{April} Meals for a Month and Menu Planning 101


Well, as y’all can see, I haven’t menu planned since January. Still, we’ve eaten; I’ve just been winging it! It helps that during the winter months, we eat a lot of soup. So, leftovers have been plentiful! However, it’s time to get back to planning out menus. My husband and I both work, as well we share in the responsibilities of home schooling our kiddos. Over the years, we’ve discovered that menu planning provides a bit of sanity in our lives. Plus, it allows the kids to help out with preparing meals.

On Facebook, a few friends asked me how I go about menu planning. Now, keep in mind, we all have different personalities and strengths.With my menu planning, my nerd flag is flying high! I keep a grocery list on the fridge. Whenever we run out of something, whoever notices it first is kindly asked to write it on the list. This helps me to keep track of what we need, specifically when I find an item on sale. (Rarely, do I pay full price for things. You can read more about that HERE.)

As well, there are so many things to take into consideration when you begin to menu plan: What is your food budget? Have you created a price list? Pantry/Freezer Inventory? What foods do you and your family enjoy  eating? Do you regularly have folks over to share a meal? And how will you menu plan?
There are so many ways: paper/pencil (calendar or notebook), digital (calendar, document, blog, etc.); by the week, every two weeks, by the month; rotate only a few family favorite meals, or include some new and different recipes .

Personally, I like to menu plan by the month. Even though I like lists, order and structure, when it comes to cooking, I like it to be a bit more spontaneous. So, I don’t dictate which day we make specific meals. Well,  unless it’s a Sunday, and we are having folks over after church. On those occasions, I always stick to the K.I.S.S Method (Keep It Simple Sister). Then, the choices for lunch are some sort of crockpot soup, Spaghetti and Meatballs or Jambalaya.

With menu planning, I begin by taking an inventory of my kitchen pantry, fridge and freezer, as well as my overstock pantry and garage freezer. Having an overstock pantry and garage freezer allows me to take advantage of sales on items that we use regularly. In no way am I an ‘extreme shopper’ or ‘hoarder’. However, I do like to manage our food dollars wisely and stretch them as much as I can, in order to have a well-stocked pantry and freezer with healthy foods for a variety of reasons. Obviously, I like to feed my family nutrient-rich, real foods with the occasional treat and splurge thrown into the mix. But this also makes it possible for our family to regularly invite others into our home for a meal, to share our bounty with those in need in our community, and to have ingredients on hand to quickly put together a meal for folks in our church who are sick, expecting a baby, or who simply may need an evening when they don’t have to cook!

So where should one begin when starting out meal planning? Well, there are probably a million and one ways, but I complied a few of my ideas. Here ya go:

1. Begin by taking inventory of what you have on hand, so you know what you have to work with, what needs to be used up, and what items need to be purchased. By doing so, you will be throwing less food out, but also will be able to purchase those regularly used food items at their best prices, instead of at the last minute when they aren’t on sale.

2. Then, decide how you will create your menu plan. As I shared, I make up a monthly menu plan.Some folks do it by days of the week. Keeping in mind their personal schedule, as well as their family’s schedule.

3. Decide how you will categorize your menu plan. I like to compile my menu plan by categories.  The categories I use are: Soups/Stews, Meatless Meals, Poultry, Seafood, Beef/Pork, Freezer Meals (When I make certain soups and sauces,  I double/triple the batch to have some to stick in the freezer.) I also include a category for Vegetables, Side Dishes, and Salads, Breakfast, Baking and Snacks.

4. Use any and all available resources that are available to you. Some of the meals I make I know by the back of my hand. No recipe needed. But my kids or husband may need one. So, I still try to tag a recipe, or let them know which cookbook to find it. I also take advantage of Pinterest (Check out my boards HERE), AllRecipes  (I appreciate this site because there’s an area that allows you to put in the ingredients you have on hand, and it supplies you with a few recipes using those specific ingredients.), along with treasured recipes, which I keep in a notebook, and well-loved cookbooks that I have collected over the years. (Recently, a dear lady from our church passed away and her daughter gave me some of her cookbooks. These are gems and treasures to me!) There are so many other resources to choose from, use whatever you like and those which help you the most. 

5. Create you menu plan. From the pantry/freezer inventory that was created, you can easily see what items need to be purchased to round out the menu. For most of us, we have to weekly or bi-weekly purchase produce and dairy items. However, once you get into a groove of purchasing regularly used items at their lowest prices, you will begin to have pantry staples and even some freezer items on hand because you purchased them in bulk when on sale. This has made my menu planning so much easier.

You’ll notice on my menu plans, there are more meals than there’s month. I do this so we have variety and options. As well, since we are fans of leftovers, there’s usually at least one night each week where leftovers are on the menu. Another option is “CAN DINNERS”. A friend from church gave me this idea, which simply means, everyone CAN have whatever they CAN find and/or make. (And they are responsible for cleaning up any dishes and/or messes they make.) This appears on the menu at least once a week, too.

