I remember when I transitioned out of the corporate office, I was going to school full time from home and thinking wow I will have so much time to make dinner now. I was so WRONG.
Menu planning and I have a love/hate relationship. I first started when I realized we were eating the same things over and over again, it’s Tuesday it must be pasta night! My planning worked for a while, then I had 2 kids and was working full time outside the home, I was exhausted and needed some one to tell me what to do. The menu plan told me what to do, not much thinking required.
I have been doing this since 2015-ish, well at least that is when I started saving these documents on my computer. It took me a while to get my process down, but yes there are times that I make a menu and still think we eat the same thing over and over. And there are times when I just cannot summon the brain power to make a menu so I lean on my history and call up a previous menu. I use it again, either as is or with a few tweaks.
If you are home with the kids and juggling your workload and zoom meetings it is easy to forget dinner. You may experienced this over the past few months yourself, the menu and recipes below should help you out. Regardless of if you are working from home while trying to assist your kids in some form of distance learning, or your job requires you to be out and about (thank you for doing that) the recipes in the menu are pretty quick to put together, so they are great when you are in a rush and want something tasty but don’t want to spend a lot of time in the kitchen.
I am a HUGE fan of quick, easy, tasty, relativity healthy meals. The menu I am including is a guide line, there is no cooking police and if they exist they haven’t come after me yet. So if something doesn’t seem appealing cross it off and write in something you like.
Aside from the Instapot and slow cooker you don’t need any special equipment. I have been making some of these recipes for years, some recipes are new to me and I have only made them a few times but all are good, and most are kid approved or at the very least kid tolerated. (Kids are 8 &10)
Have fun with the recipes, most of them are very forgiving so don’t stress about getting it right. If you forget an ingredient it may not be the end of the world.
At the end of this post you can download a menu for a month (ok 28 days), this is more than I normally do when I plan, this will give you a quick start to menu planning. In real life I do M-F only because I never knew what our weekends would bring with sports and visiting family or friends, it was easier to just plan the two weekend days when I made my grocery list.
Some of my favorite sources:
- The 5:30 Challenge: 5 Ingredients, 30 Minutes, Dinner on the Table (Amazon)
- Not Your Mother's Make-Ahead and Freeze Cookbook (NYM Series) (Amazon)
- 12 Tomatoes (and in researching I found this which I now want to try)
- The Kitchn (Here is one article to help you find your meal plan mojo)
The idea of making a menu a month at time may seem crazy (and I will admit it maybe crazy for some) but once I got into the swing of things it has really paid off for me. As I started to get a history to draw on things got faster, and I can make the menu in about 10-15 minutes.
Next step is create your own menu for the next 4 weeks, save it and then do it again build your history. Even if you fill in your menu one week at a time do it. One reason I like the month view is that I can see if I am having the same thing over and over and over again.
- For your next menu fill in some of your family favorites, and then go through all those recipes you saved on Facebook because it looked good, put some of those in the menu.
- For the following 4 weeks, again use some family favorites, maybe revisit one, two or several from the first menu and maybe flip through a cookbook that you have at home if you are feeling wild and crazy.
- For yet another month here is a formula to fill in your menu:
- 2 breakfast for dinners
- 3 pasta dishes
- 4 chicken dishes
- 4 comfort food meals
- 4 slow cooker meals
- 3 dinners using ham, kielbasa, or other smoked sausage
- 2 Instantpot meals
- 2 casseroles
- 2 order out meals
- 2 beef dishes
Before you know it you have three months of menus planned, plus the one from this blog post so you have a 4 months of menus to use for your history.
Remember when you create your next set of menus what you write down doesn’t have to be fancy, it can be as simple as pasta + jar of sauce (seriously this is on the menu), it can be breakfast for dinner, or mark a day that you are going to order out.
If you find it easier take it one week at a time do that, but keep your plan to use again in the future or as inspiration. There really are no rules just do what works for you, I gush about my way because it works for me, it is what I know. My plan was born of necessity, I needed a plan for my sanity, so I started to read about the way other people planned, and I took what I liked and tossed the rest. Not that you need my permission but please remember, take what you like and make it work for you.
Even now I am still finding new things I want to try that seem really easy and tasty. In the process of looking things up I found this plan for a week of meals using a slow cooker. I am not a huge fan of all the things on the list but that is ok I can sub things out, there are no menu planning police!
Notes On The Recipes
- For the linguine I just use regular pasta I don’t use the whole-wheat version. Also you can use the additional ricotta for the Lemon Ricotta pancakes later that week. We double the pancake recipe for our family of 4.
- I didn’t include recipes for tacos or grilling Italian sausages and peppers, I think the are pretty self explanatory.
- I use leftovers from Rotisserie chicken for Sunday’s recipe.
- My kids don’t like how messy the sloppy joe’s are, so they often eat it as ‘chili’. We also add a slice of American cheese to our sandwiches because we love cheese this is of course optional.
- Tuscan Pot Pie- I use a 24 oz jar of sauce because that is what I can easily purchase. You can use 15 oz out of the jar and use the remaining sauce to make toaster oven pizzas on bread for lunches if you are are at home.
- After I made Tuscan Pot Pie the first time I stopped putting the crescent rolls on top. Now I bake the rolls as directed and serve them on the side, this way I can cook the sausage, beans, and sauce while they bake, so it takes less time.
- Mongolian Beef- I have done up to 3 lbs of meat without upping the sauce.
- Sausage and broccolini- this recipe says it serves two so I doubled it. That was fine on the sausages I used 8 links rather than 4. I did keep the broccolini at 1 lb (I bought 1.5 lbs but trimmed to 1 lb), 3 cups of cherry tomatoes, and 1 tsp of Italian seasoning since I didn’t have thyme. I doubled the red pepper flakes and that was a tad too spicy for my boys, but other than that they liked it.
- Sometimes you just want the comfort of nuggets and mac & cheese, or something as easy as opening a jar of sauce and boiling water for pasta.
- Chicken Normandy- I use ground turkey and never put it in the oven. My kids call this ‘apple stuff’ and they like it for leftovers as well as dinner.
- I cook my potatoes and cauliflower in the oven with the meatloaf in a different dish.
- Grape jelly BBQ Meatballs, I have done this on the stove top when my meatballs were not frozen. If I use frozen then I do it in the slow cooker and don’t thaw them.
Are you considering menu planning or do you do it already? Share your favorite go to recipes in the comments on my Facebook page.
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