Easy Meal Planning Ideas And Tips
Here are some easy meal planning ideas and tips to help you get past the mental block about meal planning. Meal planning is really not difficult and I hope to equip you with some tools so you can confidently and efficiently plan your family’s meals!
I have discussed many ideas before and so in some places I link to other articles where I gave more detail about some meal planning ideas and tips. If you have time, check them out, too!
Why is it so hard to prepare and plan meals?
- We try too hard and make meal planning more complicated than it needs to be.
We think we need to use new gourmet recipes for every meal. We think that our families want something different for each family dinner when the reality is most of the time our families are happy eating just the good old comfort foods they love.
- We are just too tired to think about what to cook.
One thing I did that helped me was to keep a notebook for three weeks and, at the end of each meal, I wrote down what we had for dinner that night. I know this is the opposite of what we are normally told when getting menu ideas.
People usually advise us to write our meal plans before the meal rather than afterward. This is true, but writing things down after a meal worked for me at that time. This was a great way to figure out what kinds of menus we were already eating. If you are having trouble making menus ahead of time, you might try doing it this way.
Even if you go out to eat, write down everything that was served. This takes all of one to two minutes to do, especially if you keep your notebook handy. In three weeks you will have almost 21 menu ideas to choose from. I used my 21 menus for years on the days I was stumped about what to have for dinner.
Make things easy for yourself and keep your meals simple.
Here are a few quick and easy meal plans to give you some ideas for this week. You can use them now or when you need to use up some of your leftover Easter or Christmas ham. You can serve the ham warmed, cold, fried or cubed. It is your choice. Here are some dishes to go with it:
- Ham, Sweet Potatoes, Spinach Salad
- Ham, Rice, Fried Pineapple Rings, Tossed Salad
- Ham, Potato Salad, Relish Dish with Dill Pickles
- Ham, Baked Beans, Baked Potatoes, Carrot Sticks
- Ham, Fried Eggs, Hash Browns, Orange Juice
- Ham, Boiled Potatoes, Applesauce, Green Beans, Corn Bread or Muffins
You can add and take away from all of these meal planning ideas or mix and match items. Here are some things you might try:
- Replace ham with chicken or another meat.
- Add a salad or dinner roll
- Add a dessert
You could easily stretch this to 10-15 easy meal plans by just switching things around.
I would look at my notebook and think, “I don’t have ham but I do have chicken. I could boil some rice and make green beans, corn bread and applesauce. This would give me a totally different menu just by using these basics.
These meal plans should be a jumping off point to help get you started thinking. I hope this gives you new cooks and not so new cooks some ideas for dinner this week!
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Happy Easter Jill and Tawra, I made the Sunshine Salad for Easter and it is very good. So citrusy and light and yummy. For Easter morning I made the Cinnamon Bacon. Also very delicious and easy. Will make many times, I’m sure. On Good Friday I went into a store and they had some broken chocolate bunnies at the register and I asked if I could buy a couple. The cashier said she would sell them for 50 cents each and then she asked me why I would want to put broken bunnies in an Easter Basket. I told her I wasn’t going to do that I was going to crush them up and use as toppings for ice cream and put in cookies instead of chocolate chips. She said, “They’re great ideas.” She said she was going to get some and do that too. So Jill I passed on your great ideas and they were really appreciated. Thanks.
I completely agree keeping things simple is the way to go! When we make menus too complicated it can add stress, and who wants more of that? ;-) People really do enjoy simple things, even meals. Great ideas!
Yes! I agree 100%!
I like your idea of writing down the menus and then deciding from that collection menus for the future.
Here is another list I employed.
I would write down things that didn’t work. I mean things that didn’t get eaten quickly or without a few complaints. I still cooked them because they were healthy but I didn’t cook them on nights that we had to be out the door soon.
For those nights I cooked things that everyone enjoyed. Less hassles.
For simplicity in meals due to the fibro we live out of the freezer. Meaning that if I do not feel up to going grocery shopping on grocery day I can go to the freezer and come up with a simple meal.
I keep 2 roast chickens, a large ham, a few roasts and steaks there, as well as a couple whole fish.
I can throw a chicken into the roasting pan cut a few potatoes onto a baking sheet turn on the oven and we have roast chicken dinner with little in the way of pain served with it.
I cook a large ham every week and use it for sandwiches during the week. some sliced but lots of it ground up with mayo and mustard. Sandwiches that way are never dry.
I do the same with roast beef.
My husband takes 4 sandwiches every day and I hate sending them all the same so with the roast beef and ham cheese he gets the variety.
I was going to cook that ham and potatoe casserole yesterday but when I read the ingredients I had to modify it.
I sliced baby potatoes in my slicer, cut ham into bite size chunks made a cheese sauce and put it all in the slow cooker it was more like scalloped potatoes than a casserole with layers. Went great with poached fish in soy sauce, ginger and white wine. Will definetly keep that as a go to meal.
