There was a time in the not to distant past when every woman of the house created a menu for the family meals. With the availability of convenience foods, dollar menu at McDonalds, and delivery for pizza or Chinese food, this tradition of planning meals ahead of time has taken a bit of a hit in modern times. But when it comes to home organization for the mommy years, careful menu planning is worth the time. It eliminates the scramble at 5 pm when the kids are saying, “I’m hungry” and your husband is on his way home.
Here are a few approaches I have used for menu planning. You will notice in almost every post about home organization that I have a main principle and several variations. That is because I get bored easily and change things to keep myself interested. Also, different seasons work well with different approaches. My more naturally organized girlfriends use the same tried and true methods always, varying rarely, which has proved to serve them. Only you know what works best with your personality and family.
How to plan a menu:
1. use your grocery fliers. I do this for meat mostly. I try to find the place that has meat for under $2 per lb. Because I have a family of carnivores, and a husband who views salad with chicken cut up in it a side dish, I have to make the most of sales on meat. Determine your menu on what is on sale, and what you already have.
2. method #1 : 5 meals. Currently, I take time to plan for five meals. I do not designate days for each meal. I just make them on whatever day they work best. I use a crock pot meal on meeting nights, and if we have a date night, I use convenience food for the kiddos. The other two nights are for leftovers, or dinner at my mom’s or mother-in-law’s.
3. method #2: rotating meal plan. This is the plan where you think of two, three, or four weeks worth of meals (depending on how much variety your family prefers), create the grocery list to go with it, and simply use it over and over again. I like to include one night of “new recipe” in a two week plan. We really are fine with ten to twelve meals being rotated as long as I use one night or so to do something new. I haven’t used this method very often though because of the need for getting meat on sale and not knowing what will be available to me at whatever time.
4. Method #3: theme night meal plans. With this method each day of the week has a theme which makes thinking of the menu easier. For example: Monday is Mexican, Tuesday is new recipe, Wednesday is crock pot, Thursday is casserole, Friday is pizza night, Saturday is meatless, Sunday is leftovers. Other categories can be simply centered around the meats: beef night, chicken night, fish night, etc. You could have Italian, breakfast for dinner night, soup and sandwich night, etc. This is for all you creative gals!
5. Method #4: once a month cooking. This method is a bit daunting, but worth it for seasons that are difficult to manage cooking regularly. I used it for after I had babies, and want to use it for the month of December. (I’ll let you know if I do, and how it goes). Before I explain it, you need to know that this costs a lot in the beginning because you have to buy a month’s worth of groceries all at once. If you’re interested in trying it, go here.
6. Method #6 bulk cooking. Similar to once a month cooking, bulk cooking is when you make multiple batches of a meal and freeze the extra for the future. This works great with soup, pasta sauce, chili and the like. This is a method you can use in conjunction with other methods. A simplified version of this is to prep meat/ veggies ahead of time and freeze them. Brown tons of ground beef and use it later for tacos, meat sauce, shepherd’s pie, etc. Cook chicken and cut it up in pieces to freeze for chicken stir fry, casseroles, salads, etc. Cut up your veggies for the week for easy snacks, and dinner sides. (many children like raw veggies with ranch dressing more than hot veggies…do your cucumber slices, green pepper strips, and mushrooms ahead of time). I do a huge amount of rice in the beginning of the week and use it throughout the week.
Also, these are the “convenience” items you will find in my kitchen to make life easier:
1. ready made spaghetti sauce (I add ground meat to it)
2. frozen chicken nuggets (for date night, lunch, etc.)
3. frozen chopped onions/ green peppers
4. mac n cheese (I love homemade, but my kids like the nasty box mixes!)
5. Lipton onion soup mix/ cream of mushroom and cream of chicken soup
6. every snack the kids eat is store bought (cookies, granola bars, etc.) I simply can’t have home made snacks in the house or I will eat them. for breakfast. okay, for breakfast, lunch and dinner. One day, when I grow up…
There are plenty more depending on what’s on sale. I have said this elsewhere I think, but my husband prefers more time and energy spent on cleaning, less time and energy spent on cooking when we have to choose between the two, which is pretty much every season of motherhood so far. When you go to plan your meals, consider your husband’s preference as well. If you have a new born, PBJ’s are possibly the best meal for your family. No unnecessary guilt ladies. There are enough real sins out there worth feeling guilty over, what you made (or didn’t make) for dinner shouldn’t be one of them .
Time for your tips. Please tell us what you do for menu planning. What works? What doesn’t work?