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My family likes to eat. Daily. When my children were young, I spent time each week planning out the next week’s menu based on the sales circulars and coupons. I stumbled across the idea of a 6-week rotating menu at a homeschool meeting one night. My first thought was, Don’t you get tired of eating the same things over and over?
As I was making supper a few nights later, I realized I had just made the same meal the previous week. The meat was on sale this week, so I was making it again. The thought of a 6-week menu came to mind once again. I took out a sheet of paper and started listing all the meals I made for my family. I was surprised to discover that I only had a little more than four weeks’ worth of meals on the list!
Is that really all I made for my family? Well, we ate out once a week. And sometimes we had leftovers. Every now and then I made a new recipe — but it usually didn’t get repeated because of my family’s food preferences.
Maybe a 6-week rotating menu would work after all.
I made one up and implemented it the following day. When it was time to shop for the next week, I pulled out the next menu and made note of what I would need from the store. I was amazed at how much time I saved by already having an outline of the next week’s meals!
I picked up a whiteboard while I was shopping and use it to write out the week’s menu. This came in really handy as my boys grew. Usually, the first words out of their mouths as they entered the kitchen each morning (before they even had breakfast) was, “What’s for supper?” Thanks to my 6-week rotating menu, all I had to do was point at the whiteboard.
Want to make your own? Here’s how!
You’ll need some paper and pen for taking notes, a pair of scissors, and some index cards that you can cut up into quarters or smaller (whatever size is comfortable for you).
Step 1 – Planning the Schedule
First, on your paper, make a grid of 7 squares by six squares. You will probably want to turn the paper sideways — landscape instead of portrait. Down the side, label the columns Sunday through Saturday. Next, figure out if there are any days you regularly eat out. We used to eat out every Friday, so I was able to cross Fridays off my grid. Also, as time goes by, you may find you have leftovers that need eating. If so, you can schedule leftovers once a week, but don’t write this in anywhere, just keep it in mind for now.
If you have one day a week that you are not eating at home, you’ll only need to worry about cooking six days each week. Or, if you eat out twice for some reason (or if you have leftovers), then it’s five days a week. One year, I planned to cook only six days a week; the seventh day was either for leftovers or eating out.
So, let’s just say you plan to cook six days a week (because we all need a day off every now and then, right?). Now, let’s also consider if you have a meal that you make every week, like pizza every Friday (this is what we do). That knocks your cooking down to five days a week (because the sixth day is always the same).
Now, on another sheet of paper, start brainstorming your family’s favorite meals. Think of kid favorites, hubby favorites, and your favorites. Write them ALL down. Hopefully, you will come up with at least 20-30 different dishes. Look at your list and see which meals your family likes. These are the types of meals they will gladly eat every 2-3 weeks. One example for us is chicken cordon bleu. I have that scheduled every three weeks instead of every six because we like it and it’s relatively fast to make. Put a star next to any meals that you can make twice in a 6-week period; if you think you could make it every two weeks, put two stars next to it.
Step 2 – Listing the Meals
After counting up the dishes listed and the stars, there’s a good chance you still won’t have 36 dishes, but that’s okay. Let’s just start with those for now. Get out your index cards and cut them into quarters or smaller. Take 7 and label them Monday, Tuesday, etc. Set those aside. With the remaining cards, start listing the dishes on them. Spaghetti, hamburgers, taco pie, fajitas, etc. If you have a star next to something, write it on two cards (or 3, if it has two stars).
Step 3 – Creating the 6-Week Rotating Menu
Lay the cards out on the table. Days of the week down the side, so you have seven rows. Six columns total. If you have something twice, remember to place them three weeks apart. If you have something three times, place them two weeks apart. Don’t get hung up on the days of the week right now — those are only there to be sure you fill seven slots.
If you plan to eat at home every day, you’ll have 42 slots to fill. Do you make pizza every week? You’ll need to write that on six cards and place one in each row. If you have too few dishes, just spread them out for now, so they evenly fill the six weeks. Maybe you only have five meals some weeks, and six meals other weeks. No problem: this is where the leftovers come in! But, before we get to that, we have one more step to do.
Okay, you should have six columns of dishes/meals. (I say “meals,” but I’m only talking about the main course– side dishes are considered later, when you plan your grocery list, and can change each time you make the meal.) Your first and second column should have all original meals, unless you make something weekly, like pizza. Your third and fifth rows may have a repeat from the first row, or maybe the repeat is in the fourth row. It’s all up to you.
Step 4 – Balancing the Weekly Menus
Another thing you want to keep in mind is balancing the meals. In other words, you don’t want all chicken dishes one week and all beef the next. Or you don’t want all pasta one week and no pasta the next. I like to have at least one chicken dish, one beef dish, one Italian dish, one breakfast dish, and one Mexican dish each week. (The Italian and Mexican dishes can be either beef or chicken.) Sort through your rows and columns and try to balance your meals in this way.
If you have any slow cooker meals, you can do one of those each week, too. Maybe mark those cards with a red check, so you know which ones they are. Maybe put a blue check on the Mexican, a purple check on the Italian, etc. Doing so will make it easier to sort out and visually “see” where everything fits.
So, let’s say you want to fill six days with meals because you eat out on Mondays. And let’s say after carefully thinking about it, you only have five meals in the column. You have three options: 1) leftovers (if there are any that week); 2) eat out again (if you can afford it); 3) try a new dish (this puts those cookbooks and Pinterest to good use!). Once you try a new recipe, if you like it, make sure it gets put onto one of the menus.
Step 5 – Writing it Out
After you have all your rows and columns filled with either a meal or a note about what to do for that night, it’s time to write out your menus. Get a full sheet of paper, or a half sheet, or however you want to list them and start writing them down by week: Week #1, Week #2, Week #3, etc. I have a 6″x9″ binder where I keep my menus, so they get printed on half sheets of paper and hole-punched.
Step 6 – Implementing the Rotating Menu
Now, when it’s time to shop for groceries, simply pull out the next week’s menu. Grab your family recipe binder and pull out any recipes you need, look at your schedule and start planning your week. Make easy meals on nights you have activities. Schedule the meals that need more prep for nights when you know you’ll be home. Create your list and go shopping.
Final Tips and Suggestions
Remember to get a white board to list your meals for the week and which days you PLAN to make them. If something comes up during the week and you forget to defrost some meat, and the meal for the next day doesn’t need defrosting, switch days — no problem! If you end up with lots of leftovers after three meals, don’t make the meal scheduled for the next day–have leftovers instead. The ingredients for the meal you skipped will keep until the next day, or even next week depending on the food.
When I plan out my meals, I make a note about when to defrost the meats. If something comes up, and you can’t make a meal, but you’ve already defrosted the meat, be sure to make it the next day. Being home all day, I usually take meats out of the freezer in the morning. They usually defrost by supper. If I forget, and can’t defrost it in the microwave, I put the meal off until the next day.
This 6-week rotating menu isn’t designed to make you a slave to a schedule. It simply gives you seven days’ worth of menus which you can make in any order you wish. Have fun with it!