Don had all his top teeth removed 3 weeks ago so we have graduated from baby food consistency but haven’t gotten to bite down on meat so the ham and fish are on the menu for the next week. I said maybe in a month he will graduate to steak. Cooked tender in gravy not bbq’d just yet.
Keep it simple and leave the fancy stuff for restaurants.
I have a sign in my kitchen that reads.
“In this kitchen I reign supreme, if you don’t agree starve.”
It has worked well over the years.
I like the recipes you post here and do try some of them. I do have to modify them to fit my husbands tastes no garlic, no hot spices and for me no citrus. Keeps things kind of bland to most people but it keeps us healthy.
I also have to not plan menus for the week and have to have things that can be done over a period of the day since right now I cannot stand or walk for more than 5 min. which makes stir fries and cutting and peeling potatoes and vegetables almost impossible to do. Baby potatoes and salads are on the menu now a days.
One of our favorite ways to eat leftover ham is to put the ham (slices or chunks – whatever you have) in a skillet. Dump on some BBQ sauce (we like hickory smoked – sweet sauce) and just a little bit of water (like less than 1/4 cup). Then just heat and stir the ham and BBQ sauce until the ham is hot and the sauce is all coated around the ham pieces. We eat this with either baked potatoes (I poke the potatoes with a fork and put them in a recycles fast food paper bag – folded over a few times and cooked 7 minutes or so in the microwave). Let them sit a few minutes in the bag and they will get all the way done.
Its a quick meal and one we look forward to when we have leftover ham!
I have just discovered that your newsletter is written by two of you, Tawra and Jill. Please clarify and explain
for me, Judy
Judy, we are just mother and daughter team that teach people how to save money.
One thing I do with ham is that I dice it, then put it in ziplock freezer bags and freeze it. Then, throughout the next few months, if I want to add some meat to a meal (omelettes, rice dishes, beans, etc), I just open up the freezer, grab a handful of diced ham, and throw it in. That way, my DH doesn’t get sick of ham right after a holiday, but we don’t put it all to waste.
Jill, I found this weird old recipe that I thought you might find interesting. It’s an old family recipe called “Elephant Bread.” Makes 3 loafs. It’s an oatmeal tea bread.
1 tsp baking soda
2-3/4 to 3-1/4 cups water, divided
2 cups old-fashioned oatmeal
1-1/2 cups raisins
1-1/2 cups brown sugar
1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons oil
6 cups flour OR 5 cups flour and 1 cup wheat germ
1 tablespoon salt
4 teaspoons baking powder
2 teaspoons cinnamon
1 teaspoon ginger
1 teaspoon nutmeg
The evening before: Dissolve baking soda in 1/4 cup water. Pour over oatmeal, raisins, brown sugar and oil. Moisten these ingredients with hot water to cover (approximately 2-1/2 cups), and let stand overnight.
In the morning: Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease 3 loaf pans. Combine the rest of the dry ingredients and add them to the moistened ingredients. You will probably have to add a little more water, as the dough must be moist and sticky. Divide among loaf pans and bake for approximately 1 hour.
The idea of keeping a notebook of what you’ve eaten for dinner is great. Regardless of the size of your family, it’s easy to get into a rut. Keeping track of what you’ve had lately – especially if you really liked it – is a great way to jog your memory about dinnertime favorites.
I get a free ham every year from Shop Rite by shopping with their discount card and ringing up $300 during March, which is very easy to do even using grocery coupons.
that picture of the ham looks so delish .. why dont mine every come out looking like that? .. hehehe :D
Rose, I don’t know but don’t feel bad, mine don’t either.
Hi! I wanted to give a organizing tip that I use in my menu planning. I made a list for 31 meals. I noted every ingredient and the amounts needed for every meal for the 31 days. Then I made a list on my computer with each and every ingredient needed to make all the meals.
Now I print this grocery list every month before I go grocery shopping, check what items I still have in stock, and buy what ever else I need. This way I have every thing in stock as I need it and I can choose what meal I want to make as I go. This makes my meal and menu planning so much more flexible to accomidate busy days, and days when my husband is in the mood for something specific!
Bea – that recipe for Elephant Bread sounds wonderful! I am definitely going to try that :) xx
Johlize – your organisation is to be admired!! I have a quick look in my cupboards before I go shopping but I STILL end up buying things I already have loads of….LOL xx
What great suggestions. Thanks for the help. Menu planning is one of my greatest weaknesses. These are great ideas!
Mari, I hope you do like the Elephant Bread. It was an old family recipe passed down through 3 generations. It is an recipe I found in a cookbook.
A general comment about large meal occasions, such as holidays .. .. .. think about how there are going to be leftover meals – perhaps more than one.
You may wish to think some of those ideas out in advance, so that you have some go-with ingredients already on hand. Leftovers roasts, ham, and poultry will be boring if you eat them the same way at each meal.
I had to laugh at grandma’s sign in her kitchen, that says “In this kitchen I reign supreme. If you don’t like it, starve.” My brother had one that said “Skinny cooks can’t be trusted.”