Sunday, 21 April 2013

Death to the Pre-Dinner Stress: The Life-Saving Menu Planner

I try to keep my life as efficient and simple as possible. Time is precious to me and so over the years I've devised a menu planning system that works for me & my family's craziness.

A menu has been my life saver.

I'm sure most people can relate to staring at the inside of the fridge/cupboard when you're starving an hour past the usual dinner time, trying to figure out what to make. I sure know that feeling and it drove me insane.

When I went out to work, I found it extremely stressful to come home and try to figure out what to make. Now that I'm at home, it's just as hard, with two little ones hanging on my legs screaming that they're hungry and everyone else pecking around the kitchen like a bunch of chickens trying to find something to take away the hunger pangs.

Not any more!

I started with just one 4 week menu. I modelled it after the menus they had in the group home I used to work at - perfect for a revolving door of cooks and perfect for a busy house. There is a column for each day of the week and each day is broken down into three meals. I don't really use the breakfast or lunch spots like I should, but there are many days that I wish I day I'll get there. Each meal includes the main dish and any sides to help keep a balanced & healthy meal.

I started using this menu about 3 years ago & it worked well at first, but over time I found that it was too much repetition. The same meal every 4th Monday became hard to deal I tried a 6 week rotation. It worked better, but come summer we wanted lighter meals and BBQ. Last year I adjusted my meals a bit and created 4-week summer & winter menus. Of course I couldn't stop there, this year, I added fall & spring ones too!

Over the years I've added a few helpful things to my menus:
  • snacks/desserts to have available for the week (helpful for grocery shopping)
  • a list of the meals that can be done in a big cook (for quick reference)
  • a list of breads/desserts that I need to make for the week
  • the cooking time for each meal (so I can have dinner ready on time to keep the crying children and pecking chickens at bay)
  • a space for notes

I update these menus every season using the notes I've made; what was a hit and what wasn't, what needed to be changed to a different night or took too long, what cost too much $, or what needed more/less to feed us all. Over the years I've been able to save a lot of money on groceries and reduced the amount of wasted food, just because of a menu. It's a work in progress, but one I'm grateful for every day as 4:00 rolls around and I start to get into meal preparation mode.

Why do I need a menu?

  • saves the meal preparation/planning stress
  • saves time wasted trying to decide what to make
  • saves money
  • helps with grocery shopping - I always know what to buy each week
  • helps plan for big cooks (which save you time and money too!)
  • stress causes health problems...a menu planner could really be a life saver!

Did I mention that my menu is my life saver???

Now I look at the menu the night before and take out the meat needed or a pre-frozen meal (from my awesome big cook days) and make sure I have all the ingredients ready - no more staring into the fridge/cupboard trying to decide what to make and finally giving up and ordering pizza. There is very little stress with meal times now...sure the kids still hang on my legs crying for food and attention, but that time has been significantly shortened to the time it takes me to whip a salad up or make a side dish.

Feel free to use my Blank Menu Template to create a menu for your own family and relieve your dinner stress!


*Update*: Curious minds want to know what meals are on my menus...I will post all my menus in a later blog at the beginning of each season. My Spring Menu is already posted.


  1. Adel, Lately I've been thinking a lot about doing this and I'm going to give your suggestions a try. I've had too many days where 5:30 rolls around and I have no idea what to make for dinner. Keep your great organizing ideas coming. Even veteran cooks like me can learn a lot.

    1. Thanks Bev! Glad to help a wonderful veteran cook!!!