Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Meal Planning Ideas

Menu Planning

A Facebook note inspired me to post some ideas on menu planning.  It really helps to save money, time and effort!  Since I have been cooking dinner for almost 29 years now I have learned a little about fighting the eternal 4 o'clock question, "what's for dinner???"

Different Ideas for Menu Planning
1.  Rotation
When I babysat triplets and had to have a cooked breakfast ready at 8:30 every morning we followed a regular plan.  We had muffins on Monday, Toast with peanut butter on Tueday, Waffles on Wednesday, Thursday we had scrambled eggs and French toast was served on Fridays.  Pancakes were made now and again when we got tired of the routine.  Mornings were so much easier when I knew what was coming up and I could do some prep work the night before, like mixing all the dry ingredients for pancakes or muffins, and storing them in a ziplock.  Wet ingredients were measured and stored in the fridge in a maons jar for easy mixing he next day.  

The same idea can be applied to dinner by designating one night chicken night, another night beef, vegetarian, pork, casserole or whatever.  When chicken night comees around you only have to consider what chicken dish you want to make, not ponder the whole spectrum of what could be for dinner.  

Other families I know have an Italian night, Chinese night, Mexican night, Pasta night, Soup night etc.  Depending on how your family likes to eat this can be useful and gives variety.

2. Master Lists
Once upon a time I had a list of all the recipes we liked to eat sorted by main ingredient.  I would go through the sale flyers and then choose recipes from the list for the week.  

3.  Long Range planning
I cook and shop most effectively when I plan for a month at a time.  This way when something is on sale and I know it is coming up in the menu I can purchase what I will need for the weeks to come.  It also helps me reduce the number of shopping trips I make because I can buy some things in bulk.  

I use an excel spreadsheet for my 30 day menus.  Some things I have learned about long range planning:
Don't plan big meals every single night.  Put in those easy favorites your family loves now and then.
Don't try new recipes too many nights in a row.  
Cook once and eat twice ideas are easy to plan with long range planning.  For instance if you cook a roasting chicken, put the rest of the cooked chicken in the freezer for a stir-fry meal or for quesadillas.  I am thinking the whole cook once eat twice idea should be another post one day.
Remember to plan days for leftovers or eating out when you know life will be hectic.
Do your long range planning (even your weekly planning) with a calendar in hand so you are not planning an elaborate meal on a day you have a really busy afternoon of errands or meetings. 

Although it does take time, menu planning ultimately saves you time and stress.  Remember that your plan is just that, a plan, and very often plans change.  It is a tool to serve you, not to enslave you.  

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