One of the areas that I’ve really wanted to step up in my home life in this new year is around menu planning. I used to be a total champ at this – and stayed on top of it no matter what. But as life has sped up with a toddler, the menu planning took a backseat to looking around the fridge and throwing a meal together most nights of the week. Don’t get me wrong – I still do this, but I want to TRY to do BETTER in this new year.
So one of the ways I’m working on sticking to my goals of simplifying and keeping meal time stress down is by menu planning for a season instead of just a week at a time.
I decided that if I was going to stay consistent with planning out our meals, I’d at least try to plan ALL the meals. The main reason around doing this is that I only ever really planned out our dinners – and our breakfast and lunches were always a hodge podge or a game of “what’s in the pantry?” every day.
Plus my menu plans around dinners were only one week at a time. So I was doing this same task over and over every week – when I could be a little more efficient with my time and work a bit further out to save myself some work every weekend.
The current reality is that we eat pretty much the same things on repeat every week. So why not just put those meals on a calendar and stick with them? And we often eat a lot of the same meals throughout each season anyway – so again, why not just make it “official” by putting them on a menu plan to stick to?
My hope is that grocery shopping and meal prep will be a lot smoother and create more space for doing things that we love to do as a family, free up time on the weekends, and lighten the grocery bill of overspending on food that we don’t have a dedicated need for.
Here’s how I created my Winter Menu Plan:
- I wrote down a list of all the breakfasts, lunches, and dinners that we already eat regularly.
- I made a spreadsheet and put down the days of the week and boxes for breakfasts, lunches, and dinners for six weeks.
- I filled in the ideas for each of the boxes for breakfast, lunch, and dinners.
Here’s a few things to note about the Winter Menu Plan:
- I made sure to build in leftover nights. I pretty much stick to only cooking 3-4 nights per week and eating leftovers the rest of the week. We’re a small family of three, so I’m often able to stretch a meal for four into three nights with the addition of a few side veggies or rice. If you have a bigger family, you might consider just doubling a recipe so you can eat twice with the same amount of effort.
- I decided on six weeks, because that’s how far I got before I ran out of meal ideas that we actually eat. There aren’t any new – to us – recipes inside this menu plan. If I wanted to add some new recipes we haven’t tried before, then I could have stretched it further.
- I plan to repeat this menu plan twice – to take us out to 12 weeks, which should get us almost to spring, being that we started this menu plan on January 1st.
- I didn’t put any dates to the menu plan so that I can repeat this again come next year if I want to.
- I only created one week of meals for breakfasts and lunches, because we truly are creatures of habit in my household. We don’t do things all that fancy around here – and often take a lot of help from the store for these two meals. Since they’re the busiest times of day in our house, we don’t worry about making things exceptionally interesting. Just tasty and easy. I’ve left lunches a little vague and up for interpretation for a reason – to keep things interesting if we want them to be.
- The meals that I’ve included are *almost* always toddler-friendly for our little guy. There are a few things that he won’t eat that’s on our menu plan. I never thought I’d be the mom who would make my kid a separate meal than what my husband or I ate, but I’ve come to realize that it’s okay if he doesn’t eat what we eat. On nights that he’s not happy with what we make, he usually has a hodge podge meal of things that are already “made” or easy to heat up. Things like fruit, cheese (he’s not dairy-free), deli meat, crackers, or toast. Or any leftovers we already have in the fridge.
So what’s included in our menu plan? Here’s what we’ve come up with for our 12 weeks of winter:
- Toast with peanut butter, almond butter or jam. Turkey sausage (if we’re all hungry enough for it).
- Chia pudding with fruit (two times)
- Chocolate peanut butter banana smoothie
- Green smoothie + granola bars
- Pancakes + fruit (we use this pancake mix)
- Avocado toast
- Salad mix – just simply the bagged salad mix from the grocery store. We add canned chicken from Costco and salad dressing – often homemade vinaigrettes or Newman’s Own has a few yummy dairy-free options.
- Soup with toast or crackers. I’ll sometimes make my own soup (I love this one), but we do keep some packaged soup cartons in the pantry for easy meals if my son and I come back from hiking in the morning and we don’t have a ton of time to hang out and cook. I’m working on trying a bunch of these soups to review for you for a later post.
- Stuffed potatoes – with canned chicken + a frozen veggie. I like to use sweet potatoes and my husband likes russets for this.
- Meatballs + frozen veggie + quinoa. We buy the Aidell’s meatballs from Costco and everyone in my family loves them. They used to have an Italian flavor, but they swapped them out for teriyaki flavor now – and we love them all the same.
- “Picnic lunch”
Dinners (most of these are repeated for two meals):
- Steak bites with potatoes and broccoli
- Smoky turkey chili
- Teriyaki lettuce wraps with rice
- Homemade pizza with salad
- Tacos with rice + beans
- One-pan chicken, green beans + potatoes
- Spaghetti with meat sauce + salad
- Coconut + curry turkey chili
- Ham + roasted veggies
- Balsamic chicken + rice + peas
- Veggie-loaded meatloaf + roasted veggies
- BBQ chicken + potatoes + braised greens
- Steak + veggie stir-fry with rice
- Homemade burgers with fruit + salad
- “Egg roll in a bowl” + quinoa
- Frozen pizza – yep, straight up from the freezer section.
- Beef stew
- Peanut noodles
- Costco chicken with corn and fruit. The pre-made $5 chickens are a total steal and an easy dinner option on shopping day.
A few more notes:
- Recipes for the meals listed above can be found in the free download at the bottom of this post.
- Whenever I use toast or bread, I use gluten-free bread. Often whatever I can find at Costco. While my hubby and son who aren’t GFDF eat Dave’s Killer Bread, which does have gluten in it. I don’t make them eat what I eat – and we’re all happy with the results.
- Frozen veggies are whatever I happen to have in my freezer and what sounds good for that particular meal. I most often have peas, corn, green beans, and broccoli in my freezer for side dishes and adding to other dishes.
- I try to make a batch of quinoa or rice once a week to last a couple meals – and leftovers sometimes get added to lunchtime soups.
- “Picnic lunch” is usually where we just kind of eat whatever we have around. It’s like a snack lunch of what we can find or sounds good that day. Often some gluten-free deli meat, crackers, fruit, avocado, hummus and veggies, nuts, etc. Nothing fancy. This is my favorite way to eat and so easy.
I hope this has helped inspire you to get a little more organized with your own menu planning – and see that eating gluten-free and dairy-free doesn’t have to be difficult or time consuming. For me, it helps having a plan that I can stick to so that eating this way becomes a complete no-brainer. When I have to think too hard, I don’t always stick to my good habits and am a lot more likely to fall off the wagon.
If you’d like to download my Winter Menu Plan, you can grab access to it below. I’ve included recipes and linked off to many of the recipes that aren’t mine or require more than a simple explanation to tell you how to make them. Enjoy!