Time for a new menu plan

(Note: this is also posted over at Full House)

It's the first of the year, and for me, that means making goals, revising chore charts, cleaning out junk, organizing, and in general, hoping that somehow, this year I can keep the chaos to a minimum. This is the year I plan on being the perfect wife, homemaker, mother, and friend. I'm going to exercise, stick to my own cleaning schedule, lose weight, serve healthy meals, keep a clean house, read scriptures daily, serve others, speak kindly, read with my kids more, and bring about world peace.

Of course, I won't actually be perfect at any of those things, but one can always try, right? My first plan of attack is revising my basic menu plan. I've used a system for several years now that I was introduced to by Marie Ricks. I've tried regular scheduled menus in the past, but her system was simpler and easier. As she put it at the beginning of the class, "Today I'm going to teach you how to know what to cook every day for the rest of your life." It was what I needed. Cooking is my least-favorite chore, but there's just no avoiding it when you're the mom of a big family -- unless, of course, you have a husband who likes to cook. Mine does, so he cooks on the weekends, leaving me just four or five days a week. He used to cook during the week more, way back when he had a low-stress job and we just had a couple of kids. But his job now is pretty intense and so it's best for me to do the weekly cooking.

My hardest problem used to be the panicked, crazy dinner hour, when I'd lean on the cupboard door wondering what in the world I should cook. Inevitably, I'd go back to one of my old stand-bys, something I'd made way too often. So this concept of knowing in advance and sticking to my plan worked wonders for me.

Marie's Menu Plan introduces a rotating four-week menu of meals. I'd done that before, but I found the key to success was that Marie suggests you have a one-week rotation of side dishes and that you have a consistent theme for each weekday. She does Mexican on Tuesdays, Quick Meals on Mondays, and then she suggests a fruit and a veggie for Tuesdays that goes with Mexican food, etc. I took that idea and ran with it, though I don't have a nightly theme for my menus. Mine, instead, are divided by how much time it takes to cook. In my old menu plan, I had 40-60 minute (from start to finish, including cooking time) meals on Mondays, 20-30 minute meals on Tuesdays, crockpot meals on Wednesdays, and so on. I chose the fruits and vegetables my family eats the most, though we do substitute other things now and then. It has been wonderful to have the side dishes planned, particularly as the two older kids (ages 9 and 8) are now old enough to help with meals. It's easy when you're working so hard on the main dish to forget about fruits and vegetables, but this introduces the concept to the kids that the meal isn't complete without a fruit and a vegetable. We also have a type of bread on the menu, but we usually only put that out once or twice a week (another thing to work on this year, right?).

I don't stick to the schedule rigorously -- if I know we'll be out all afternoon on Tuesday, for example, I might switch the Wednesday crockpot meal with the Tuesday meal. And every so often, I'll go to make the scheduled dinner and realize that we're out of sour cream or peppers and I need to make another change. Usually, I choose another meal from the four meals for that day.

I've used basically the same menu plan for the last two years, with some minor modifications. I'm finding lately, though, that several of the meals are just not getting made, whether because I get to that day and don't feel like making it, the ingredients are too expensive to keep on hand, or too many members of my family dislike it. So a few days ago, I tackled the menu plan, dropping some meals and adding some others, and changing crockpot day to Tuesdays.

Another thing that's made this system work for me is my recipe card file. I find there's no better way to keep my recipes organized. I have all the regular categories (Cookies, Cakes, Playdough, etc.), but I added 7 dividers at the beginning of the card file, one for each day of the week. In Monday's, I put the four cards for my Monday meals, Tuesdays hold my four Tuesday meals, and so on. When it's time to make dinner, I can either consult my calendar posted in the pantry or I can just grab the first card for that day's meals. When I'm done making the meal, I put the card to the back so the next week's meal is first in rotation.

So here's my new schedule. I ended up adding an extra week of meals because as I discussed the plan with DH, we kept coming up with meals we just couldn't do without. So later this week, I will be writing down a few new recipes and re-arranging my card files.






