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Coming Up With Meal Ideas

I received a question a while ago from a reader who was having a tough time thinking of meal ideas for her menu plans. I can totally sympathize with her! I’ve always thought that cooking would be so much easier if someone else would just come up with a plan for me (and not just any plan…one that fits my budget and my family’s tastes!).

I plan my menu religiously (here’s why) and some weeks, I have no trouble churning out 7 meal ideas. Then there are those other weeks where I sit at the table with a bad case of menu-planner’s block, fresh out of inspiration.

Here are a few things that help me get past that block.

1) I use my master menu plan.

If you’re like me, you have a lot of recipes in your repertoire, but you have trouble remembering them all. I’ve found it to be very helpful to have a list of all the main dishes that I make so that I don’t have to flip through all my cookbooks and my recipe binder to get an overview of my options.

My current meal idea sheet is in desperate need of updating (you can see all my new recipe additions scribbled on in pen!), but it still serves me well.


There are more meals listed on the back of this, but as you can see, I have my meal ideas divided up into groups based on the type of meat the recipe requires or the type of food (like soup or pizza). This makes it easy to find recipes that use what I have on hand in the fridge or freezer.

2) I browse through the sale ads.

Sometimes seeing something on sale will help me think of a meal or two that I want to make. For instance, if a roast is on sale, I’ll consider making Beef Au Jus sandwiches or BBQ beef. The master meal plan can come in handy here too…if a particular cut of meat is on sale, I can easily scan through my list of recipes that use that cut and decide what I want to make that week.

3) I look through cookbooks and cooking magazines.

This is definitely a time-consuming option so I usually only do this when I am really hard up for some meal ideas or when I’m feeling like we need something new.

I often check Cook’s Illustrated’s magazines or books out from the library, so I browse through those to find recipes, and I also use Taste of Home’s magazines. I’m a member of CI’s website too, so I will sometimes browse through their online list of recipes to find something new.

4) I ask my family for suggestions.

My kids are slowly getting to be more helpful with this (although Joshua’s response is usually “Rolls and fruit salad.”, because he’s more into side dishes than main dishes!) and my husband sometimes comes up with some good suggestions as well.


How do you keep your menus fresh and interesting? I’d love to hear your ideas in the comments.

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Monday 11th of June 2012

My main strategy is to have things on hand. We get a quarter cow about once a year. We also utilize venison from my husband's deer hunting adventures. I can beef, tomato juice, whole tomatoes, jellies, salsa, jalepenos, etc. We freeze sweet corn, squash, apples, and other produce when they are in season. I also keep a stocked pantry with 2-3 cans of frequently used ingredients that I don't make (cream of mushroom, saurkraut, canned fruit, etc), baking goods, and extras such as rice and pasta. I stock up when certain things are on sale too- but I have found going overboard gets me in trouble.

I've been shopping every 3-4 weeks- with short store runs for milk or special occasions. I accomplish this by making a "menu" of sorts by planning enough meals to get me through to the next shopping trip and making sure that I have all the ingredients.

I loosely plan menus. I try to choose from my monthly list, and then plan by week. If something goes awry, I just switch things around knowing that I have all the ingredients that I need to be flexible.

Oh- I do cook mostly from scratch- even if I've made food ahead and frozen it. It's sooo much cheaper!


Tuesday 23rd of February 2010

My menu planning is a year-long endeavor. I begin in April, picking and freezing local strawberries, plant a garden, purchase local produce through October, can and freeze, and store any items I can from these sources. This is the basis of my yearly menu planning. Each week I purchase only meat and other grocery items on sale. Sam's Club is a favorite for such items as dairy, produce, sugar, toilet paper, etc. Some items are just cheaper in bulk. From my "grocery store at home" I plan my weekly menu. My cooking is mostly from scratch, including baking bread regularly. For years my grocery bill was $50.00 a week for the two of us. (As the children (three of them) left home, $50.00 was always enough). Recently, we added a yellow lab. to our family. We have added $10.00 per week to accommodate him.


Tuesday 23rd of February 2010

I usually make a meal plan every week...but need to tweak my recipes. I find myself having to hit up the store more then once...either I run out of the staples like breads, milks and fruits...or I end up running out of recipes or leftovers. I recently became vegetarian and found that helps with the cost weekly for my family. But those of you who aren't veggie but don't mind meat free options. Paul McCartney has a meat out monday campaign and you can get veggie recipes there...and they are yummylicious. just google meat out mondays.....


Thursday 26th of November 2009

WWMM ...okay, late post but when I'm really in a rut I look to my mother in law's recipes. I know my family's like the back of my hand and they are my go-to's...but I love to give my that sense of comfort and home that come from a childhood favorite...especially if I've recently shoved a series of "interesting" experiments at him. =) haha


Saturday 3rd of October 2009

I completely relate to Joshua. I love sides more than main meals too. I don't really do meal planning either, mostly just shopping on impulse and then integrating what looked good to me into meals. Admittedly, I am a champ at turning sides-type things into a regular meal (usually by adding rice, beans and/or pasta to round it out) and luckily my boyfriend doesn't really mind the shocking absence of traditional entrees from our usual fare.

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