So, this is part two of a two-part series I’m doing on my menu planning process. If you missed the first installment, you can find it here.
At this point, I’ve already explained how I begin the menu planning process:
- check the sales
- check the calendar
- ask the troops
- write the plan
Let’s continue from there…
Utilize my appliances and prepare as much as I can ahead of time
I also try really hard to find at least one crock pot meal for the week. This takes a lot of stress off of me on the afternoons we have a lot going on (Mondays, for example) and allows me to get dinner started at 9AM when things are quiet and know that when everyone is starving at 6PM we’ll be good to go.
I’m finding that in the winter I can usually do two crock pot meals per week, with one being a soup or stew. In the summer, I usually do a lot of grilling (well, SuperMan does) and that is not something you can cook ahead, but you can prep ahead!
Dinner is the only meal I plan
I don’t worry about lunches or breakfasts. SuperMan eats leftovers for lunch. If the kids don’t have lunch at school, I’ll fix them one of four or five different “standard” lunch combinations I’ve found they will actually eat.
Saturday lunch is usually a haphazard affair and we either do subs if we’re out running errands or we make use of leftovers from the week before.
Weekday breakfasts are usually one of a half-dozen things that I keep on hand all the time. The girls love biscuits for breakfast and those nasty toaster strudel thingys. I also make muffins on occasion and they sometimes have cereal or eggs. I just keep a stockpile of all of this so I can adjust to their desires each morning. We are not morning people, so it’s usually as much about keeping the peace as it is getting the troops fed.
Saturday morning breakfast is usually SuperMan’s affair and I just make sure we have plenty of the things he likes to cook on hand so he can fix whatever strikes his fancy.
Sunday mornings the kids and SuperMan eat donuts at church and I usually stick to my protein shakes.
Get ready, get set, go shopping
Once I have the general plan down on my index cards, I pull out my trusty coupon binder and check the Southern Savers website yet again for coupon matches (if I haven’t already printed out my plans from there).
I sort through and pull any coupons I need at that time. My little coupon binder has a pocket for “today’s trip” and I load all the coupons I plan to use there. I also love the fact that it comes with a handy tote so I can put my shopping list, my menu plan and my coupons all in one bag to carry into the store. That way, if I change plans while I’m in the store, because of an unadvertised sale, for example, I can update the menu plan while I’m there and everything is good to go when I get home.
Once I’m home I try to store my different planned menu items together – for example, if we’re having a stir fry for dinner, I’ll put the veggies in one corner of the crisper drawer so they are easy to find and I’ll group the spices and seasonings together in the pantry to be ready to grab when it’s time to cook.
It also makes it easier for SuperMan if he has to step in and cook a meal for some reason. He knows what is planned and can easily find the components.
Keep the plan handy
One big tip here is this – keep the plan where you can see it. I keep my index card in the same spot on the refrigerator every week – the top right of the right hand door. That way, everyone knows it is there and knows that is where to look if they want to know what’s for dinner.
I never have to worry about losing my list and I can refer to it quickly when I’m making plans or decisions and decide if I need to rearrange things on the fly.
It’s okay to go off-plan
I don’t beat myself up if and when I don’t cook something on the plan. I’ve had weeks where everything went haywire and we ended up eating nothing I’d planned. It was OK because most of the meats could be frozen for another time and I repurposed the other perishables as I went along with my improvisations for the weeks.
It’s really worth the trouble
And finally, I just want to say this – it really, truly is worth the trouble. I would estimate that this takes me (the planning part, not the shopping part) about 20-30 minutes total for the week. And the amount of time it saves me in stress and worry? I can’t imagine.
I absolutely LOVE knowing what is coming and my kids do, too. I also love the fact that planning allows me to save money by shopping the sales and save time by using my crock pot and oven for meals that would never be made if I was doing things at the last minute.
I also feel like my family is eating healthier because I am paying more attention to what we’re eating and ensuring that we’re having well rounded meals and variety at the same time.
I hope this helps you if you are thinking about dipping your foot into the pool of menu planning. It’s not hard and you will be amazed at how much easier it becomes with time. You are probably already doing more of this than you think – just not in a formal way or on paper. By writing it down, you may find you gain more peace of mind and clarity about your plans for your family meals. You may also find that you want to make some adjustments to your eating habits. I was amazed at the “rut” we’d gotten into, eating the same 8-10 things most every night of the week. Now, I try to spice things up with at least one new meal every two weeks. We’re expanding our palates and I’m growing my repertoire of cooking choices!
If I’ve just muddied the waters for you, please don’t hesitate to comment (or email me) and I’ll be happy to help in any way I can.