Food. It’s a love/hate relationship for me. I love to eat it, love to cook it, love to serve it. But I hate how much it costs, hate doing dishes, hate the mundane of 3 meals a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year. And I go through these crazy ups and downs. At my best, I clip coupons, buy organically, cook from scratch, use our nice dishes, and always have a plan. At my worst, I’m digging the least oldest leftovers from the recesses of the fridge, slopping it onto paper plates and tossing it at the kids while they sit mesmerized by the TV.
Okay. I’m exaggerating. I don’t toss it at the kids. I make sure they’re looking at me first.
Anyhoo, I’m always inspired by the cooler temperatures of Fall to turn over a new leaf (or spatula) and renew my efforts to make good, clean food, stay within budget, find new recipes, and make monthly menus. For me, having a plan is the key to success in the kitchen. My grandma taught me this little gem: always work ahead. Applying this idea to my kitchen chores is especially helpful. For example, after cleaning up the breakfast dishes, I defrost any meat we need for dinner, prep sandwiches for lunch, chop up veggies or fruits we need for the day, start pizza dough, etc, etc. It only takes a few minutes, but it seems to ensure that meals will get on the table in a more timely manner. After dinner, I lay out cereal bowls and boxes, make sure we have milk and/or juice for the morning, slice up bread, prep oatmeal add-ins, etc, etc. Thankfully, our oldest girls can make their own breakfasts, so that meal is a pretty simple event. The same principle can be applied to meal planning and food purchases.
This week, I want to focus on menu planning. BK (before kids, not the fast food chain) my idea of menu planning was to make a grocery list at my desk on my lunch break, pick up ingredients on my way home from work and throw something on the table. Kraft mac n cheese and take-out Chinese were also regular “menu” rotations. Fast-forward 12 years and we still eat mac n cheese and take out Chinese, but I’ve discovered that a more detailed, well-planned monthly menu works much better for our family of 7. Not only do meals come together easier, we also save a TON of money.
I sort of stumbled upon this monthly menu planning method by hopping and jumping from one blog to another. Over the years I’ve tweaked it to work for our family and I would encourage you to do the same. First, I gather our family calendar and get a feel for what our activities are for the month…which nights we have activities, which nights we will be home; trips we have planned, company coming to visit. Next, I work up an excel spreadsheet ( I love, love, love spreadsheets…I’m just that nerdy) that organizes the month something like this:
I do this for each day of the week. Sometimes (if I feel like being really organized and nerdy) I also include notes for each day of the week: Hubs works late, soccer practice 4 PM, Bible study 7 PM, etc, etc.
You can see that I give each day of the week a “theme.” Basically, I’m assigning either a method of cooking (crock pot, grilling, stir fry, etc), a type of cuisine (Mexican, Italian, Chinese, etc), or a type of dish (soups, salads, sandwiches, etc) to each day of the week. We always have a “must go” night (usually on trash night) where we eat all the leftovers and clean out the fridge. (My g’ma also coined that word for me…”mustgo.” She was a clever lady…making leftovers sound kinda fancy:) For the month of September, our themes look like this:
Mondays: crock pot
Tuesdays: homemade pizza
Wednesdays: must go’s
Thursdays: homemade soups
Saturdays: grill night
After assigning a theme to each day of the week, I then assign a side dish. For example, on grill night our side dishes are salad and baked potatoes. Since I know we are having salad and baked potatoes every Saturday night this month, I can plan to buy a large quantity of potatoes in confidence and add lettuce to my weekly grocery list, knowing they will both be used. From here, I start filling in specific dishes for each day of the week. On Saturdays, I might plan to grill hamburgers and hot dogs, pork chops, chicken, and steak strips. We already have baked potatoes and salad planned as side dishes so Saturday night dinners are planned for the month! I repeat this for every day of the week and voila! A month of dinners planned!
Because we homeschool and are generally all at the table for lunch, I make large dinners that can serve as leftovers for lunch. For breakfast, we almost always do cereal and/or oatmeal. ( I’m just not one of those “get up early and make eggs and bacon for breakfast” kind of mamas…around here, everyone kinda fends for themselves.) Even so, I find it helpful to go ahead and write out what we’re eating for breakfasts and lunches. Again, it makes our meals more timely and saves moolah.
So, that’s it…that’s how we plan a month’s worth of menus, saving time, energy, stress, and money. How about you? Do you have any tried and true methods for menu planning for your family?
Next Sunday in our Feeding the Frenzy series: Favorite Crock Pot Meals