Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Menu Planning Made Easy

I'm done with involved recipes, at least most of the week. I'm back to making simple meals for our family, meals that don't require a lot of prep time. I'm just tired, tired at the end of the day from chasing a 13 month, being 6.5 months pregnant, it's hot outside, dishes pile up, laundry needs to get done, I need a shower and a nap. I'm just tired. Who's with me?

I love menu planning and won't stop but the meals you'll be seeing here will be more simple than they have been lately. I'm back to recipes with few ingredients.

Menu planning, where to begin?

I do my menu monthly, it's just easier for me at this point. Yes, our plans change and I do move meals around but I don't let that stop me from planning the whole month so it's already done week in and week out. I used my colored pens (yes I love pens) to separate my weeks. I'll use light pink one week, orange the next and blue the next, etc. This just makes it easier to see what week and day we're on. I also mark through the day once it's done. So here's my steps for how I menu plan.

Step 1: Get out supplies.
I get out my recipe binder with my favorite recipes, any other cookbooks, my colored pens and this sheet. I write in my date (ex. Mon, Aug 29) in the smaller box and in the bigger box I write the meal plan along with where I can find it (ex. Parmesan Chicken Tenders-Binder; Baked Chimichangas-Taste of Home, pg. 171). I do this so I can find it so when it comes time to cook and I'm not searching to find my recipe.

Step 2: Start the process.
Pick out your favorite recipes and your family's favorite recipes and write them down. Ask your family to write out a few recipes that are favorites and start with those. I try and prepare as much variety as our budget allows a week. Some weeks it just happens that we have more chicken, like this week, and that's fine with us because it's all prepared differently.
I usually do one Mexican dish and one Italian dish a week since we like those so much. I also do either pizza or breakfast on Friday's and just switch every other week. Some weeks we have leftovers, but I do specify what leftovers we have to plan ahead and use my freezer inventory wisely. Some nights we just have sandwiches and chips too. On Wednesday's and Sunday's I make it easy on myself so we're not rushed before and after church. That's where the wonder of the crock pot comes into play most often. I like that appliance on those two days.

Step 3: Fill in the gaps.
This happens more times than not, I have too many chicken dinners here and I've already done sandwiches that week or breakfast and I'm not sure how to fill in my gaps. Hey, it doesn't always work out perfectly! So I just put in quick stuff, i.e. baked potato with bbq chicken (I always have cooked chicken in the freezer) or we'll do sandwiches again but I'll make a french bread loaf for something different or we'll have more leftovers. It doesn't matter, the fact is I'm planning and thinking ahead and it just works for me.

Step 4: Stick to it.
This may be the hardest step of all for me somedays. I'm craving something different or what's on the menu just isn't appealing. But here's where I don't go crazy... I just move my menu around and pick something from another day. *gasp* You can do that? Of course! I told you, I'm flexible when it comes to that. We do that probably once a week in this house. I don't fret, I just make sure we have all the ingredients for the other meal and adjust. The idea of "stick to it" is just stick to the monthly menu and try not to go away from it. Use what you have and what's available. And it's no problem.
This also comes in handy for not going out so much. People say, "oh we have nothing to eat in this house so I guess we'll just go out." Well that's great for some people but it doesn't work for us. We can't go out every single week, our tight budget doesn't allow. And we both try and watch what we eat and going out doesn't come in line with that. People say they have nothing to eat because they don't plan. If you plan ahead you will have all the food you need for that week's dinners. When you menu plan, make your grocery list, go shopping and you're done. It's that easy!

Step 5: Make it easy on yourself.
Don't pick crazy recipes you know you'll never make. So what if you have spaghetti every week?! Do what you feel comfortable doing and just get in the habit of menu planning. For a long time we'd have spaghetti and chicken fingers every week and there's nothing wrong with that. I'm going back to doing that and Hubby doesn't mind at all. I'll throw in a new recipe here and there to challenge myself and just to have fun with it (most likely on a Saturday when I have help wrangling the babies), but I don't go crazy. Look at my past menu's. They are so not elaborate and detailed. I just don't have the time to make big elaborate meals. If I want to make something somewhat fancy I pick a day where I'm not so busy, say a Saturday that I have free.

I hope that helps you as you venture into the world of menu planning. Let me know if you have any questions and I'll try and help. I love talking about planning. I feel it's too easy not to do, but that's just me. :)

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