Friday, March 12, 2010

Project Organization - Weekly Menu Planning

What's for dinner?
It's the question of the hour. Too many of us look for answers in the supermarket at 5 p.m. Hurried, harassed by hungry children, we rack our brains for an answer to the dinner-hour question.
Three meals a day. Seven dinners a week. From supermarket to pantry, refrigerator to table, sink to cupboard, the kitchen routine can get old, old, old.
No wonder we hide our heads like ostriches from the plain and simple fact: into each day, one dinner must fall.

What's the answer? A menu plan!

Menu planning doesn't have be complicated. A small investment of time can result in great rewards:
  • A menu plan saves money. Reducing trips to the supermarket, a menu plan reduces impulse spending.
  • A menu plan saves time. No dash to the neighbors for a missing ingredient, no frantic searches through the freezer for something, anything to thaw for dinner nor those last minute rushes to the store to get that one missing ingredient.
  • A menu plan improves nutrition. Without the daily dash to the supermarket, there's time to prepare side dishes and salads to complement the main dish.
So dare to do try it. Menu planning is great way to start organizing you home.

Here are some tips that have helped my in my quest for no drama, no hassle and happy dinner making:

Start Simple

Seven dinners a week, simple meals. Sure it would be nice to index all our recipes, entering the data in a relational database and crunching menus till the year 2015, but resist the urge. Think - next week.
Where to start? The food flyers from your local newspaper. Try to make your menu plan and shopping list the day the food ads appear. Add to that your favorite cook book and/or recipe blogs and you're off to a great start!

The Basics

So, this is what I do, ads in hand, calendar on one side, grocery list on the other, and recipe blog/sites opened up in front of me; I sit down on Sunday night for 30-45 minutes and start browsing. I look at recipes I've made in the past weeks, I look at what I've bookmarked as recipes I want to try and I look at what's on sale on the ads. Putting those together, I get 7 meals (sometimes more that I get to carry over for the next week). Then I spend a few more minutes putting together the grocery list for that week, and ta-da! I'm done!
Be flexible

A good idea is to set certain days for certain things. For example, here in the Baer home:

Monday-Wednesday :Varies
Thursday: Left overs
Friday: Pizza Night (homemade of some sort or ordered)
Saturday: Grillin' Day
Sunday: Pasta/Lasagna

But sometimes, on Thursday, I don't feel like left overs, I want something fresh, or maybe pizza. It's ok to switch things up! Be flexible, plan 7 meals, set each one with a day but if you want to or feel like, go ahead and switch Thursday and Saturday up, or Monday and Friday. It's supposed to give you guidance and accountability, but it's not set in stone.

Make It A Habit

Simple or not, a menu plan won't help you if you don't make one. Weekly menu planning is a good candidate for the Habit Patrol. Get into the habit of planning before you shop, and you'll get hooked.

Recycle Menu Plans

After you've made menu plans for a few weeks, the beauty of the activity shines through: recycle them! Your family won't mind, and you'll save even more time and energy. You can repeat the whole week and even use the same shopping list if you've saved it, or you can just look back and pick the meals you'd like to repeat.

Adapted from The Organized Home - Menu Planning

I love cooking, but always stressed tremendously over "the question." I tried, many moons ago, a monthly menu. It worked for a while, except that I didn't really make it a habit nor did I really ever do it right.
But lately in my quest for organization and sanity, I realized I needed a weekly menu plan and I needed to be serious about it.

And this what I have been doing: every Sunday I sit down and plan, one week at a time, sometimes I can even get a few days of the next week. No more daily runs to the store, no more impulse spending, no more hair-tearing-drama over what to make for dinner!

I've made a point to keep meals simple. Sure I'll whip out the fancy utensils here and there, but on most days, it's simple, quick, 30-40 min meals max.

So, I dare you. I dare you to organize you meals. It may not work for you for some reason or another, and if that's the case, it's ok!

But, if you struggle with coming up with what to make for dinner; if you hate the many trips to the grocery store for just one or two items, repeatedly; or if you just want to give it a try. Do it - I dare you!

