It typically takes me about 10 to 15 minutes to menu plan for our weekly dinners for our family of four. Do I do a plan every week– yes! Do I follow it exactly – no! Having a rough plan in place allows me to consolidate my grocery shopping, so I don’t have to waste valuable time running to the store on a daily basis or stand in front of the fridge figuring out what to cook.
 
I actually don’t like going through Pinterest or the Internet looking for recipes or thumbing through piles of cookbooks. But, I do enjoy cooking, so menu planning helps me to make sure that I do have options in the fridge, even if I decide to change it up.
 
Here’s my process, which helps make my life less stressful.

1. Plan out the week.
First I figure out what days I can cook. Maybe this means a crock pot in the morning or making sure I stop working in time to actually cook dinner. Since I work from home, there have been days when I’ve made dinner in the morning to have it for a busy night. Fortunately, my family members will eat leftovers so I can account for that as one of the nights.

I always know that there were will be two nights I don’t have time or feel like cooking, so that might be something easy like frozen burritos for the kids and a salad or Plexus Lean shake with some veggies for me. We eat out at least once a week, but it’s more of choice to have something different or go to a favorite family place than it is about fast food or convenience.

Things change, so I like to use a pencil or erasable pen. If you don’t have a Frixion pen, you’re missing out. Get them on Amazon. 

2. Get ideas.
I have used emeals.com for years. Via a very user friendly app on your phone, every week, you get an assortment of seven meals based on the type of plan – paleo, keto, slow cooker, kid friendly, for example (it’s a good variety of options). I check out the recipes and pick out the ones that look tasty to me. I jot them down on a piece of paper and then put the ingredients needed on my (separate) shopping list. This app basically taught me how to cook because I was able to see how different flavors and spices complemented each other, how long to cook things and ideas for different side dishes.

Here’s my affiliate link: http://emeals.com/invite/laura-harris

I also ask my family for ideas because I don’t really cook the same things all the time. Recently I did this and my oldest son Evan asked for red lentil noodles… who would’ve thought! If you’re feeding other people, then have them give you some suggestions.

If you’re struggling with getting ideas, I’m sure there are other recipe sites that are similar to emeals. I also always keep a nice variety of spice blends or skillet packs from Wild Tree spices on hand. If I have some meat and veggies, then most likely I can grab a blend and throw everything together. Check out the skillet meals and other blends. 

3. Organize your list.
emeals does have a really awesome grocery shopping app as part of the menu planning, but I prefer old-fashioned pen and paper because I like to organize it based on where the items are in the store. I’m guessing I’m not the only one who does this! Here’s my list for this week. It’s not pretty, but it gets the job done and then I can move onto other things.

Get your menu items, but also take stock of your staples. I always keep high quality, frozen vegetables and meats on hand, which includes, frozen riced cauliflower, butternut squash, spinach, and kale. From butternut squash mashers with butter and red pepper flakes to spinach omelets to deconstructed egg roles with the cauli-rice, I know I have something on hand.

4. Use a shopping service.
Instacart has been one of my most favorite hacks for making my life easier. I never, ever thought I would be ok with letting someone pick out my produce, but being able to grocery shop whenever I want and then have it delivered to my house – brilliant! I wish that we could use our own bags (maybe some day…), but the convenience has won me over. There are other services, like Wal-Mart and Target pick up (I’m not sure how they do refrigerated items).

I’ve been very impressed with how friendly and helpful the shoppers are with Instacart. I use the chat to ask questions and they send pictures, if the store is out of something or a change is needed. I did pay for the annual service because I found that I was using it quite a bit.

If you want $10 off your first order, you can try it out by clicking this link:  https://inst.cr/t/AUtyjxSdx

5. Ask for help.
If planning, cooking and cleaning up seems like a lot of work, that’s because it is! Those other humans who live in your house and eat the food you’re making and buying can help you. Don’t feel like the burden of coming up with ideas is ALL your responsibility – maybe they have some opinions about what is yummy. Is there anything wrong with breakfast for dinner once a week… that always seems to be my youngest son’s favorite! They can also help with dishes, chopping, and unloading and putting away the groceries. At dinner, my kids clean up their own plates and they’re the ones who empty the dishwasher. I’m not quite ready to give up control of loading it, ha ha!!Commit to planning… and above all commit to making it easy. Times have changed and there’s no reason not to take advantage of what technology and the “gig economy” have to offer, if it’s going to make your life easier. Sometimes, we can’t do it all, contrary to what moms of the 80s tried to accomplish. It’s ok to for it to be easy!!! 
 
Let me know if you use any of these services or if you have your own hack that works well for your family. I would love to hear your experience and get some new ideas, too!  
 
Many hugs,
Laura

TLDR: 
Menu planning made easy in 5 steps:
1 Plan out the week; use an erasable pen.
2 Get ideas. I use emeals app.
3 Organize your list, so you only have to think about it once that week.
4 Use a shopping service: If you want $10 off your first order, you can try it out by clicking this link:  https://inst.cr/t/AUtyjxSdx
5 Ask for help.

P.S. This chat with the Instacart shopper made me smile! 

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