Menu Plan Monday ~ Week of August 22, 2011 & Tips to Kickstart Your Menu Plans

Menu Plan Monday grilling versionMenu planning is a big part of my weekly routine and along the way I’ve learned a few lessons that make me a better, faster, stronger menu planner. I wonder if there’s a Halloween costume for that? Menu Plan Girl? Captain Planner? Menu Maven? But I digress…

In addition to posting my weekly menu plans for the next month or so I thought it might be helpful for me to share some of my menu planning tips and tricks and ask for some of your favorites in return. If we work together we can gather a collection of inspirations and ideas to empower anyone to jump into menu planning.

Three Steps to Kickstart Your Weekly Menu Planning

Let’s get the tips and tricks party started with three of the things I do to get my weekly menu plan going. Staring at a blank screen, planner, or even the back of a napkin can be daunting, making easy to give up entirely and plan for a week of takeout. But it doesn’t have to be that way!

  1. Start your menu plan by synching up with your family calendar. School activities, social events, and even late work nights impact how much time you’ll have for dinner or to prep lunches for the next day. You’ll want to plan around them so it’s best to get them out there front and center. I use a spreadsheet to plan my menus because the columnar display works for me (and I’m a geek at heart) and I include a column for all of our family fun (look down for an example).
    Kickstarting a Menu Plan Step 1: Fill in family activities
  2. Fill in meals you know you won’t have to cook. I know the point of this exercise is to plan meals at home, but at least a couple of the 21 meals you feed your family will probably be outsourced. This is a fast and easy way to start filling in the blanks and you’d be amazed at how much momentum you’ll get when you’re not staring at a blank menu plan. Glance down for what my plan for this week looks like after I’ve filled in the meals I’m not responsible for cooking. Because this is the first week of school and the kidlet’s birthday week we’re eating out a little more than we typically would.
    Kickstart Your Menu Plan Step 2: Fill in Meals you won't have to cook
  3. Raid the freezer. If you have a freezer stash of easy meals now’s the time to take a gander at your inventory and see what can make meal easier, particularly on days when the family calendar is full. (If you don’t have a freezer stash that’s okay – we’ll talk about that in a future post). This week I’ll thaw some filling for Chinese Chicken Lettuce Wraps. The kidlet opts to skip the lettuce wraps and have the filling over steamed rice. The leftovers make great lunch the next day. With that my menu plan is about 1/3 don and I haven’t even broken an (electronic) sweat, as you’ll see below.
    Kickstart Your Menu Plan Step 3: Raid the freezer

Menu planning isn’t all outsourcing and freezer stashes though, so next week we’ll take a look at how to mix family favorites with a little help from the supermarket to fill in even more menu blanks.

The Plan

This week isn’t necessarily a typical week because it’s back to school and we have family in town for the kidlet’s birthday celebration. Even so, for the sake of budget and calorie intake I’m putting extra effort into being sure I have a plan for breakfast and lunches made at home. I’ll also raid the Whole Foods meat counter and pre-prepped sections to make from-scratch dinners faster during what promised to be a hectic week.

  • Monday: 1st day of school pizza celebration
    We’ll have a family toast to a great first day of school after a local food event then share a pie at a local favorite spot. I’ll be sure to order a large pizza so there will be leftovers for lunch (and probably for breakfast if my family has their way).
  • Tuesday: Grilled pork tenderloin, grilled peaches, steamed broccoli, and oven fries
    Pork tenderloin is a great weeknight dish because it cooks quickly and takes on all sorts of flavors well. I have a few peaches left over from our local season and they’ll caramelize beautifully on the grill.
  • Wednesday: Chinese chicken lettuce wraps (freezer stash) and steamed rice
    After the pep rally we’ll be hungry and tired. I’ll have this dinner on the table in 15 minutes after we walk in the door. I’ll make extra rice for Friday night.
  • Thursday: Burgers from Mighty Fine
    With family flying in, a school event, and a fantasy football draft in the mix making dinner is a fantasy I’m not going to bother to entertain. We’ll look forward to family burger night instead.
  • Friday: Satay skewers, steamed rice, and grilled vegetables
    The meat counter and produce section three floors down from my office will help me put a from scratch dinner for our extended family on the table quickly on a Friday night. I’ll buy pre-marinated stay from the meat counter and pre-prepped vegetables that I can quickly skewer. The whole dinner will be ready in less than 30 minutes after I get home.
  • Saturday: Birthday dinner for the kidlet
    I suppose I’ll have to stop calling her the kidlet now that she’s about to be 12.
  • Sunday: Grilled chicken, mac and cheese, parmesan crusted carrots
    We’ll end the week with a comfortable and simple dinner. Leftover chicken will be plenty of fodder for next week’s lunches.

What are some of your favorite tips for making the menu planning process easier? How are you tackling menus for the first week of school? Please share in the comments.



  1. Menu Plan Monday ~ Week of August 29, 2011 & Tips to Fill Out Your Menu Plans : FĂȘte & Feast - [...] week I included some of my favorite tips for kick starting your menu plan. Once you know what meals…

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