’s meals. There is nothing more frustrating than cooking a meal only to realise half way through you are missing a key ingredient. A bonus to having the lists prepared is you can then delegate this task to someone else to do! I do however do most of the shopping for our family.
As the shopping list has grown bigger and bigger though, I have made this task one that everyone in the family helps with if they are around. They have a choice of either
coming with me to the supermarket and helping there or unpacking the groceries and putting them away when I come home. Who ever is at home when I arrive in the drive way will come out to the car and help carry everything inside the house. They will then put away the groceries in their correct containers if they have them. While they are doing this, I begin washing up the fruit and veg I have bought before it is put away.
Getting everyone to help with the shopping has been a game changer for me. From leaving the house to having all the groceries packed away, this is a task that can take multiple hours if I have to do it all on my own. Where possible now I try to do the shopping when I know I will have people at home to help me with the unpacking.
How long does my menu planning process take?
This process may seem lengthy but once you have completed it a couple of months in a row, you become very fast at it. When the Planning With Kids Menu Planner App was still in operation, I could plan for a month in about 35 minutes. Since it was decommissioned, I have to manually create my own shopping lists which takes a little longer, but as you can see below, I can still menu plan for a month in under an hour.
|10 mins||Gain the family's input.|
|5 mins||Add my choices, taking into account what everyone else has chosen to ensure there is some balance across the month.|
|2 mins||Create matrix of activity and meal requirements.|
|8 mins||Allocate the meals listed across the days of the month, according to the matrix. At this point I tweak and adjust the meals as needed so each week has a good mix of proteins and veggies.|
|25 mins||Collate menu plans and shopping lists. I keep them as four separate lists and have four ready to go for the big shop each week. A key bonus to having the lists prepared is you can then delegate this task to someone else to do!|
|Total - 50mins||Completed Monthly Menu Plan For The Family!|