Friday, April 8, 2011

Menu Planning

The challenge this week at A Bowl Full of Lemons is menu planning. Perfect timing. I had just picked up the book I requested from the library, 7 Day Menu Planning for Dummies.

I have been struggling with what to cook for a long time. I readily admit, I'm not good at it. I don't know why. My mom's a good cook, my cousins are good cooks, my sister is a good cook. I'm not. I don't enjoy it, it's difficult for me and I'm not good at it.

Before we had children, my husband and I rarely ate a sit down meal together. I'm really not sure what I ate. A lot of cereal, probably. When my daughter started eating table food, I knew I was going to need to cook. Sit down, family meals are something I thought was important and if I didn't provide them, they weren't going to happen.

When I heard about menu planning I knew that is what I needed. I could not open the fridge, see what was there and put together a meal. If I didn't have something planned, it was going to be cereal, sandwiches, breakfast food, or nuggets. (Sometimes it still is.) I've been menu planning for a few years now. It's a struggle for me every week. (see here) I was so excited to see this challenge because I was hoping to get lots of ideas, and I have. I looked through all the entries, the post, and the book. (I had also already done lots of internet research on menu planning.) Here's what I've come up with.

First, I start with a blank week chart. I have one I got from somewhere, but I like this one from 5 dollar dinners. I will probably create my own that is a hybrid of the two. (I don't need a section for breakfast everyday, it's usually cereal or a smoothie.)

Next, I pull out my menu plan plan. What that is is a list of the types of meals I'll make each week. That was one of the biggest helps to me. Before I came up with that I would sit and my mind would literally be blank. Nothing would pop into my head. I could think of nothing to make. So, I would either make the same things over and over or would look through tons of recipes. It gives me a place to start. Here is the one I currently have but I don't love it so I will have to change it up.

Sunday-I cook (this is left over from I hoped my husband would be able to cook more, that didn't work--maybe this summer)
Monday-soup or sandwich
Wednesday-left-overs or breakfast
Saturday-international (really only mexican or italian)
(See here for more info. The menu plan plan is towards the bottom.)

Rarely do I stick to that exactly. As I said, it gives me a place to start. Although I might not have soup on Monday, I will probably have it sometime that week.

Next, I look at the calendar. On my planning sheet, I write down what we have going on that might mess with dinner. It could be regular events, like sports practices, or something that will only happen that week, like a meeting for my husband or myself. I need to pay more attention to this. Up to this point the only difference that would make in my planning was that if my husband wasn't going to be home, I wouldn't plan a very big meal because my kids are pretty picky. I need to pay more attention to prep and clean-up times as well. If my husband has to be somewhere at 6:30 chances are good he won't be able to help much with clean-up. If it's a bath night and I'm on my own that means I'll be doing dishes after the kids go to bed and I hate that.

Next, I go to my recipe binder. This has also been hugely helpful. Otherwise, I would forget about some of my favorite meals or would have to go through my cookbooks each week. I put every recipe we like in this binder. If I got the recipe out of a cookbook, I copy the page and put it in the binder. That probably seems unnecessary to some but for me it is super useful. That way I have all my recipes in one spot.

That is what I have done so far. This week I have gotten a few tips that I want to incorporate into my planning.

I am going to...

make a list of the recipes in my binder. I will probably do a list for each section. That way, I won't have to flip through each page to find a recipe I want to use that week.

update my list of family favorites. I did this once, a long time ago.

type up a master grocery list based on the aisles & departments at the two grocery stores I shop at.

plan for more than one week at a time. Some people plan for two weeks, others a month, one even suggested a 10 week rotation. I'm thinking I might try two weeks or a month at a time. Hopefully, that will make the whole process easier on me. Sometimes it is a real hassle to do it every Sunday. Since I will already have all my binders and books out it should take a lot less time to just write down one more week's worth of recipes than if I had to do the whole process again the next Sunday. I used to pretend I was going to use the weekly ads and plan my meals according to the specials. Never did, so that is no longer a reason to plan a week at a time.

try some of the menus in the book 7 Day Menu Planning for Dummies. I liked the book so much I used my Borders 33% off coupon and bought it today. I have thought about using a menu planning service so I thought I might try this instead. The author has a years worth of menus planned. Even though I have a ton of recipes, I feel like I am limited by my tastes and experiences. I think having this many menus will help me find recipes that I might not otherwise have even thought of. Plus, in her plans she includes sides and desserts. Sides is a place I always struggle with. I can find recipes for entrees and then am like, "What do I serve with it?"

I want to...

go through my cookbooks and make a list of recipes to try. (I love to cross things off lists.) I have gone through and put Post-it flags on recipes I want to try. I'm hoping by making the list it will be quicker to find a recipe to match what I am looking for (like a soup recipe, or a chicken recipe.) (I say want to instead of am going to on this one because it just is not a priority right now, but is something I would eventually like to do.)

That's it. I'm excited. I think the multi-week planning will be so helpful. Plus, the menus in the book will help ease my stress over the whole process.

I'm liking up to A Bowl Full of Lemons weekly challenge.


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