Saturday, January 26, 2008

Menu Planning--Simple and Easy

If you're like me, you not usually satisfied with menus others have, b/c it doesn't suit your taste or your budget or your healthy standards. But it sure would be easy to have it all laid out. In one month, you can easily have a month's worth of menus you love without doing much more work.

It's easy to do and you'll have your grocery list ready without any work every week! So, here's the plan:

1. Make a list of your family's favorite meals. Be sure to write down the cookbook and page number. Determine how many meals you need to fix a week. We do 4-5 dinners and eat leftovers (or hot dogs!) the other days. Or sometimes we fix something new on one of the other days. Decide how many weeks you can go without repeating a meal. The first set of menus I did was 4 weeks. The second set was 6 weeks. You could start out with only 1 week if you are still searching for healthy recipes. And just add a week at a time as you find more good recipes.

2. Start grouping your meals into menus. I made my list a word document, so I just clicked and dragged the meals around. Make sure to balance quicker-to-prepare meals with more time consuming ones. I also wanted to spread out meals with rice, meat dishes, chicken dishes, and Mexican dishes, so my similar meals were spread out. I'm big on variety! Print out this master list and stick it on your frig so you can see your menu choices for each week, including the cookbook page number.

3. Next, on a new document, make a grocery list for all the ingredients needed for Week 1. Group the lists by sections of the stores (or by separate stores if necessary) and leave space to write in additional things. Also, make a list of things you probably don't need, but might need to check to make sure you have enough of. I actually write down something like check: beans (1 cup), so I know exactly what to look for. You might also want to prepare double proportions of some meals and freeze half. You'll have frozen meals with out eating processed food.

4. Continue making the grocery list for each week. I did this only when I needed it, so it took me 6 weeks to finish this process. You could also do this all at once. It's easiest to print the next grocery list a week ahead and when you run out of something, just add it to next week's list.

5. Perfect it. Did you realize you didn't have enough of something? Fix it on your grocery list. Did you realize you want a certain side to go with a dish? And it to the menu and the grocery list. You might want to add notes on your master menu page about which things need to be soaked a day ahead (for those of you who soak your grains.) After another round of using the list, you should have any kinks worked out. Just think of all the mistakes you won't make! You could also add in lunches.

6. (optional) Type up all your recipes for the week on a single page. Put it in a sheet protector. Then, you save yourself having to look up the recipes and can add in notes to yourself (like use the big pot or start the rice at this point.) You could also make this a once a week cooking plan. Figure out which recipes could be made ahead, such as casseroles. You can cook and freeze some meals. Chop up some of the vegetables. Make a loaf of bread and a salad for the week. Get creative and make it work for you.

Advantages of this system:

--You save hours a week of: deciding what's for dinner, making a grocery list, stopping by the store for something you forgot or for a last minute meal plan, go back to the other side of the store for that produce that you didn't see at the bottom of the list.

--Since you are cooking the same things every so often, you get good at and more efficient, especially, if you make notes to yourself. Before you know it you'll be a professional chef.

--You prevent tons of frustration b/c you can learn from your mistakes and not repeat them. Oh, wait, you probably don't forget to buy things, forget to soak things, not understand the recipes, etc. Maybe it's just me!

--AND don't forget, you will end up eating healthier this way, b/c if it's this easy, you will cook at home more often and have time to cook from scratch. Planning makes it possible.

PS--Almost all my recipes come from Sue Gregg's cookbooks. Meals in Minutes is a good one to start with. It makes cooking healthy easy.

One question I had was what to do if you don't know what recipes you like. I suggest that you try to find a week's worth of meals(even just 4). At least you can use this menu every couple weeks and use the unplanned week to experiment with new recipes until you find some more you like. Then you can add a week at a time as you find what you like.


Gavi said...

This is a very helpful post! I really need to get better at planning meals. Thank you!

michelle said...

Hi! I found you via the SL forums.

We must think so much alike. I have done this exact same thing, right down to printing everything out and putting it in sheet protectors, including typing out all of the recipes.

As you mentioned, there are a number of benefits to this type of system. I posted about a number of them on my blog when I also wrote a post about menu planning. If you want, you can read about it here