I grocery shop weekly. That used to mean that I would menu plan weekly too. You know the dreaded menu planning routine– flipping through cookbooks and recipe cards, penciling a few ideas on the back of a phone bill, and frantically glancing at your calendar hoping to avoid planning a meal that you won’t have the time to cook. And THEN you need to make your shopping list which means more flipping through your recipes to make sure you don’t forget anything like Worcestershire sauce. (Spell that three times.)
I got so tired of reinventing the meal… I mean wheel. After admiring several different menu boards on Pinterest, I decided to take what I loved about each one (i.e. what I thought would work for me) and combine those aspects into a menu board that would serve my needs perfectly. And thus The Ultimate Menu Board was born.
What I love about this particular design—
1) It’s weekly. I shop and plan my calendar weekly. I can adjust for company, evenings out, leftovers, etc.
2) Ingredients are listed on the back of the meal cards which measure 1 ½ by 4 ¼ inches. Hello shopping list! Sources such as recipe card, cookbook and page number, or binder are also noted.
3) Using the two pockets (made from 16 count crayon boxes,) I can store all of my meal cards right on the board. With a rotating system, I start with all the cards in the lower box. After we have a particular meal, I place its card into the upper box until we go through the majority of the cards. Then, I start over choosing from all of them again.
4) Clothespins mean no slipping of the laminated meal cards and no pin holes.
5) The base is an 11×14” picture frame, so it’s a cinch to hang. Using two nails keeps the board from tilting under its lopsided weight.
I shared my finished board on Pinterest and was surprised at how many sweet ladies sent me a note to say they couldn’t wait to make their own and start using it. (Hooray for making life in the kitchen a bit easier on busy mamas!) Along with the notes came inquiries about exactly how I set up the meal cards and what I was serving each day. (Many would be disappointed to see my recipes like this one for spaghetti- brown ground beef, add a jar of sauce, boil noodles, and mix. Several meals are that easy.)
At the end of this article is a one week sample of what I am currently serving along with a few favorite recipes. However, I want to share what I think will be even more valuablel—not what I serve, but how I go about planning it. The key is themes! Assigning a different theme to each day of the week helpfully narrows your focus as you plan. It also ensures that you have a nice variety of foods without similar repeats during the week. A different color of cardstock for each theme’s meal cards makes choosing meals for the week even easier.
The key to having themes that will work for you is to choose themes that go along with what your family already eats on a regular basis. I suggest brainstorming and writing down all the meals you regularly serve (or even keep track for a month as you go.) Then, look at your list and see what types of themes are already represented. Eat a lot of fish? (Me neither, ha.) If you do, you could have “Seafood Night” or “Under the Sea.” Do you have several pasta dishes? “Pasta Night” or “Mambo Italiano” might work well. Love to try new recipes? Assign a day to do that. The recipes that you try and love can be added to the rotation of another night. Do you typically have leftovers? Make it a theme. Some people plan by what type of meat they serve– chicken, beef, pork. It can be that simple. The important thing is to choose themes that will work for you and your family. After you identify your themes, try to come up with 4-5 different meals per theme. This is going to take time. It is an investment that will eliminate hours of busy work and stress once you get your themes and meals into place.
The themes I use right now are–
Monday- Mambo Italiano (pasta dishes like spaghetti, chicken/broccoli alfredo, etc.)
Tuesday- Dicksons’ Diner (quick and easy stuff like hamburgers, grilled cheese and soup, etc.)
Wednesday- Crock Pot (I love the crock pot! In fact, I use it twice a week. I try to choose a chicken meal for one day and something else for the other while also considering what I am serving on the days next to it.)
Thursday- Fiesta Ole (burritos, quesadillas, etc.)
Friday- Homestyle (meat and potato types of meals like baked chicken, steak, etc.)
Saturday- Eat out
Sunday- Crock Pot (yes, again)
When you assign your themes to the day of the week, think about your family’s typical schedule. For example, a crock pot meal is perfect for my family on Sundays because I can start it before we leave for church, and we get to come home (starving) to something good to eat. Plan simple, quick things on the nights you know your time to prepare will be limited. Does hubby work late every Tuesday? Make it “Kids Stuff” Tuesday. You get the idea.
What I love about The Ultimate Menu Board is that it is super flexible. Let’s say I notice mid-week that we have plenty of leftovers to feed the family for one day. I can slip the “leftover” card on top of Friday’s meal and just plan on doing the original meal the next week. And it’s not a problem to make a change. I can flip flop nights if I want. Life happens and it always threatened my carefully planned and printed “monthly menu.” No more. Want to add something new to the rotation? Simply make an additional card.
I hope this menu board and the tips on planning with themes will make time in the kitchen a little more pleasant and much more efficient for my fellow creative mamas.
If you still need a little inspiration, perhaps the following examples will help you get started.
One Week Meal Plan
Monday- lasagna, garden salad, French bread (wheat)
Tuesday- grilled cheese sandwiches, tomato soup (or ramen or ravioli)
Wednesday- garlic chicken, roasted zucchini, pineapple and cottage cheese
Thursday- burritos, corn, tortilla chips
Friday- party chicken, baked potatoes, honey mustard salad
Saturday- eat out
Sunday- mushroom and onion pork chops, brown rice, mixed veggies, rolls
Make sauce mixture using 1 lb browned ground beef, 1 can tomato soup, 1 can cheddar cheese soup, 15 oz tomato sauce, 1 T Italian seasoning and 1 tsp onion salt.
In a 9×13 pan, layer boiled noodles (9 in all,) sauce mixture and shredded mozzarella cheese three times.
Bake at 375 degrees for about 30 minutes.
Grilled Cheese Sandwiches-
For an extra special sandwich use sourdough bread, three cheeses (a spread of cream cheese, a slice of American, a slice of provolone,) and slices of tomato and red onion.
Ella’s Honey Mustard Salad-
Combine lettuce, chopped apple, red onion, shredded cheddar cheese, sunflower seeds and bacon bits. Top with your favorite honey mustard dressing.
Happy planning, shopping, cooking and eating!
Clair Dickson is an Army wife, mother of four, and family portrait photographer. Formerly an art teacher, Clair continues to enjoy being creative through writing, homemaking, and teaching new ideas and skills to others.