4 Ways to Add Structure to Your Menu Plan via Clean Mama

Eager to try out menu planning after reading last week’s post and looking for some ideas to get you started? These are four of my favorite methods to make meal planning, prep, and dinner a little easier. Choose one idea to implement, or all four. Either way, you are guaranteed to make dinner time run all that much more smoothly.

Double Duty Dinners:

One of my favorite short cut methods to menu planning is double duty dinner planning. Essentially, this is utilizing a cook once, use twice mentality. This also works well when I double a recipe and freeze one meal and eat one. I use the frozen meal on those nights when all I have is 5 minutes to get something in the oven. Thinking ahead is the key to double duty dinners – it doesn’t take that much more effort to cut and prep extra vegetables, cook two portions of meat or prepare double the amount of ingredients that would go in to another night’s dinner. Here are some of my favorite ideas for utilizing this method for meal planning:

  • Roast two chickens and have one for dinner one night, and shred or cut up the remaining one for dinner the next night. Perfect for salads, shredded meat sandwiches, tacos and any other recipe calling for cooked chicken.
  • Brown up a double batch of ground turkey or beef. Perfect for spaghetti or tacos one night and anything calling for ground meat the next. I also like to have browned ground meat in the freezer for those last minute dinners ready to go.
  • It sounds fancy but it’s not: mirepoix. This is the oh-so-common blend of onions, carrots and celery that goes perfectly in soups, pot pies and stews. (Hello, crock pot!) I do a combo of two parts onion, one part carrot and one part celery. One night might be chicken pot pie while minestrone is on the menu later in the week. This combo can also be frozen.
  • Pork tenderloin is also ideal for double duty dinners. It can easily be cooked in the crockpot or oven and is simple to prepare without a lot of fuss. I love pork tenderloin one night followed by sandwiches or a stir fry another night.

Slow Cooker Dinners:

The humble slow cooker is every person’s savior at the end of a busy day. With some planning the night before or the morning of, it’s easy to put all the ingredients in in the morning to be welcomed by a fantastic meal in the evening. We enjoy slow cooker meals on those days where my afternoon meal prep is limited due to activities or not being home. Here are some of my favorite slow cooker meals – perfect for busy nights or lazy weekends.

15 Minute Dinners:

There are days or even weeks where you may not have a lot of time for meal prep before dinner. I like to have some super fast yet healthier options that don’t require fast food runs, boxed or canned food or unhealthy meals. For us, these meals are some of the kids’ favorites- go figure! Here are some of our go-to ideas:

SALAD BAR: We utilize this meal when our produce drawer is getting a little too full of random vegetables or we have leftover chicken from another nights meal. I love using a box or bag of greens and simply wash and prep all those veggies that are just hanging out. I put everything out in bowls for everyone to make their own salad, making sure that there is protein included somewhere like meat or cheese to fill up those tummies. Burrito bowls are another fun option if you have some leftover browned, ground meat, add some beans to stretch it out and turn it into a yummy burrito bowl.

SANDWICH BAR: This is similar to our salad bar routine where everyone can put together their own sandwich. The options are plentiful – lunch meat, cheese, lettuce, tomatoes, avocado, cucumbers etc. If you are feeling extra fancy, try a panini bar with your favorite spreads like pesto or tapenade.

STIR FRY:  Stir fries are a quick, easy and one dish kind of meal. All a stir fry needs is a sauce, protein, veggies, and rice or noodles (we love buckwheat Soba noodles at our house). Check out this post with all sorts of stir fry prep and freeze ideas and a FREE printable.

Themed Dinners:

If you or your family are fans of predictability, theme meal planning may be perfect for you. Using this method, each day of the week is assigned a theme and dinner is planned accordingly. For example, Monday may be pasta night, Tuesday salad night and Wednesday pizza night. Looking for some themes to get you started? Here are a couple ideas for inspiration:

  • Meatless
  • Italian
  • Slow cooker
  • Breakfast for Dinner
  • Pizza
  • Grilled
  • Salad – just about every Monday is salad night at my house
  • Soup/Stew
  • Casserole or hot dish
  • Leftovers
  • Mexican
  • Kids Night (kids plan and prep or kids choice)
  • Sandwich
  • Chicken

 Have a tip or idea to add? Leave it in the comments!