Sunday, October 23, 2011

{31 Days} Menu Plan–October 23

As part of our 31 Days to Cooking from Scratch Series, I wanted to take today to focus on menu planning.

Menu Planning 101

Transitioning to cooking from scratch requires thinking ahead.  It’s really challenging to come home to a hungry family around dinner time and not have anything in the house to eat!  And, that can happen when you cook from scratch.

There might be nights when you have lots of items in your fridge & pantry, but you may not have anything tangible to eat for a meal that doesn’t require significant preparation. 

In those events {which do happen, even for us!}, we have three “go-to” meals:

(1) Rice Cooker Mac & Cheese, with steamed veggies

We almost always have pasta on hand, chicken broth, cheese and frozen veggies.  Toss this meal together in 5 minutes, allow it to cook on its own in the rice cooker for 20 minutes, and you have a meal!  If we have cooked, diced chicken in the freezer or in a can, we’ll often add that for some protein. 

(2)  Spaghetti with steamed veggies

Since we have pasta on hand, we can easily thaw our favorite homemade spaghetti sauce, serve that over whole wheat pasta and alongside steamed frozen veggies and we have a meal in minutes.  No homemade sauce – we make our quick, stove-top version.

(3) Stir Fry Veggies & Brown Rice

Our freezer is filled with frozen veggies.  Grab a couple bags, sauté ‘em, season ‘em with teriyaki sauce, homemade Italian dressing, honey mustard, or chicken broth and serve over brown rice.

Our key for NOT always hitting up these stand-by recipes, is to menu plan.  Menu planning is the only way Frog Prince and I can both work full-time jobs outside of the home and still cook entirely from scratch. 

Menu Plan Monday is hosted at Organizing Junkie - stop by for hundreds of menus

How do we menu plan?

Menu Inspiration

Each week, I ask Frog Prince for a few things he’d like to eat.  I jot these ideas down.  Then, I look at our recipe index here on Finding Joy in My Kitchen {did you know – we have over 600 recipes here?!} and pull out a few that use the ingredients we have on hand or that need to be used up.  You can search for recipes by ingredient on the right sidebar of our blog.  I also browse Pinterest, Friday Favorite Finds and other people’s menus for ideas. 

Planning Meals

I then take the ideas, look at our weekly schedule and pick the days where those recipes would work out the best.  For example, I teach late on Thursday nights (until 6pm), so we always have leftovers or a crockpot dinner that night. 

From there, I make up our grocery list – shopping first in our pantry, freezer and fridge before the store.  We try to pay attention to sales so, when a good produce item is on sale (e.g., bell peppers), or we are able to buy a ham, then that helps inform what recipes we choose for the week. 

Then, we post that menu plan on the fridge {and on the blog} along with a “to-do” list for each day so that I make sure everything is ready for dinner the next evening. 


All this takes about 1 hour weekly. 
But it saves us so much time & money during the week.
I can’t imagine trying to cook from scratch without it. 

Do we always stick to the menu? 

No. Sometimes dinners get shuffled to different nights, sometimes they get scrapped all together and we have grilled cheese. 

Last week, we planned to eat this menu plan… but we ended up eating: 

Here’s what we plan to eat this coming week:

Apple Bread French Toast {new}, apples
Crockpot Italian Roast Wraps {new}, bell peppers
{To Do: Thaw zucchini for casserole}
{To Do: Decide on Bible Study dessert}

Granola, cherries
Zucchini Pizza Casserole {new}
{To Do: Thaw butternut squash from freezer; take chicken out of freezer}

Pumpkin Spice Granola, Craisins
Butternut Squash Pasta, peas
{To Do: Prepare carrots, check on thawing chicken}
{To Do: Make Bible study dessert}

Pancakes {freezer}
Crockpot Country Chicken {new}
Bible Study Dessert – TBD
{To do: Make chicken broth overnight}

Apple Cinnamon Baked Oatmeal
{To do: Finish chicken broth Thurs am}

Pumpkin Spice Granola
Chicken Pot Pie, Herby Biscuits
{To Do: Pull Italian sausage from freezer}

Crockpot Breakfast Casserole
Meatball Tortellini Soup, Cheese-Stuffed Bread Sticks

Do you menu plan?  Any tips?  Time savers? What works for your family?  Do you plan for more than one week at a time? I can’t wait to learn more from your experiences. 


  1. We do a lot of the same things, checking what we already have in the pantry & freezer, checking out sales and then seeing what each of us are hungry for! Your menu looks great! I'm going to have to check out that Pumpkin Spice Granola!

  2. This was a fabulous, informative post. I am thinking I need to investigate that rice cooker mac & cheese. I wonder if it will work in my electric pressure cooker, as that is what I make my rice in.

  3. We've discovered that meal-planning for a month at a time is better than weekly for my husband and I. I make up a calendar in publisher on the computer with all of the events we have for the month. This includes late nights at work, meetings, family gatherings, and places we'll need to bring food to share, etc. From there, I go to pinterest and other sources to figure out what will go on the menu. We have leftovers on busy nights and for lunches. I typically cook a casserole and soup or two on the weekend and hubby cooks a fresh meal or two during the week. Works out perfectly for us! We still only shop one a week, but it helps us to plan better by combining ingredients needed in several meals throughout the month.

  4. Between the 3 of us we do eat from scratch quite often. On the days that my husband and I are working we'll eat later but because we workout we don't worry about holding onto those calories.

    Thanks for sharing your menu planning tips.

    Have an amazing week. Looks like there's going to be some good eating at your home this week!


Thanks for stopping by! I'd love to hear from you; especially how you're finding JOY in your kitchen.

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