Thursday, August 29, 2013

Food, glorious food...

Prepare yourselves for my most requested post and a recurring one, at that.


When we moved here, I started planning out a monthly menu for our dinners.  Everyone who has ever attempted to do this knows that it must be done with a modicum of flexibility as you never know when you won't feel like cooking, or you'll forget a vital ingredient, or when you'll be invited over for dinner instead.  But, having a plan helps.

You can look on Pinterest for lots of ideas for meal plans and budget friendly ideas.  For me, having a plan to begin with can (and will) shrink your grocery bill and help you utilize the items sitting around in your cabinet more than ever.

I'll be sharing my meal plans starting in September, take what you need from it.  Leave the rest.  Your family not big on pork?  Don't eat it.  Need to make something low carb, gluten free, or vegetarian?  Go for it. (Unfortunately, you can't ask my advice on any of that - I like my meat mostly wrapped in carbs and gluten.) Have an even better recipe that you want to swap in there?  Please do...and share!  Happy to hear your meal and recipe ideas.

Here's what I do.

1.  I always start with a list of meals that we enjoy or haven't had in awhile.  I call this our "On Deck" list and it sits in a central place on the counter for anyone to add to as necessary.

2.  When I'm ready to make my initial plan, I grab a sheet of paper and write out all of the days that we will need dinners for the month.  Given travel schedules, social engagements, and get togethers we are invited to, I usually don't have to plan dinner for every single night of the month.  When I share my meal plans, you'll notice some holes.  That's because we aren't eating dinner at home.  (We also plan on eating out at least once a month - we are trying to eat at a different restaurant in town every time so that we get to know our favorite local spots - but I don't always list a specific night that this will happen.)

3.  I also take note of the specific day of the week some meals are being planned.  On Wednesdays, I try to do something in the crock pot because I have choir practice.  On Fridays, we try to make meals with little to no clean up in the kitchen so we can enjoy our night.  (This is a popular take out night for us.  I'm still learning what exactly constitutes a "Friday Night Meal" - I'm sure I'll get it.)  Sundays we eat a bit of a heavier meal because we usually have more time for cooking and clean up - so a meal with more components is always possible.

4.  Once I have a good list of meals, I just start filling in the blanks.  I try to make one day a week meat free.  This is new to us so a lot of times we do end up having fish instead of being totally vegetarian.  I don't really have any reason for doing this other than that it makes me think of new meals, come up with creative ideas to balance our nutrition, and increase our produce intake.  We're Catholic so this is a practice that isn't necessarily new to us.  Take it or leave it.

5.  I put all of this on a dry erase calendar (ultimate flexibility!) and try plan things in such a way that we end up with a nice variety.  Not too many Italian meals at once or too much red meat in one week.  I also try to spread out meals cooked in the slow cooker so that I have time to let it soak after we use it.  (Anyone else HATE cleaning their crock pot?  I need to invest in those liners!)

6.  I make my grocery lists one week at a time and usually do all of my shopping on Saturday mornings.  If I need some meat from the butcher or fresh produce, I will sometimes purchase things on my way home from work to cook them the evening of the meal.  Otherwise it is always my goal to not have to go back to the store more than once.  (Every time I enter the grocery store, you can almost always guarantee I will buy more than what is on my list.  Better to keep it to just one day.)

7.  I also make my grocery list while looking at all of the things I have in my pantry/refrigerator/spice cabinet.  Eventually I'd also love to plan stuff around what we have in a produce delivery, what we find at the farmer's market, or what we grow in our own garden.  (This will likely happen next year when I actually have time to plan a garden.)  All of this helps keep me under budget so I don't overbuy things.

8.  We all eat lunches on our own.  TIH eats at school and both my husband and I eat at work.  I can usually be counted on for bringing some sort of leftovers at least once a week, but for the most part I basically brown bag it.  I do not plan those meals.

9.  The same goes for breakfast.  Sometimes on weekends, my husband will cook up a big breakfast and we'll talk about that ahead of time so that I can get the necessary accouterments, otherwise we are all pretty content with bowls of cereal, breakfast smoothies, or oatmeal.  And coffee.  Of course, coffee.

10.  I do not coupon.  When I tried to do it, I spent way more money than I ever saved by buying things we didn't need, didn't use, or already had.  (The exception is for toiletries.  I don't have to worry about those going bad before we need them.)  If you have the patience for couponing - go you.  This will make meal planning a little bit less flexible, but will work all the same.   In case you were wondering, I say "koo-pon" rather than "q-pon."  Both pronunciations are listed in the dictionary - so we all win.  If you're good at looking for meat/produce sales at your local grocer that will work wonders for you as well.  Fortunately, everyone says "sale" the same way.

Finally, be flexible.  I planned a full meal around some stuff I saw in the store only to find they discontinued one of the key components.  Because I wasn't flexible, I literally stood in the store for 15 minutes until I finally picked up a frozen pizza.  Have a back up plan or two in place.  You can also move meals around in the month if necessary.  When we have to cancel a meal because we get invited out last minute, I'll use those ingredients for a similar meal later in the week or in place of another meal. More flexibility.  Stay tuned in September when I share our meal plan as well as some new recipes I plan to try.  I promise to come back with full reviews on how they worked out for us.  I'd love to hear what you're all doing for your meals and meal planning.  I would love to recipe swap!

1 comment:

  1. Wow, are you organized. Thanks for sharing all the details on how to feed our families more nutritious foods. Meal planning is overwhelming for many of us.


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