Are you a victim of the dreaded 5 p.m. fridge stare? You know—the one where you stare blankly into the refrigerator desperately hoping for a little dinner inspiration?
There is a solution. This simple solution will not only end the nightly fridge stare but will also free you from having to stop by the store on your way home from work and figure out dinner on the fly or from having yet another night of high-calorie, low-taste take-out.
So what is this simple solution?
It’s a menu.
Yes, it’s really that easy. Making a dinner menu can do all of this for you and more. You can save money with a dinner menu. Menu planning can also reduce your stress level–and using a menu can also eat healthier (I can’t make any promises because I don’t know what you’re putting on the menu—but if it’s yummy, don’t forget to invite me!).
You can make a menu for the month or for the week or for something in between. If you’re really ambitious and you have a big freezer, you can make a menu and make most of your meals ahead of time and freeze them. I’m not generally that ambitious. If you need some help with ideas for meal planning, the Six Sisters have a great cookbook with 52 weeks of meal planning ideas.
And not only can you make dinner menus to help you plan and save money, you can do the same thing for breakfasts and lunches.
At the end of this article you’ll find a free printable menu and shopping list.
How to successfully save money with menus
Mix family favorites with a few new recipes. If your family members aren’t adventurous eaters, don’t spring a whole menu full of new recipes on them. Mix one or two new dishes a week in amongst the tried-and-true meals. This is also a good way to begin incorporating healthier meals into your eating plan, if that’s something you want to do.
Make a shopping list as you make the menu. This will save time when you’re heading to the grocery store. As you’re making the list, be sure to include ingredients for both your main dishes and any sides you plan to serve. And don’t forget dessert. You may not indulge daily–and you probably shouldn’t, but plan for at least occasional treats.
Once you’ve made the list, remember to take it with you and stick to it. Limited deviations are ok, but if you are an impulse purchaser, you may end up not only spending more than you planned, but also with food your family won’t eat.
Build a supply of staple ingredients. Whether you cook from scratch or prefer mixes and quick helpers, keep a few of your favorites on hand for those days when you just need something quick and easy. This helps remove the fast-food/takeout temptation.
Consult your schedule and tailor your cooking accordingly. If you have evening meetings or sports practices for the kids, don’t plan a big and complex meal. Save the six-course feast for Sunday dinners and special occasions. Slow-cooker and one-dish meals can make busy nights much simpler.
Whenever possible double a recipe and put ½ in the freezer for nights when there’s no time or you just don’t feel like cooking.
Allow yourself to be flexible. Menus aren’t set in stone. A menu is for your convenience. You can change your menu at will. Having a menu means you’ll have the necessary dinner ingredients at hand and not have to scramble to come up with a tasty and healthy meal for your family.
Once you’ve got dinner down, simplify your life even more with a breakfast menu—and a lunch menu, if that works for you (yes, you can have a lunch menu with brown baggers).
Have you tried using menus for meal planning? What works for you?
Click below to download your free printable weekly and monthly menus and shopping list.
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