Monday, January 27, 2014

Making Time for Menu Planning

Enjoying the sun one winter morning and working on both a rug and our menu.
 Do you plan a menu?
I have found menu planning very helpful for our family for quite a few reasons:

  1. It makes cooking supper (and other meals) less stressful for me. The hardest thing for me is coming up with ideas when I am busy and tired and we are all hungry. Since I don't really enjoy stress - menu planning is wonderful!
  2. It saves us money since I try to plan our menu to use foods that we have on hand and especially what we have in abundance (squash, cabbage, green beans, fish and shredded frozen zucchini are in that category right now). The other reason it saves us money is because I have a plan I am much less likely to really wish for take-out or going out to eat.
  3. It helps us to have a larger variety of foods. Since I am writing it all down at once I can make a concentrated effort to vary the meats that I use, the carbs that I use and the veggies too. I just start rotating down through the month and stick a fish meal in every week, some beef, some chicken and so forth. 
  4. It helps me to save on energy. When I have a menu I do a better job of getting meat and veggies out to thaw in advance. That way I don't have to use energy to thaw them as well as cook them.
  5. A menu helps me to save time. When I plan ahead I can do things like fry up the hamburger for two meals one night rather than just do the meat for that night. It doesn't take any longer right then but it saves preparation time for the other night. I can also think ahead and just double up the whole meal and freeze 1/2 for the future. 
  6. A menu plan also makes things easier for the kids when it is their turn to cook. They don't like having to come up with ideas last minute either.
 I know without a doubt that I like having a menu but still there are times that I struggle to get one made. They do take some time and some creative thinking. At one point in my life I did just make up a 6 week rotating menu but then I discovered that really wasn't my style. I needed my menu to reflect the season that I was in, what we had in abundance and also I just don't like repetition that much (though Ken does - I think he might be happy with a one week rotating menu if it were all meals he liked). 

   Sometimes when I would sit down at the table to work on the menu I would tend to have a brain freeze and not be able to think of things even if I got out a bunch of cookbooks to look at.


My rug and menu in progress.
Here are some of the ways that I have found work better for me when I try to plan a menu. I thought I would share them just in case they might help you too:


  • Take the menu (I just draw a calendar out on a sheet of paper) to the meal table with you and start asking the family for ideas. Since I have my kids make some meals each week (They do 3 breakfasts and 2 suppers) they have to fill in those slots - though I do help them come up with a good plan. 
  • Find a comfortable spot and some fun mindless work to do (like making a rug or folding clothes) and bring your menu along too. While you work think about meal ideas and start writing them down.
  • Take a visit to your freezer or pantry and take a quick inventory and then go to your menu and think of meals that you can make using those ingredients. Write them down.
  • Lay the menu on the counter while cooking and use that time to think about meals. When I am working with food the menu ideas seem to flow better for me. :-) Write down your ideas.
  • While sitting at the table ready to help my kids with their schoolwork (my youngest 3 all generally work at the dining room table) bring your menu and some cookbooks and work on that when you have some done time from helping.
Those ideas seem to be working pretty well for me. One of my breakthroughs with making meals lately came when I realized that I don't have to wait until the morning of to get out food to thaw, (Thawing food has been one of the hardest habits for me to form) it works really well to look at my menu and get out the stuff to thaw for the next few days and then put it in the fridge. It can slowly thaw all while helping the fridge to stay cold with less energy usage. 

  I know many people don't like menu planning (as I have led homemakers groups I have certainly found that out) but if you find mealtime stressful or struggle with it - I really encourage you to give it a try! Some people have told me that when they menu plan it is actually more expensive and took more time but after questioning I found that they generally always tried to use new recipes and bought special  things for those recipes. If you want to save money please make your menu based on what you have - not on a bunch of new recipes.

What are your thoughts on menu planning? Do you have any tips to share? I would love to hear from you!

I am linking to:

The Homestead Barn Hop

The Chicken Chick

9 comments:

Lea said...

Great ideas Abbi!

Can I add one more thing? There are at least a dozen different ways to meal plan!

When I started meal planning, I just planned dinners for the week - 6 meals plus leftovers for seven meals, no assigned days or anything like that. That was the most stressful meal for me so that helped so much! Now, 5 years later, I plan everything - all three meals plus snacks and assign a day to each.

Some people plan every meal but don't assign days, others plan by two-weeks or by the month or by freezer meals. I know someone who plans breakfast only because that's the one meal she can "never" get a handle on!

I guess if meal planning doesn't work the first time, try doing it differently. And keep trying to you find something that works for you!

Lea

Maria said...

Hi Abbi,

I meal plan also, but I do it by the week only. On Sunday afternoons, we read the flyer for the local grocery store to see what is on sale, check the freezers to see what we have on hand already and come up with a weekly plan. It works great for our dinners each night and my kids (they are adults), will check it and let me know if they will be home on those particular nights. Sometimes, the plan changes (if we are working late or have a meeting), but at least I am always ready with something!

Oak Springs Farm said...

Hi Abbi,

I'm visiting again!

I have to have a menu. If not, I am so lost in the kitchen in the evenings. I don't have a microwave to thaw meat, so I have to take something out the evening before or morning of.

I also take stock of what I have before recording my menu and making my shopping list. I shop one week at a time, sometimes two.

Here are a couple of things I do....

When I shop for two weeks worth of meals, the first week our fruit is fresh and the second it's dry or canned (dried or canned by me if possible).

I also like to try one to two new recipes a month. Some don't work out, but some become regulars like kale and sausage soup.

Also, have something on hand to make quickly in the event that you don't have as much time in the kitchen as you thought and your menu plan goes out the window. If one of the kids games goes later than expected, I can whip up tuna or grilled cheese sandwiches and steamed veggies.

Angie

Diana Petrillo said...

Hi Abbi--what a great post! I love it when people get practical. You gave lots of solid info and ideas. Another way I save money is by shopping at more than one store, to get the good deals at two or more. I plan the visits so they coincide with other errands so I'm not going out of my way to get to the additional stores. Blessings, Diana

The Heart Of A Woman said...

Thank you for this post! I want to start meal planning!

Abbi said...

Thanks so much to all of you for coming by and sharing additional tips and ideas. I love it!

Kim F. said...

Hi Abbi,

Love this post. I can always do better in this area!

I made a list of all the meals we like to eat. My list is divided into several catagories: main dishes for breakfast, lunch, and dinner; snacks; side dishes; fresh fruits and veggies; etc. When I come across a new recipe we like, I just add it to the list. Makes it easier for me, and the older kids can use it to do the planning without my help. The shopping list is easier to make too! Works for us!

Anonymous said...

Hi Abbi,

Love this post. I can always do better in this area!

I made a list of all the meals we like to eat. My list is divided into several catagories: main dishes for breakfast, lunch, and dinner; snacks; side dishes; fresh fruits and veggies; etc. When I come across a new recipe we like, I just add it to the list. Makes it easier for me, and the older kids can use it to do the planning without my help. The shopping list is easier to make too! Works for us!

Abbi said...

Thanks!
Good ideas. That plan makes sense.

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