Sunday, August 16, 2015

Sunday Spread: Menu Planning

Menu planning is very personal, because each of our lifestyles can be vastly different.  You might be a single mom, you might be married but you stay at home and your husband works nights, you might both work M-F, 8-5.  You might have kids, or no kids.  Picky kids.  You might have volunteer work, meetings, soccer practice.  Because of this, it is difficult to come up with one way to meal plan that will work for everyone.  You might have to take what works for me and tweak it.  Heck, when our schedule changes, that's what I have to do!

You can read about meal planning in this post, but I wanted to do a basic overview of what is involved in meal planning.  You can insert this into your own schedule, which will help you come up with a system that will work for you.

If you haven't written down your most used recipes, do that first.  You can write them on a piece of scrap paper that you keep in the cupboard above your stove.  Type them in the Notes section of your phone.  Notebook paper and crayon.  It doesn't have to be fancy.  This should take you about 10-15 minutes, and is a one time occurrence.  Write down everything!  Even chicken strips!

Set aside a time to plan.  This will take about 15-20 minutes.  Consider doing this at the beginning of the week, after the kids go to bed.  During this time, you will go over the events for the week ahead and decide which nights need to be quick, and which nights will have more time.

Once you have assessed your week, look at your meals.  Put the easier dishes on your busy nights, and the more time consuming dishes on the less busy nights.

Now decide if you need any ingredients.  Make your grocery list.  Go grocery shopping.  This can take about an hour, not including driving time, or unpacking time.

That's really it!  Assess your week, write down your meals, go grocery shopping.  The other stuff I talked about in my other post (coupons, ads, etc.) is completely secondary to this, and not necessary.

Some additional tips and ideas:

At the beginning of the week, I try to do the first two or three nights with dishes that involve meat.  Then I can use the leftover meat to create other dishes later in the week and just make the sides on those nights.  Later in the week, you will often see "rice bowls" or "nachos" listed on my menu.  This is just another way of saying "leftovers".  I make rice, add meat on top, and then let the kids add their toppings:  salsa, cheese, sour cream, etc.

Utilize your crockpot.  You can use your crockpot to make something simple, like spaghetti sauce!  Just come home and cook the noodles!  I also use it to make a roast, which my kids will eat, and then I add potato chunks and carrots (they don't eat those).  I cook the meal in one container, pull out the meat for their plate (add grapes or another fruit that is easy to deal with), and serve myself the carrots and potatoes!

We make individual pizzas, using a frozen cheese pizza as our base.  Each person adds their own toppings, cook per the instructions on the box, and everyone is happy!  I convince myself mine is healthiest because I throw spinach on mine.

Make extra and freeze for later.  My husband makes chicken taquitos (shredded chicken and rice rolled into a corn tortilla), about 100 at a time.  We eat some for dinner and freeze the rest.  I will grab two or three from the freezer to take for lunch during the week.

Use fruits and veggies in their raw state.  This is the best no-prep tip.  Give your kids an apple with dinner.  Is it traditional?  No.  Is it fast and healthy?  Yes!  Wear pearls and heels while you do it to make you feel more like June Cleaver.

Don't get carried away with trying to be a culinary expert.  You don't need to tackle every Pinterest recipe each night.  This isn't Food Network.  It's your house, on a Thursday.  There are toys and homework and laundry everywhere.  My menu consists of simple items:  baked chicken, hamburgers, rice bowls.

Finally, don't put too much pressure on yourself.  If you miss a week of planning, it's not a big deal.  Try again the next week!

I would love to hear how you incorporate meal planning in your life!

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