So this is how my menu planning system works. First I decided how many different proteins we wanted to eat in a week. I went with some non-traditional ones as well as traditional and came up with: chicken, cheese, beef, beans, pork, eggs, and fish; seven different proteins, although cheese is a bit of a stretch. This gave me seven proteins so I just assigned each one to a day of the week. Right off the bat, this made menu planning easier. Now I wasn’t looking for seven dinners each week with no direction, I was looking for one of each protein and that made the task so much easier. I also decided that I was going to aim for a one month menu; four weeks actually, so I could keep my shopping lists the same. I like keeping things digitally so I have a word-processing file for the menu and one for the recipes and a spreadsheet for the shopping lists.
So my menu has a chicken dish every Sunday, a cheese dish every Monday, a beef dish every Tuesday, etc. There is one week that I flipped the cheese and bean dishes and I occasionally add a small portion of meat to one of the non-meat days. I also settled on the sides for each dish because that can be as time consuming as deciding on the main meal. We do tend to go a bit old-school on sides aiming for a vegetable and a starch unless the meal contains a decent amount of one or the other.
I’ve included a menu template at the end of the post. This set up is the one I feel works best and how I am reworking the layout for all of my existing menus. The basic layout is self-explanatory but I’d like to talk a bit about the notes section for each day. Notes is where you put down things like prep time or when you need to start a slowcooker meal by for dinner to be on time; the kinds of things that can derail dinner if you forget them.