I’m excited to share with you today my seasonal meal planning formula to simplify dinnertime for our large family! This is an uncomplicated strategy that helps me decide what’s for dinner without requiring a lot of advanced meal ideas or planning every week. So the basic idea is that I use a daily theme for the week and rotate different themes out seasonally. It has truly revolutionized how I shop, prepare, and cook dinner and still enjoy some creativity and flexibility in my time in the kitchen as much as possible.
Reasons why meal planning might not be working for you
- Requires making a lot of decisions every week
- Takes a lot of time
- Can make you feel boxed in
- Too many choices
- LImits creativity & flexibility
- Adds to decision fatigue
I don’t know about you, but I hate meal planning! I love to eat what sounds good, and I feel like meal planning locks me into a meal I might not feel like making that night! Does this resonate with you? But meal planning works, and I equally despise not knowing what I’ll be making for dinner! Hah! Talus the fact that we have a large family- 11 of us- yes ELEVEN- to feed every single night. I can’t just wing it like I used to enjoy doing back when our family was much smaller.
For me, finding a large chunk of time to decide all my recipes for the week sounds too daunting. So daunting, in fact, that I’ll put it off. Something else I’m prone to, is over confidence on how many fun new recipes I can try in a week. I’ll jump on PInterest for inspiration and before I know it I get carried away with an overwhelming list of ingredients and new recipes to try. This does not set me up well to stick with consistency. However, if I already have a simple framework to decide from, my planning is much quicker and I might only plan one special recipe that week to mix things up.
So, I have adapted a new approach that is a balance that works well for me. This formula gives me creative flexibility, but still helps eliminate the dreaded “WHAT’S FOR DINNER?” lingering all day on my mind or my kids’ lips. I am sharing here today in case this formula helps simplify you getting dinner on the table, too.
Benefits of a seasonal meal planning formula
- Reduces decision fatigue
- Budget friendly
- Utilizes seasonal and sale ingredients
- Minimizes your daily to do list
- Allows for flexibility and creativity
- Streamlines grocery shopping
- Makes healthy choices easier
- Helps you cook more of the dishes you want to make
Planning your meal strategy around the season also helps you take advantage of seasonal produce that is more readily available and affordable. If all I have to know is that we’re having Italian I can work around whatever is fresh or on sale at the grocery store that fits within that category. It is much less intimidating of a decision to make when the option is slightly limited but still has flexibility.
I actually feel like my creativity in the kitchen has increased since implementing this approach. It helps me remember to cook more of the types of dishes I like making when I have more time, rather than getting stuck in a rut of making only what’s easiest. Breakfast for dinner again! Anyone else? 🙂
Steps for creating a seasonal meal planning formula
I think one of the struggles with getting dinner on the table in our modern era, is not that we lack time, resources or even energy but we have TOO MANY CHOICES. Most of us are blessed to live where we have an abundance of food and choices around us. This can create a problem when it’s time to decide what to actually make! We all want a meal that is easy, quick, healthy, and that we have all the ingredients for on hand! 🙂 Hah! Well, this can be an overwhelming decision when there are myriad of options but none that seem to fit that criteria in the moment. This can however, be achieved easier when we actually just narrow things down and limit our options.
Steps for creating a seasonal meal planning formula
- Decide 5-6 categories of food you enjoy during this season
Firstly, choose 5-6 categories of food that you already make and are family favorites. Just pick 5 or 6 as there are inevitable dine out or leftover nights. I have a list of categories below to get you started. If you make a lot of one particular kind of meal, try branching out one night a week to get you spending some more time creatively in the kitchen. Is it summertime and you need fast easy meals that are portable for game nights? Have a sandwich or picnic night. There are many possibilities here, but remember you only have to do this seasonally not every week. Just brainstorm and write 5-6 down.:)
- Assign a day to each category
Secondly, check your calendar and schedule. Decide which nights each category would work best. Maybe make the night you have to run out for a game be sandwich night. Do you have a long day of work or errands planned regularly? Crockpot dinners work great for those! Then assign a day of the week to each category you’ve decided on. This can still be flexible. If you don’t end up home on a Taco Tuesday you can still do tacos a different night or save the ingredients for next week!
- Make a list of meals per category that are family favorites
Lastly, make a list of the meals you already make and that you usually keep the ingredients for in each category. Creating a running list of staples is also handy. I like to look in my pantry when doing this. Sometimes it helps me realize I am buying a lot of something and not really using it, so it’s time to put it on the menu or that it needs to be used up and maybe not purchased again in this season as we’re all tired of it. Too much spaghetti pasta? Make a few spaghetti dishes then put penne on the list next time or try a new variation the next time Italian comes up, for example. (I have more examples below)
Some meal category variations
Ethnic cuisine: Mexican, French, American, Asian, Italian, Thai, Indian, Brazilian….. 😉
Cooking method: slow cooker, instapot, grilled or smoked, stewed, roasted, fried
Type of meal: vegetarian, pasta, soup, crockpot, in tortilla, wrap/ sandwich
By the day: Meatless Monday, Taco Tuesday, World Wednesday, etc.
A few seasonal meal ideas
The possibilities are endless here! Hope this is enough to at least get you started thinking. 🙂
Winter: soups & stews, casseroles, slow cooker, roasted meats, braised meats
Summer: Green/pasta/potato/grain cold salads, stir fry, BBQ/smoked meats and veggies, grilled pizza, spicy foods, sandwich & burger varieties
Spring: Roasted meat and veggies, light soups, green & grain salads, fresh herb & veggie pastas, sandwiches and burger varieties
Fall: roasted/braised meats, ethnic noodle dishes, soups & stews, pasta, casseroles
Amazingly, having at least an idea of what you are going to make in a given week can really benefit not only your mental energy, but also your budget, and your health. We all know it is less intimidating to get a healthy meal on the table if we have a plan in advance and healthy ingredients available.
Our current list: Summertime
- Monday: Chicken & Rice
- Tuesday: Taco Tuesday 😉
- Wednesday: World Wednesday- Asian, Indian, Thai
- Thursdays: Grilled- Dad’s night
- Friday: American- burgers, pizza etc.
- Weekend: Free flex day or Fish
Having a simple formula like this really helps me find a rhythm with my weekly meal planning that keeps things simple, fresh and still inspiring in the kitchen. I hope this has helped you figure out a way to simplify your dinnertime routine as well!
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My favorite Places to find recipes
- Ambitions kitchen
- Nourished Kitchen
- America’s test kitchen
- Food 52
- Farmhouse On Boone
Please, let me know in the comments if you have any other great ideas you have incorporated for this type of meal planning!