And if you already have some sort of menu planning dealy-o going on, do share!

What works for you?
What doesn't work?
Where do you go for ideas?

To inspire you, here are a few recipe blogs and sites that I really enjoy and always use when looking for recipes.

- Our Best Bites
- Good Life Eats
- Let's Cook (that's Paty's blog, she's got some good ideas!)
- Chef Britta
- This week for dinner
- Anna Cooks (that's me!)
- Simply Recipes
- For the Love of Cooking


Os Amorims said...

Thanks, Anna, for the tips!! I REALLY need to start doing this. See, today, I came to school at 8am, my husband went to work and none of us brought lunch...because I didn't have anything ready at home! We are probably going to buy some junk food somewhere, I hate it! But I will give it a try next week, I will plan my menu on Sunday, just like you do, and I am confident this is going to become a habit! =)
By the way, love the new look of the blog, it looks so cute, loved the pictures!!

Liesl said...

I attest that this really does help a ton! We bought a house a few months ago and I have really had to cut down on grocery money so I started making menu plans before going and I have definitely been saving money because I only get what I need. Plus I don't have to think up stuff to make at the last minute, it's already planned. AND I don't need to make any last minute grocery store runs. Every Sunday I sit down and think of healthy cheap meals and write them out to last until next Sunday. Monday is grocery day. The hard part for me is getting the kids to eat what I cook. I also like to try new recipes I find online or get from friends on facebook.

Great tip! Everyone should try this!

Liesl said...

Oh and I love the idea of recycling menu plans, I really need to begin doing that!

Aline Carson said...

I love this idea and it worked great for us. Except we got lazy (and busy) and stopped doing it. But those are just lame excuses, we're starting over again, and this time, I'm making a healthy snack menu for Eric (he's 16 months old and doesn't have a lot of teeth so I have to get creative) and for Jasmine (2 years 7 months) to take to school. It's also a good way to always have healthy and well balance snacks in hand.

Aline Carson said...

I love this idea and it worked great for us. Except we got lazy (and busy) and stopped doing it. But those are just lame excuses, we're starting over again, and this time, I'm making a healthy snack menu for Eric (he's 16 months old and doesn't have a lot of teeth so I have to get creative) and for Jasmine (2 years 7 months) to take to school. It's also a good way to always have healthy and well balance snacks in hand.

RBR Price said...

We started a meal planning when I saw how much we were spending in groceries and fast food. I hate going to the store, specially because my daughter wants to go and run around the store.. That kills me!
Planning meals really saves money, time and effort.
What I do here at home, besides all that Anna already pointed out, I like to watch every once in a while Rachel Ray's 30 minutes meals, Quick Meals with Robin Miller, Sandra Lee's Semi-Homemade, among other. Although I am NOT going to cook the recipes they show in their TV shows, i get really good ideas of what to make. The other day I decided to make chicken tacos because Sandra Lee showed a really quick way to make them. I think it helps a lot.
Also, Rachel Ray's magazine has lots of meal plans that you can easily make your own way and whatever you and your family likes most.
I enjoy reading magazines like that just to get ideas!

Aline Carson said...

There's also this blog I found at Paty's cooking blog:

It just makes me want to make EVERYTHING!!!! I'm so hungry right now!

The Marshalls said...

Did you just dare me to do something???? Ooo....
I'll try it... I want to prove to myself that I can do this menu plan thing. Brad always asks me to do it and I try to find excuses. But now, with the support of All Momies, I can do everything!!!!
hahaha I feel like i'm part of a league or something like Capitao Planeta!! haha

Anna said...

I triple Dog Dare you then Dri! hahaha
Seriously, I always found excuses not to do it too, but once I did it, I was hooked, it's so nice! I even get a little carried away sometimes.

Mara said...

Como eu não pensei nisso antes? Nossa, Anna, demais essa dica! Adorei! Mesmo! E eu tbm vou começar a fazer nesse findi...