Menu planning made simple

IMG_5824At the beginning of the year, I had decided that I was going to set a new “goal” (but let’s not call it that) to be more organised, and simplify things. Part of my new routine would include continuing to improve my meal planning. I’ve been planning out my dinners for 2-3 years now and while I have stuck to the schedule most of the time, I haven’t used it fully to the capacity that  I am now.

Yes, sitting down and planning out a menu is time consuming but I have found a way to make it easy for me and my schedule.


I’m one of those people who like things basic. I prefer pen and paper instead of electronics. So for me, it was a no brainer getting an organizer. However, I hate how expensive they are and how they can sometimes limit your creativity. I did the next best thing. I made my own. I searched, I pinned, I printed. Using several resources like CleanMama, I gathered as many printables as I could. From calendars to Make ahead meals list, I printed what I thought was best for the moment. I also took into consideration the girls’ school lunch so I printed their lunch schedule as well. With everything in front of me and within reach, I’m able to quickly glance as the school schedule while also looking at my husband’s work schedule. If I know he’s out of town, I’ll use those days to my advantage and go easy. Either a quick pasta or indulge in some good ol’ fashion Texas food. (Hello Frito Pie!)

While we haven’t ventured into the full blown Italian school system, the girls do attend Scuola Materna which is the equivalent of Head Start/Pre-K/Kindergarten. Since they’re there all day, they have lunch which is provided. (sack lunches are not permitted unless they’re is a lunch strike) That said, they have 3 courses  every day for lunch so, having their schedule is very important for me. I try my hardest not to plan anything remotely similar for dinner.  Below is a screenshot of the lunch schedule for the first half of June.

Screen Shot 2016-05-23 at 12.57.50 AM
school lunch schedule

Let’s take a look at Thursday, June 9th. (written in day/month/year form: 09/06/2016) Penne pasta with tuna, Zucchini quiche, green salad with carrots and fruit. Snack: bread with tomatoes, oil and oregano. So I’ll make sure on that day, they don’t eat the same things for dinner.. except for the fruit.


One of the printable I found was a Family favorites list. Divided into categories, you list all of your family’s favorite meals. Meat, Poultry, Fish, Asian, Salads, etc… You get the idea. This will begin your database of meals. It comes in really handy when you’re struggling to find something they like. Anytime I make something new, if it’s a success, it gets added to the list. Just remember that you don’t NEED to have 31 meals on this list. It’s just for a point of reference.



Speaking of the number of meals, I have found (just like the school schedule) it’s so easy and helpful to have some meals in rotation. I use these as my go-to meals on days I know we’re going to be busy or have a late schedule. One of ours is Pizza. After years of making it, it’s no longer a hassle and it’s become second nature to me. This is my regular Wednesday night meal. Husband and I started this tradition when we got married. Once a week, we’d have Pizza and movie night. We continued into the new baby years and eventually the movie settled to regular TV. However pizza night continued. We’ve evolved and get creative with tastes and flavors but because I’ve been doing it for so long, it’s just easy now.

On days that I know we’ve got a lot planned or we’re going to be exhausted, I like to keep it simple with plain sandwiches and chips or fries. Make it simple or switch it up. One day use ham then turkey the next. Either way, little prep and few dishes is what I’m aiming for!


GET CREATIVE WITH NEW MEALS (without the pressure)

As parents we’re always looking for ways to get our kids to eat those veggies and want to try out new recipes. Instead of always doing something new, give yourself a break. Aim for once or twice a month. Take a favorite and sneak in something good. When I make Ragu bolognese, sometimes, I’ll throw in some shredded zucchini OR spinach in my meatballs and tell them it’s parsley. Get creative. The other day, I made zucchini flowers two different ways. I told the girls that one way was mini pizzas, and the others were fried flowers. My picky eater at 2.5 “mini pizzas” and didn’t know a thing. Use these moments to also recreate a school meal they liked. Not long ago, I helped my friend Turin Mamma make gnocchi. It’s in regular rotation on the school menu so I made it for lunch once and they ate it up.. also making sure to tell me that I don’t use the same sauce as the school. Next time I will!

top: fried zucchini flowers in a tempura style batter / bottom: fritter style zucchini flowers (the mini pizzas)


Part of being organized means being prepared. I’ll admit there are days when I don’t follow my meal plan because we just don’t feel like it. Maybe our schedule changed so therefore we have to change the menu too. Last week, there was a lunch strike at school. Instead of packing a lunch, we had a picnic at the playground. I bought pizza and checked them out for lunch. This little disruption forced me to redo our schedule which is fine. No biggie. I just had to make sure I had a back up plan which usually includes pasta. There’s an unspoken rule that an Italian kitchen should NEVER be without pasta and tomatoes. (fresh or canned/jar.. doesn’t matter) Another printable that came in handy was a Freezer list. Basically it’s a list of items you should have in your freezer already chopped, shredded, marinated etc.. so that whatever the situation, you can have a back up plan. Decide on several key meals and stock up. It helps if they can be made of items with a long shelf life.

husband’s favorite go-to meal: pasta & tuna

I hope these ideas help you get started on meal planning. Do you have any tips or secrets I should know about? Let me know in the comments below.

5 thoughts on “Menu planning made simple

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