Menu Planning 101 - How to Get Dinner on the Table with Ease via Clean Mama

If you’re feeling like everything just ramped up and life just got really busy in a hurry, you’re not alone. The fall can be a really busy time and if your house is anything like mine, getting dinner on the table in a hurry is a must. Over the next month or two I’m going to be sharing some time saving menu planning tips, tricks and shortcuts that I think you’ll really enjoy. I love menu planning and interestingly enough my kids really enjoy knowing ‘what’s for dinner’ before 5pm and if I’m being honest, so do I.

First things first, let’s just state that every home is different, every schedule is different, and expectations are different. If you’ve never planned meals ahead, this is probably going to sound complicated, overwhelming, and not worth it. If you’ve planned your menu before you get it – it’s worth the effort. Today I’m going to share some basics and a place to start – and just do that, start!

Gather the supplies that you think will be helpful – here are a couple ideas to get you started. This how I menu plan, with ALL my menu planning tools at the ready. I feel a little more inspired when I gather a couple cookbooks and a little inspiration. Maybe you just want to grab a scrap of paper and a cookbook and keep it at that – you can menu plan without the hoopla, but it does make it a little more fun.

Here’s what you need to get started menu planning:

  • A PLACE TO WRITE THE MENU ON – do you want to plan week by week or would you rather plan a whole month at a time? There are so many options from your wall calendar, a tablet, a notepad, a piece of paper on the refrigerator, a chalkboard, a dry erase board, a picture frame with a dry erase marker….
  • INSPIRATION – where do you find your recipes? Get those things out (cookbooks, websites)- if you’re planning out a month at a time, you’ll probably need a couple more resources. Personally, I use Pinterest, and a couple other tried and true websites for recipes, but if there’s one that I want to try, I’ll print it out and place it in the ‘recipes to try’ section of my recipe binder. If it’s a keeper, it will get moved to the appropriate category in the binder.
  • TRIED AND TRUE RECIPES – trying out new recipes all the time is not an efficient use of time or resources. Every once in a while I’ll cook exclusively from a new cookbook for a week or so, but that’s when we don’t have anything going on in the afternoons/evenings. Have favorite recipes that come together in a snap AND your family enjoys – I keep these in my recipe binder.
  • GAME PLAN – decide WHEN you’ll do your menu planning, keep it simple, and make a grocery list at the same time. Doing these simple things will ensure success for your menu planning. If you need to have each night revolve around a theme, (meatless Monday, new recipe Tuesday, kids’ choice Wednesday, etc.) set a couple themes and get started.
  • COOK ONCE – EAT TWICE – this is my saving grace in the kitchen and I’ll be talking about this quite a bit during the series. I am all about simplifying the time spent in the kitchen and try to spend 30 minutes getting dinner on the table. That said, if I am cooking once, I might as well double the recipe and freeze some, or make enough for leftovers the next night. Put this right into your menu plan – it’ll save you a ton of time and energy – I promise!

I hope that gives you a starting point and inspires your to put a little effort into planning your menu – it’ll pay off in time spent around the table with your family, money saved because food isn’t wasted, and energy trying to figure out ‘what’s for dinner’. In case you’re curious, I menu plan on Fridays and do the grocery shopping then as well. I have to pick up a couple things during the week, but get the majority of the shopping taken care of on Fridays (catch-all day for my cleaning routine).

Interested in more? Here are some menu planning posts and links to some of the products shown:

I LOVE cookbooks and will never get rid of them in lieu of going paperless – I only keep the ones that are in the rotation, but they do get a lot of use and for me, it makes cooking and planning meals more enjoyable. If you’re of that same mindset, you’ll probably like this post:

How to Organize Cookbooks for Better Menu Planning via Clean Mama

How to Organize Cookbooks for Better Menu Planning

I find that the easiest way to keep track of meals that I want to make is to bookmark them or pin them on my Pinterest account, but most of the time I’ll print the recipe from the site and put it straight into my Recipe Binder. If I am putting together a menu for a get-together I’ll gather the recipes I need and quickly put together the menu and shopping list. I love make-ahead meals (I even have a section for it in my binder) because they allow for the prepping to take place ahead of time.

How to Create a Recipe Binder System that Works via Clean Mama

 Need some ideas for menu planning? Just click on the images below!

Busy Week Menu Plan - 7 Time Saving Meals for a Busy Week via Clean Mama

Busy Week Menu Plan - Take 2 - 7 Time Saving Recipes for a Busy Week via Clean Mama

Quick Prep Meal Starters for the Freezer + Free Printable List via Clean Mama

If you need a little help with your menu planning, I have an adorable menu planning notepad in my shop and menu planning kits as well. Click on the images below to see them in my shop.

Menu Plan for the Week - Full - Clean Mama

On the Menu Clean Mama Printables

Clean Mama's Recipe Binder Kit via Clean Mama