Homestead Menu Planning: How to make it work with real life
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Menu planning is a great way to save money and stay organized. It can also help you eat like a homesteader by making the most of all that homegrown and home raised food you have in your freezer and on your pantry shelves.
But some people feel menu planning is just a frustrating time-consuming mess that does nothing but cause more stress. Is that you? Are you nodding your head in agreement? Let’s see if your menu planning frustration is caused by one of these five common reasons, and then we can look at some suggestions for how to make meal planning work for you.
(Don’t want to read all the words? This blog post is also a podcast—just press the triangle play button on the little black bar at the top of this post!)
Homestead menu planning issue #1: Schedules in your house are messed up and people aren’t eating at the same time.
Oftentimes when we talk about menu planning, we assume the family is sitting down to eat at the table together. A nice family meal, right?
Right. But there are some seasons on the homestead (like planting and harvest) that can lead to some late, eat on the run, or more people than you expected at a different time meals. And, let’s be honest—as modern homesteaders, we have many commitments that take us off the homestead. How many of you have looked at the calendar and thought, “gee, when is the next time we will all be together to eat supper?”
Menu planning through the chaos of life can be frustrating, to say the least. Especially when you’re dreaming of putting on a big spread every night that your great-grandma would be proud of.
How to re-think menu planning:
Understand that having all the fixins for sandwiches or salads is still menu planning. See, one of the main benefits of menu planning is that it saves money. The meal you’re planning doesn’t have to be a big fancy Pinterest famous meal. Planning ahead to have the fixings for sandwiches is a better use of your money than stopping at the fast food joint on the way to practice or the meeting.
Use your menu planning calendar —we make use of a giant dry erase board in our dining room—to let everyone know that tonight’s meal is sandwiches, chips, and cookies for grabbin’ on the go! (And then make sure you’ve prepped those items to be quick to grab!)
Homestead menu planning issue #2: Forgetting to prep for the meal.
Deciding what to make is only one part of the meal planning process. Another really important part is remembering to do the required prep for the meal. You can have the best intentions of serving a fried chicken dinner on Friday night, but if you forget about the chicken in the freezer until Friday at 3 pm, you probably won’t be serving it.
It’s great to eat from the freezer that you’ve worked so hard to fill but successful menu planning means you have to keep on top of the items that are needed and the prep work involved to make the meals happen as intended.
How to make it work for you:
Our weekly menu plan is written on a dry erase board in the dining room. If something needs to be thawed or an ingredient needs something special done to it, we note that on the board, usually with a asterisk. When the chicken is taken out of the freezer, we erase the asterisk. That way at a glance, I can look and see if there is something that needs to be taken care of for an upcoming recipe and it can be on my radar.
Homestead menu planning issue #3: Trying to menu plan too far in advance.
If planning one week of meals is good, then planning ten weeks of meals is better, right?
No, you little overachiever, you. At least…not necessarily.
If your life is such that planning that far in advance helps you out, then by all means, go for it. But if you’re like me, something gets messed up in the second week of menu plans and then everything is all wonky. Maybe half the family is sick. Maybe one of you has a change in work schedule. Maybe practices run late. Maybe you have friends drop by unexpectedly. There are any number of things that can toss a wrench into your meal plans that have ripple effects to the menu plans afterwards.
And when you’ve worked hard on a 10 week long menu plan that ends up to constantly need tweaking because, Life…it’s easy to fall into a see? Menu planning doesn’t even work! mode of thinking.
So, let’s not do that. Okay?
How to make it work for you:
I only menu plan a week in advance. If I’m feeling particularly confident and also daring, I might stretch it out to two weeks, but never more than that. With a menu plan for one or two weeks, I know what’s in my freezer, I know what’s on sale at the store, and I know (somewhat) what’s coming up on our schedule. I don’t like having to touch a process more than absolutely necessary, and planning out weeks in advance means there’s a much bigger chance of that happening.
Homestead menu planning issue #4: Falling into a rut.
Also known as “I’m running out of ideas!” or “I can’t think of anything new to make that everyone will like.”
Isn’t it funny how we can own a gazillion cookbooks—here are some of my favorite cookbooks!—and have a trazillion websites to tempt us with amazing recipes, and yet, we still struggle with what to make for dinner?
How to make it work for you:
One simple way to combat this is to follow a rotating schedule where a certain thing is served on a certain night. Sundays are chicken, Mondays are pasta, Tuesdays are soup and salad, and so on.
Another trick is to save the menus you’ve already used. If you’re stuck on what to make, your family probably isn’t going to care that you’re serving them the same food in the exact same order that you served 4 weeks ago. In fact, if they’re anything like my house of men, all they care is that it’s edible and hot—and hot is optional most of the time.
Get ideas from your family. Put them in charge of choosing what is served on a certain night. Better yet, have them prepare and serve it.
Have one night where you try a completely new recipe. Have your family submit recipe ideas (scrolling through Pinterest and Facebook will give you a ton of options) and put a few of them on the menu. If you end up loving the recipe, you can toss it into your rotation!
Homestead menu planning issue #5: You don’t want to eat what’s on the menu when the day comes to prepare it.
Meal prep time comes and you’re just not feelin’ what’s written down as tonight’s meal.
It happens. Sometimes our palette just isn’t buyin’ what we’ve tried to convince them will be on the plate tonight. Other times, the weather is the issue. Have you ever planned to make soup, and then the temp takes an unexpected hike and you can’t see yourself enjoying a bowl of Bean Bacon Chowder? Or maybe you were planning to have Homemade Pizza, but the weather is suddenly perfect for a chicken on the grill or a campfire?
How to make it work for you:
Have a fall back meal, change the planned meal out with something later on the menu (if possible and thawing isn’t necessary).
It’s also important to remember that menu planning doesn’t necessarily have to be set in stone. Life happens. If menu planning seems like a failure to you because there was a night you wanted to have something other than what was on the menu (and you’ve got the ability to make that new meal happen) you need to adopt a less strict view of menu planning. Try meal planning for smaller bits of the calendar, or plan two possible meals for each day.
Or instead of planning a meal for a certain day, plan a bunch of meals for the week. Prep the ingredients as much as possible and choose the actual meal you will be having in the morning. For instance, Monday doesn’t necessarily mean you’re going to have lasagna. Lasanga is just one of the seven choices you have for that week. It’s less hurried than that 4 pm OMG! What are we going to have for dinner? because you have a list of ideas to work from (with ingredients that are purchased and ready to use), but it’s less restrictive than a traditional this-is-what-we-are having-on-this-day menu plan.
Hopefully these suggestions about homestead menu planning can help menu planning to work for you. It’s a great way to save money and stay organized in using all that amazing food you’ve got in your freezer and on your shelves.
Do you have any menu planning tips that have worked for you? Share them in the comments!
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