“You must learn a new way to think before you can master a new way to be.” ~ Marianne Williamson
Today, I am blogging about one of my favorite things: menu planning. Yes, I know that probably makes me weird, but I love planning. And cookbooks. So menu planning for me is fun. Throw in a new recipe and it’s downright exciting!
First, let me ask you a few questions. How often have you found yourself staring into the refrigerator at 5:00 in the afternoon hoping that something will magically appear for dinner? How often do you forego cooking at home for eating out? How often does the pizza delivery guy visit your house? Does he know you by name? (I see him zipping through my neighborhood quite frequently.) Do you know the meal deal numbers at the fast food places by heart? Do you know which night is kids’ night at every restaurant in town?
I am here to tell you that with a little planning – really, just a little! – you can enjoy dinners at home with your family on most nights. In about the same time it takes you to wait and then eat (and then PAY) at a restaurant, you could eat a nice, home-cooked meal. And YOU get the pats on the back and praise! Now that’s a good feeling! For example, one of my favorite dining out foods is the chicken marsala at Carrabba’s. Now, I can’t afford to go have that just any old time…it’s $50 for two of us to eat dinner there – and there are very rarely just two of us. But I can make it at home, feed 4-6 people depending on the night, WITH a side of garlic mashed potatoes, AND homemade bread, AND a salad…for about $20, certainly less than $25. Our family saves eating out for special occasions…birthdays (you get to choose the restaurant), anniversaries, milestones, etc. Occasionally, we go just because we can, but that is rare.
So here is what I do. I’m going to include pictures because I like visual aids.
1. Gather your materials: calendar, paper, pen/pencil, highlighter, sticky notes, cookbooks or magazines, printed recipes (Notice I have three magazines here. Those are the three I am using this month. I don’t want to be looking through ten different magazines. No need to confuse myself.)
2. On my calendar, I highlight the days and nights my husband is working. I plan meals and leftovers according to his work schedule. I don’t serve Monday night’s leftovers on Tuesday night if he took them for lunch, for example. I use my slow cooker most Sundays and Mondays because those are my busiest days. I am a greeter at church and have my small group meeting two Sundays per month (the same Sunday because that makes my scheduling easier) and I volunteer at church during the day on Mondays. Thus, I use my beloved slow cooker (sometimes both of them as I did on Monday).
I do not know why this is upside down. It’s not that way in my picture file. Hmm….strange!
NOTE: If you do not own a slow cooker (Crock Pot), go out right now and get one. Like, right this very minute! This is your “best friend” in the kitchen. Best.
3. Go through your magazines, cookbooks, or search websites for recipes you want to use. As I said, I look for slow cooker meals for Sundays and Mondays. Whatever your busiest day is (or your busiest days are), use the slow cooker. On your paper, write down the days of the week and then fill in with meal plans. If you are using a recipe, note where it’s found and what page.
4. Write this menu on a pretty menu planner (or just use this list) and post it where your beloved family members can see it. They will still ask you what’s for dinner, but once they know it’s posted, you can give them the evil eye when they ask. Eventually, they’ll figure it out. Maybe.
5. Prepare ye the grocery list. Using the recipes and plan, make out your grocery list for the week. I try to build my menu around what I have on hand as much as possible.
6. Do your best to sweet talk someone else into going grocer shopping for you. If that doesn’t work, trudge on up there yourself. TAKE the grocery list with you. Speaking from experience, you won’t buy what’s on the list if you don’t have it. Which means you can’t make what’s on your menu. You worked hard (ahem!) on that menu and you want to follow it.
7. If there are things that can be done ahead of time (browning ground beef, chopping veggies, etc.), go ahead and do that the night before you’ll be having the meal. There are lots of time-saving tricks and we will be talking about them soon.
8. Prepare your meals and enjoy the smiles and love from your family. If you never, ever cook at home, start with 3-4 meals. Work up to 5-6. I always plan at least one night for leftovers – it’s called the “Leftover Buffet.” Remember that you will also save money by taking or sending leftovers to work for lunches.
Things to Remember
- Things come up and you can’t follow the menu exactly. It’s okay. The world will not come to an end. Things happen. Be flexible. You’ll still feel better with a plan.
- Prepare what you can ahead of time. (More on this to come.)
- Clean as you go. Wash the pots or fill the dishwasher or whatever. Then you don’t have to clean after. It’s much better this way. I promise.
- A few minutes of planning will save you a lot of minutes of stressing!