Menu planning and I have a long-running conflict.
I am convinced that menu-planning is one of those things that you either love or hate, or both. That is confusing, huh? Well, that's how I approach it … I love it because I don't have to wonder what to make for dinner, but I hate it because so often after making the plan, other things enter our schedule and I end up not using the plan. And as the kids have gotten older and rummage through my fridge and pantry looking for any and everything consumable, they can so easily devour ingredients intended for dinners, then I have to change plans anyway!
I have a label maker and a Sharpie … And I'm not afraid to use them!
There are a couple of solutions I came up with. One is to always keep my label maker and Sharpie close by! ;) Another is to only plan about four meals a week and make sure they are ones that can easily be prepared at any given time. And thirdly, simply keep staples on hand at all times. When the pantry is stocked with staples, then I do my 'shopping' in the pantry and dinner is served up pretty quickly.
I tried doing frozen dinners and commend anyone who can spend an entire weekend cooking for an entire month! Even when we didn't have sports filling our weekends, and although I love to cook, I was never tempted to spend all that time prepping and cooking for a month at a time. Furthermore, I commend anyone who can remember to take something out of the freezer in time for it to thaw for dinner … I always struggle with this feeble brain of mine. I do once in a while make a double batch of a dish and freeze part of it, but it isn't a common practice for me.
There are a couple of well-known franchises now that allow you to come 'to their kitchen', prepare your meals for the freezer on-site using their menus, already-prepped ingredients, utensils, etc … It sounds like a fabulous thing! The ingredients are already prepped and you don't have to do the clean-up either! You do, however, have to hope that you like the menu choices, and that you can work around any food allergies or likes/dislikes that those in your family might have. I tried this service a couple of times … had trouble with the feeble brain syndrome again, though. AND I missed my own recipes, choice of ingredients, and opportunities to cook new stuff from scratch.
I have learned that for the way that I operate, and for the way that our family lives and eats, it is easiest and most effective for me to prepare quick meals, using fresh ingredients. I do, sometimes, have to still exercise the feeble brain in order to get meat out of the freezer to accompany the meal, but I've learned how to more quickly thaw meat, too! So it has become a win-win solution for me.
Here are my top tips for creating fresh, quick, healthful, and budget- and schedule-friendly meals: (these are in NO particular order!)
- Make an appointment with yourself to sit down and make the menu plan. Sounds silly, but if you don't make time, you won't take time. Write that appointment in your planner! ;)
- Make a list of your family's favorite meals.
- Each week, plan to make at least one of the family favorites, a vegetarian meal, a new recipe, and a meal that you cook with your kids.
- Keep a running of list of recipes you want to try from various cookbooks and magazines and of course, from your favorite blogs!
- Consider nutrition needs.
- Consider the grocery store sales and coupons if you use them. (Did you know that grocery store sales are on about a 6-week cycle? More on this in another post!)
- Plan meals that will showcase local and seasonal fruits and vegetables.
- Plan meals with your calendar right besides you so that you make the quickest meal or the crockpot meal on the busiest night(s) of the week.
- Keep a running grocery list of things you are running out of, then add your menu ingredients to it as you make your menu plan.
- Write your menu plan for the week in your planner, even if only in list form.
- You might find it helpful to write the menu on a Family Calendar or post it on the Family Bulletin Board or at least in a central location where everyone can see it. I noticed that as my kids got older, they would sometimes start dinner before I was available to do it just because they knew what was coming up. (Truth be told, this is usually my oldest child!) This practice also helps eliminate the question that is invariably asked fifteen times although you KNOW that you didn't labor and deliver that many times, "What are you making for dinner?"
- After grocery shopping, prepare as many of the vegetables and meats as possible, label them according to the meals you plan to make, then refrigerate or freeze them. For example, wash all the lettuce for salad (you'll eat more salads if you don't have to wash lettuce every time you want one!). Prepare the vegetables by chopping or dicing or julienning … you know those fancy ways of cutting veggies! Clean, trim, and bag the meats needed for certain recipes.
- Avoid the grocery stores from 5-7 PM every day and on Saturday mornings!
Happy Meals to you!