Seasonal Fruit


Green Beans




Seasonal Fruit






1 Hour

Sweet & Sour Chicken

Crockpot/1 Hour

Mexican Salad

30 Minutes

Spaghetti & Sausages

25 Minutes

Herbed Chicken & Potatoes

50 Minutes

Tater Tot Casserole


Fettuccine Alfredo

25 Minutes

Tortilla Soup

25 Minutes


1 Hour 15 Minutes

Taco Soup


Company Chicken

60 minutes


30 Minutes

Porcupine Balls

1 Hour

Creamy Cooker Chicken


Rice & Sausage Casserole

1 hour 30 minutes

Enchiladas or Tacos

30-60 Minutes

Chicken Curry with Rice

45 Minutes

Cowboy Casserole


Baked Potato Bar

60 minutes

Grilled Cheese & Soup

30 minutes

What have you found to make menu planning easier?

Edited to Add: Friday night is (*supposed to be*) date night, so either we have leftovers or something simple the babysitter can feed the kids. When DH & I don't go out, we'll either do leftovers, or DH will cook. I'll try to post my recipes later.


Jacki said…
Hi again! Love your menu idea- I've been working on ours. What about Friday, Saturday, Sunday? Does Aaron cook Friday too? and do you buy the groceries for those days? I like plans like this because it also makes grocery shopping and food storage easier. Thanks for sharing- can you post the recipes too? =)
Wendy said…
That plan is so AMAZING!!! I wish I'd come across something like this years ago. But now I'll work on something in this direction and take off with it.

This is definately the year I need to get better ORGANIZED!!!

Here's to new years goals.
I love your menu plan! This is just what I needed. We have TONS of food storage, but I can never think of what to make, so I always end up spending way more on groceries than I should, and making a trip to the grocery store almost every day, which is just not good.

I adopted a similar plan for side dishes a couple years ago. We like fresh vegetables, not cooked, so I buy them at Costco, so I always have a bag of baby carrots, and the cut up broccoli, and I like to cut up large amount of other things, like cucumber and peppers and celery, then I always have vegetable ready in the fridge.

Another thing we like is home made hummus, so I make a couple cans of it at a time and keep it in the fridge for a week or so. It's super healthy and good.

You've inspired me to finally start planning my meals this year. :)
3in3mom said…
Awesome plan. I have one for main dishes, but didn't add in the sides. You are such a great example for organization!

I too would love recipes if you'd share.
maureen said…
Ooooh! Beff Porcupines! Those are my favorites and my children love it when I make them. We always make a little extra rice and I serve them with fresh broccoli.

Thanks for the great organizational ideas. I love reading your blog and seeing your beautiful family!

Happy 2009!
Lisa6Kids said…
I always plan a month of menus but I divide it by week. 7 meals for the first week, 7 for the second and so on. I do not assign a meal to each day in case we are not in the mood for that particular one on a set day. Then I make a grocery list divided by weeks. The ingredients I need for all the meals planned for the first week are listed, then the next sections are the ingredients I will buy on my second shopping trip for the meals for the second week. Clear as mud? I could outline it better on my blog, it works rather well actually.
Lisa6Kids said…
Oh and I also keep a master list of all the meals I make that are enjoyed by everyone. It's easier to set up a month's meals by pulling from that list. I don't generally use recipes because most of mine I have created on my own so I just have the master list.
Amy Boyack said…
I love your menu plan. I just plan dinners and then side dishes that are easy and cheap to round out the nutrition so each food group is covered. If you're interested, I post menus and shopping lists every week on my blog. You have to add your own breakfasts, lunches, and snacks according to what you like, but it's a really good start.
Oh, Christina, you're amazing! Meal planning is my ever-present, half-fullfilled goal. This sounds like an awesome way to do it - I told Gary about it and we're going to try it out (we will end up with 2 "Mexican" nights, because we eat a LOT of mexican!) Hope everything's going great!
swedemom said…
What's cowboy casserole and company chicken?
Would love the recipes.
swedemom said…
OH and I've never heard of Beef porcupines, are they meatballs with rice?

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