Life is totally overwhelming sometimes. We’ve all been there.
And sometimes making real meals is hard. There are (many) days when I just don’t want to do it.
But when I know there is something to eat, and I don’t have to go foraging through the fridge or pantry for dinner, then I’m more likely to actually make it and not just go get fast food.
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How to Menu Plan
Okay, I’m not actually going to tell you how to menu plan. There are hundreds of blogs with different ways to do it.
Some of my favorites:
- How to Build a Recipe Bank by Little Coffee Fox
- Robin’s Menu Board by RobbyGurl’s Creations (this is a multipart article. The first link shows all the parts on Sugardoodle.net, the second link goes to the first post)
- How to Meal Plan for a Month (with recipe cards) by Sweet Tea & Saving Grace
- Monthly Meal Planning by The Resourceful Gals
- You can also check out my Pinterest board for more ideas
When it comes down to it, it is a personal choice. Only you know what will work for you and your family.
Why You Should Menu Plan
- It helps save money. For one, you aren’t going through the grocery store throwing anything that looks good into your cart in case you might want to make it sometime during the week (or two weeks, or month). Second, less food is wasted. Like when that zucchini and cabbage you had great intentions of making into a gourmet meal finally is past the point of no return. Not that I’ve done that or anything… *cough*
- When you have a plan, then you don’t have to scramble for ideas at 4:30 when you could be doing much better things with your time.
- Plan for breakfast and lunch too, and maybe that will make the rest of your day a little smoother.
- You buy meals instead of just food. When you aimlessly throw food into your cart, you might end up with a lot of food, but not many meals. If you try to build meals out of what you already bought you might find that you don’t have an important ingredient for that recipe that you finally want to try. Plan ahead and make sure you get everything you need.
How to Menu Plan When You Don’t Want to Cook
Now to really get into it. What do you do when you don’t want to cook?
You might just hate making meals. Or maybe it has been an especially rough week (or year). You sit down to plan your menu, and realize that you really don’t want to make anything.
The solution is convenience. Fast food is convenient, but we all can’t (and probably shouldn’t) eat like that every night. And I’m not going to claim that all of these ideas and recipes are healthy and full of nutrition. However, they will give you more substance and energy than eating a bag of chips (nope. I’ve never done that either… *looks around*).
Some of these ideas may not seem like a traditional “meal,” but anything that fills you up with something other than sugar, carbs, and fat is a good meal in my book. Healthy snacks can totally be a meal if you want it to be, or mix a few together (even if they don’t “go” together) for a little more variety.
One thing that has been a huge help to me is to have a list of my favorite meals. I actually have two different lists: one of easy meals and one with more complex meals. That way I can go to the easy list when I don’t feel like putting too much effort into cooking.
Frozen foods are awesome for convenience! They last a long time and require little effort to heat up
- Frozen vegetables
- Frozen meals. Things like lasagna and enchiladas are easy because you just put the whole thing in the oven.
- Frozen skillet meals.You just dump the whole bag contents into a skillet or fry pan and stir as it becomes a yummy meal.
- Chicken nuggets or fish sticks
- Taquitos & guacamole
- Frozen meatballs. They can be used in numerous dishes to add protein, like in pastas such as spaghetti and alfredo. I even add them to ramen noodles (boil a few in the water with the noodles)
Slow Cooker Meals
These are some of the best meals because you can get it started earlier in the day when you have more energy (hopefully), and they are done when dinner time rolls around. Plus there are tons of these are are actually healthy.
Seriously, look at Pinterest for ideas. There are thousands of ideas for all tastes!!
Prep Ahead with Extras
Another great thing you can do is prep enough for leftovers, or even another complete meal. If you are making a casserole, make two. It is not much more work, but will give you food for later too. Then you can just pop it into the oven when you want it. Dollar Tree has aluminum pans that are perfect for this. They have sizes all the way from single serving to feeding a family. If you make pasta (which is easy to begin with), make more than normal and then you have some for tomorrow too.
Other Easy Meals
- Salads- I really like Spring Mix Lettuce and the Caesar Salad Kits (they have other kits too). If you have deli meat, slice some into strips and that will add protein to the salad. Tuna, chicken (canned or precooked), and cooked shrimp are also good additions to a salad for protein. I also like to add grated cheese.
- Sandwiches- PB&J, deli meats, tuna or chicken salad, egg salad, grilled cheese (or quesadillas).
- Cereal. A personal favorite. Many varieties have pretty good nutrients too, including protein and fiber.
- Boiled Eggs- I keep a few pre-boiled eggs in the fridge so they are ready to go when I want them. They are great in green salads and egg salad sandwiches. Deviled eggs are also a meal staple at my house.
- Eggs (other than boiled)- They are fairly easy and fast to cook, and contain a decent about of protein. And a tip for the best scrambled eggs ever: Crack your eggs into a bowl or cup and add a little water. Usually just a few tablespoons is enough for a couple of eggs, but I never measure. Even with a whole dozen eggs I don’t think I used more than 1/2 cup of water. I don’t know why it works, but this gives you the fluffiest eggs ever! No dry, crusty, or rubbery eggs here. I’ve heard a lot of people adding milk to eggs, but I’ve never had milk work the way water does. Seriously, it changed my life. Or at least my breakfast. I also like to add in salt and pepper while I am already mixing it up.
- Breakfast burritos- scramble some eggs (see tip above), add a little cheese (even a slice of cheese ripped into pieces melts well), some sausage or bacon if you feel like it, and your condiments of choice (ketchup, salsa, hot sauce). You can also use toast or an english muffin and make a sandwich if you would rather.
- Oatmeal- I really like the flavored packets, specifically apple cinnamon. I add raisins and more cinnamon too. But I know many people don’t like the packets. My Mom only likes regular-cooked-on-the-stove oatmeal, but even that is easy enough. And it can be customized to include so many things- like fruit (fresh or dried) or spices. It is easy to make your own microwaveable oatmeal packets too. Get a canister of oatmeal, and measure about 1/3 cup of oatmeal into small size snack ziplock bags. You can add dried fruit and spices now, or just wait to see what you are in the mood for later. The amount of water you use will vary based on your taste. I like mine drier, so I add less water (just barely covering the oatmeal). If you can add more or less to your preference. It may take some trial and error. Then microwave for about 2 minutes and stir when it comes out. Something to note, the premade packets have a lot of sugar in them and will taste very different than your own packets. When I make them myself, I add a couple tablespoons of brown sugar. Start small and you can always add more after it has cooked. You don’t want it too sweet.
- Stirfry/Fried Rice- I always have rice left over from meals. This is another way to use frozen vegetables. The traditional way is to cook the vegetables (which ever mix you like, but they sell stir-fry mixes too) with soy sauce and spices. Add a decent amount of soy sauce but don’t make them swim, extra liquid will evaporate. I also add pepper, garlic powder, and onion powder. You can add any spices you like. Then serve over rice. I like my rice to be flavored too, so I make it the same except I put leftover rice in the pan with the vegetables.
See? Lots of easy meals that require little effort on stressful nights.
What other foods do you like to eat when you don’t want to cook?
Free Printable Menu Planner!!
To help you with your meal planning, here’s a free printable weekly planner. I’ve made it in three different sizes: Letter 8.5×11 inches, Junior 5.5×8.5 inches, and Happy Planner size 9.25×7 inches. There are two versions of each size, one with a Monday start and one with a Sunday start.
Just sign up below and get access to our exclusive freebie library, including the free weekly meal planner!
You can also purchase a matching set of meal planners, shopping lists, and a favorite meals page on my Etsy shop.