Monday, February 25, 2013

Menu Planning

What takes up the most time, or what do you dread most, in meal planning? For me, it's figuring out what to cook.

All too often I feel uninspired, and I fall back on the too-easy, no-brainer, not-exactly-healthy meals such as oven pizza, chili dogs, oven fish, or tacos.

I have tried planning for each specific day only to have my plans messed up. It may be that my schedule unexpectedly changes, I have had an exhausting day, or I am not able to buy the groceries on the day I want to.

I think I have finally found a system that works.

Let me go through what I've done for March. This is not a typical meal plan because I decided not to use any of my Keeper recipes this time. Otherwise, that would be the first thing I would look through.

On a small piece of paper, I mark column headings for main dishes and extras divided by the four weeks in March (Week 4 is on the back of the page).

My goal is to find six main dishes and about as many extra dishes such as sides, snacks, and desserts for each week.

First, I look through my collection of keeper recipes to see what I want to make. (I did not do this for March.)

Then, I look through Pinterest and will move pins from my recipe boards to my Do in March board to make them easier to find. On the paper, the name of the recipe is preceded by "P" for Pinterest. (This is also a good opportunity to cull pins that I'm not interested in anymore.)

Then, I look through my paper files of recipes to try. I put "New" before the title on the paper, and I put those recipes in my desk drawer so they are easy to find.

If I had easy access to my cookbooks I would look through there as well. (Here's why I don't.)

Once I have my meals planned for the month, I keep the list on the side of my fridge.

My Walmart Shopping List
Each week, I look at the recipes and make out my shopping list. I have a form that I use that allows me to write in items for each area or aisle of the store. It helps save some time.

As I make a recipe, I cross it off my list. In general, I try not to serve two similar dishes in a row (chicken or beef, for example). I also like to do one crockpot meal each week, usually on Thursdays.

I like this system because I don't feel locked in, and it offers some flexibility. Sometimes I'm not always able to make all of the meals, but I try not to let it bother me. I just have to be careful about taking care of the perishables so that they're not wasted.

You may wonder about breakfast and lunch. I am very casual about these meals and usually eat cereal, leftovers, or canned foods (like spaghettios). I eat out for lunch once or twice a week. My husband usually takes leftovers to work (which is great if I didn't care for a meal).  My daughter has a repertoire of snacks (both healthy and not) that she eats.  She is getting better about at least trying the food that we have.

I also have a "groceries to check" list on my fridge of items we use on a regular basis like bread, milk, juice, fruit, and granola bars, among other things.  I check the items on this list and add them to my shopping list if we are running low.

I don't like to cook on the weekends, especially on Sundays, so we usually eat leftovers or will go out to eat. We are trying to cut back on eating out to help our budget and having a meal plan definitely helps.  It also helps to be able to only go grocery shopping once a week.  When I feel up to it (which isn't often), I will shop at Aldi for some things before going to Walmart.

Do you have any tips to share with me that have helped you?

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  1. I have my own system also that has worked well. My dilemma is being too tired at the end of the day - after homeschooling, laundry and housework for seven people - to stand and cook something difficult. I like trying things from Pinterest, but only if they are easy and don't use weird ingredients. I need to make myself try one new recipe a week. Thanks for sharing your tips! :)

  2. If your family is like mine, and want to eat certain foods often, you could make a Master Meal Planner. I did this several years ago and broke it down into Fall/Winter and Spring/Summer. If I'm making something new I switch out one of the old favorites that we eat way too often.