6. But mostly, please know that all of this is trial and error. What works for me may not work for you. Over the years, I have implemented various strategies before landing on one that really works for our family. In a few years, we might go with something else. Who know?! And some recipes may sound good when you read them, but once made aren’t what you hoped they’d be. Others ones, you and your family will greatly enjoy, and they become part of the regular rotation. As well, some months, you might purchase a new food item that everyone loves it. But the next month, you realize you wasted some money and have to throw the item out! It’s okay! Still, if I can suggest something: be bold to try new things! There are so many amazing food items, combinations and recipes to try.  Each month, I try to include a few new ones.

If you have young kids, one thing we did that I think was beneficial was to have our kids pick out one new vegetable and fruit to try each time we went grocery shopping. This expanded their food pallet, and they were more apt to try something new because they had selected the item. If I am making a new recipe, they have to eat what is served. Sometimes, they don’t like it. But more often than not, when I make it again (and again), their tastebuds get used to it, and it becomes a normal flavor and food item they recognize.

If you have other questions, I can’t promise that I have the answer, but I will try to help or point you in the direction where you might find the answer. Happy Menu Planning!

{April} Meals for a Month

Slow-cooker Pumpkin & Black Bean Chili (CP), Creamy Tomato Soup,  Mama’s Pot of Beans (CP),  Chicken Noodle Soup, Zuppa Toscana

Meatless Meals:
Mujadara,  Sloppy Lentils (meatless Sloppy Joes), Chili Cheese LentilsPinto Beans & Cornbread (CP),  Shakshuka,

Hawaiian Chicken (CP), Moroccan Chicken Thighs w/ Lemon & Olives*Chicken and Dumplings**,  Herb-Roasted Chicken Thighs, Slow Cooker Sticky Drumsticks (CP), Uzbekistan Chicken Plov (This is an amazing dish! Try it! I use whole thighs, instead of cubes.)

Red Curry Poached Cod,  Butter-Basted Halibut Steaks with Capers, Cajun Shrimp Cesar Salads, Honey-Garlic Salmon, Salmon Burgers with Caper & Sun-dried Tomato Aioli, Grilled Shrimp** w/ Brown-Rice Cakes with Sautéed Fennel, Broccoli Rabe, and Ricotta

 Crockpot Roast Beef w/ Vegetables* Homemade Chili-Cheese Hamburger Helper**, Spaghetti with Meatballs and Red Sauce**, Pasta Carbonara, Kale, Sausage, Lentil Skillet**, Homemade Lasagna**

Freezer Meals:
Turkey-Sausage Gumbo, Chili, Vegetable-Beef Soup

Vegetables,  Side Dishes & Salads:
Roasted Broccoli, Sautéed Broccolini, Carrots, Roasted Brussels Sprout, Green Beans**, Scalloped Potatoes, Sautéed Kale w/ Garlic, Corn**, Honey-Dill Carrots, Butternut Squash Risotto, Couscous Pilaf, English Peas**, Quinoa, Wild-Rice-and-Quinoa Pilaf With Pecans, Green Onions, and Dried Cranberries, Spinach Salad w/ Raspberry Vinaigrette, Tossed Green Salad w/ Balsamic Dressing, Middle Eastern Carrot & Feta Salad, Veggie Tray w/ Hummus, Baked Butternut Squash

Pancakes, Smoothies**, Hot/Cold Cereal, Eggs/Bacon or Sausage, Fruit with Cottage Cheese, Baked Oatmeal, Homemade Muffins and Fruit, Sweet Potato Scones**, Toad-in-the-Hole, Slow-Cooker Steel Cut Oats (CP)

Homemade Aussie BitesNo-Knead Bread, 30 Minute Rolls, Grasshopper Brownies, Pumpkin Bread, Zucchini Bread, Pear Cobbler**

Quinoa Bites, Veggies and Hummus,  Sliced Apples and Peanut Butter, Monkey Plate (fruit), Granola Bars, Cheese, Energy Bites (NaNa’s recipe), Smoothies, No-Bake Cookies

(CP)Crockpot Recipe
**Ingredients in kitchen freezer


2 responses to “{April} Meals for a Month and Menu Planning 101

  1. Looking forward to trying Sloppy Lentils and Red Curry Poached Cod and Hawaiian Chicken. Yum!!!! And really , I will just pass the recipes onto Jason! 🙂

  2. Thanks for the great recipes. And I used to use the KISS as a joke with my husband when he was preaching. I told him if I started blowing him kisses (the church would think what a loving wife) but I would be telling him Keep it Short Stupid! Just a fun joke between us – I never really did that and I never really would call him stupid. Still – it was a fun moment between us.

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