Friday, February 21, 2014

menu planning (I finally figured it out)

When I first began my quest to simplify things around here a little (5 years ago, or so?) one of the things I learned about (along with chicken keeping and gardening and "making your own" and preserving food) was menu planning. It saves time, it saves money and it prevents food waste.

Do you know how much food I've wasted over the years? It makes me sad (and embarrassed) to think about it. I would throw entire packs of meat away...thaw it for dinner, change my mind or get lazy, pop it in the fridge, let it sit for too many days, now it's gone bad, have to throw it away.

I would make too much food at dinner time, store it as leftovers, then they'd never get eaten. Or I'd buy something that was inexpensive to save money, but then never cook it, throw it away, and now that money that I "saved" is now wasted.

I mean, I may as well have just tossed cash into the trash, right?

Enter the idea of meal planning...planning ahead a week's worth of meals (or two weeks, or some even do a month's worth! And some even cook them all in one day!) and shopping accordingly. Buy what you need, cook what you'll eat. Not to mention, meal planning really takes away the stress of "what's for dinner?". I know the kids liked seeing the menu tacked up on the fridge...they either looked forward to what was coming up...or made plans to be at a friend's house if dinner didn't sound too appealing that night! *wink*

When you think about it, you can't go wrong with a planned menu. Right? Well, leave it to me to complicate things...

For whatever reason, I can't plan a menu to save my life lately. I did it for a while. And it was good. Planned it. Posted it to the fridge. And then actually cooked what each day told me to. But lately it's been such a challenge! I don't know what it is! Too many choices? Too many Pins on the ol' cooking board? Can't decide between Crock Pot or 15 Minute prep? Not sure what time practice is over or starting or whose gonna be where? Yes, yes, yes, yes and yes. Those all play a part in my inability to just make up my mind and make up a dang menu plan.

Not to mention, I'm cooking for three now that Seth is off at college (and doing great and LOVING it, by the way) which doesn't make a difference in what I cook, of course. (Well, it does a little. He wasn't a fan of breakfast dinners.) But more a difference in how much and how often. When Seth was home I could pretty much guarantee that at least one kid would be home for dinner that night. And really, none of that should matter because once these awesome boys of mine are grown and gone for good, Chris and I are still going to need to eat yummy, healthy, home-cooked meals.

ALL THAT to say...I finally figured out how menu planning works for me. And that's the most important part, right? It's gotta work, or it isn't worth the time and effort.

So here you planning a la Michelle...

First I think about what we have going on during the coming study, sports practices, band practice, homework at a friends, any appointments or errands that might cut into my time to prep dinner, etc. Tuesday night, for instance, Chris and I both leave around 6:30 for band practice and bible study respectively so I plan to cook something early, something that can be eaten at different times or something that can be prepared quickly. Last week we had BLT's and sliced cucumbers. Quick, easy and we all love a good BLT. Who doesn't? Even vegetarians find a way to eat some sort of fake bacon. (fakon? facon?)

Then I consider what I have on hand. For instance, this next week we will have meals that contain chicken, ground beef, potatoes, broccoli and eggs because these are things I have an abundance of right now. I also have plenty of cheese (to go with those potatoes?), and plenty of rice and pasta (as a side with that chicken?). To shake things up a bit I may try to find recipes that call for fresh bleu cheese and Feta as I have a container of each of those, as well.

I also consider it hot, cold, rainy? This week it's finally going to rain again so I have Clam Chowder planned for one of  the rainy nights. You can't go wrong with a nice, warm soup on a cold, rainy night. (And we love Dave Lieberman's chowder recipe. I replace the cream with Nonfat milk just because I always have that on hand. But it's still yummy!)

Once I have all of my considerations lined up then I plan the actual dishes. With the items I have on hand for this next week I'm thinking our menu will contain something along the lines of grilled chicken, au gratin potatoes, clam chowder, quiche and homemade mac and cheese. Sides will be salad, steamed or stir-fried broccoli and french bread or rolls. If I do need anything from the store I look at the ads and buy whatever I need on sale.

What I have stopped doing is planning the exact night that I will cook each meal. Instead, I make a list of meals based on what I have then choose as I go throughout the week.  I say "this is what we will eat this week at some point", write it on a sticky note and attach it to my calendar. For whatever reason, I've found that this type of "planning" works best for me. I guess I need a little freedom to choose as I go. Too much "this is how it has to be" and I begin to rebel...even against myself! (See? I make it complicated!)

How about you? Do you plan your menus? What's your technique? I don't think there's a right or a wrong way. As long as it works for you, then it works.


Irvina said...

I'm gonna try that cuz I do the same thing ,Michelle, waste food! It goes bad and I get so frustrated. So I'm going to look in my fridge and see what I got to work wit for the rest of this week!

Denise said...

awesome - you figured out what will work for you - so essential to anything really!!

teekaroo said...

I used to be a meal planning champ, but I've really struggled lately. I have found that I do better with a list of ideas for the week and fit it to what feels right for each day. It feels like I need to figure out meals that I can take with us. We've fallen into the habit of just grabbing some fast food between evening activities.

Kimberly's Cup said...

i used to do pretty good with this, but not lately.
honestly, i'm just sick of cooking 21 full meals a week every single week. there is no break here. add to that, we have a small market here in town, but minimal fresh stuff. the closet regular store with good food is over an hour away.