Let’s face it; cooking is a part of our lives—every single day of our lives, forever.
Consequently, we often get bored with planning healthy meals for our families.
I get so bored with it, I frequently tell my kids, “When it’s just me and Dad, I will spend Saturdays making a big salad, grilling a few chicken breasts, and making rolls.
We will live off that all week.” The kids think I’m nuts. They have no idea.
Sometimes, it’s not the boredom, it’s the finances. Every single visit to the grocery store women discover the price of something has gone up. Good cuts of meat just aren’t in the budget right now and we can’t figure out how to get the protein right.
We want to spend more on fresh fruits and vegetables but when we serve them, they don’t stick to the ribs like other, less-expensive choices; so we need some help in balancing it all out.
How Meal Plans Don’t Have to Be Complicated
Relax. It doesn’t have to be that complicated. Services exist to help you—but beware. Before signing up for a menu-planning service, make sure their food philosophy lines up with yours. You don’t want them sending you meat dishes if you are vegetarian. Nor do you want the recipe for biscuits to include two cups of Bisquick® when you prefer to cook from scratch.
Facing a summer of gardening and canning, and some heavy writing deadlines, I needed help. Since a hired hand was not in the budget, I subscribed to a menu-planning service (for a fee). This service promised the menus would be within my budget (they boasted $50/person/month) and the recipes would be from scratch with healthy ingredients. However, this non-foodie was stuck in the kitchen for several weeks trying to prepare things like “Strawberry Cheesecake Crepes” and “Spinach Alfredo Tortilla Bake” when my family was previously content with toast and eggs or grilled cheese sandwiches.
Meal Planning Resources
In light of this recent experience, I’d like to share a few menu-planning services with you. But I’d also like to share how I do it, too.
1. Food on the Table
FoodontheTable.com takes the sale ads from the grocery stores you shop at and recipes you choose, to make a menu and grocery list designed for your family. It really is a clever system for those that plan their meals around the sales fliers. And the best part is that it is free.
2. 100 Days of Real Food
If you’d rather cook from scratch and eat “real food,” you might want to check out 100DaysofRealFood.com. You do not have to do anything but “like” their Facebook page to download four already prepared menus and corresponding grocery lists/price guides. This service boasts that the menus can be made within the government’s food stamp budget for a family of four.
3. Eating Well Menu Planner
The Eating Well Menu Planner is offered by Eating Well Magazine. Using it, you choose recipes from their website, drop them into the queue, and it gives you the plan, a grocery list, and also keeps track of your weight goals for you. “An integrated tool calculates your Body Mass Index (BMI) based on your height and weight and tells you how many calories you need to manage your weight.” Of course, the planner keeps “track of your daily totals for calories, fat, carbohydrates and sodium” and lets you know if you “go over the recommended number of calories per day.”
4. Menu Planning Made Simple
Check out Menu Planning Made Simple. This is my plan, folks. To begin with, you need to sit down and brainstorm all the meals that your family already eats and enjoys on a regular basis. Don’t hold out, put it all down. Once you have your list, divide it into seven different categories. My categories are pizza, crock pot, pasta, sandwiches, rice, potatoes, and leftovers. I might change them with the seasons, but this gives you an idea. Then I list each of my family’s favorites in the appropriate category. Each category is assigned a day of the week so that we eat a crock pot meal on Sunday, sandwiches on Wednesday, and pizza on Friday. Our breakfast choices are limited to toast and eggs, homemade granola, or grits with cheese. Lunch—soup and bread or sandwiches.
This method works for me, even in the busy summertime, because it uses what I have on hand and what we already enjoy eating. It works so well, I went into more depth about it, and included worksheets for it, in my book Homestead Cooking with Carol: Bountiful Make-ahead Meals. The key is to do what works for your family and keeps within your budget. If you want to come up with your own plan, but would like an attractive form to print it out on, do an image web search for “menu planner” and you will get a ton of cool printables to post on your refrigerator.
What do you use to help plan your family’s healthy meals? I’d love to collect more ideas in the comments!