Sunday, August 2, 2009

A Meal Plan "Tutorial"

I have a week until we begin schooling, and I realized I need to get moving on my whole little menu planning idea. I spent some time yesterday compiling recipes and copying them off on my printer, and today I'm spending some time organizing, and I just thought I would share some things that have made this a fairly painless process for me. ;o) So, in case the idea intrigues you too, here are some helpful hints--hopefully (keeping in mind I'm not reinventing the wheel or anything). ;o)

Step 1:
--Go through your cooking magazines, cookbooks, etc. and IMMEDIATELY make a copy of the page the recipe is on. Don't jot down a page number and hope you'll remember where you found it. I used to have a code for everything like "TOH A/S '03 pg 16" (which meant a Taste of Home magazine the Aug/Sept issue . . . it got kind of complicated).

--Don't copy off a whole bunch of recipes that SOUND good but you've never actually tried them out. Your family might hate it or it might be too time consuming. Go for tried and true.

--Keep a running list of the recipes you find, divided into categories, like chicken, pork, casserole, fish, etc.

Step 2:
--Make yourself a 14 day grid (or 7 or 21, however long you want this menu to go for) Think about your schedule. I know that Sunday and Wednesday nights are crazy for our family once the school year gets going. My plans for Sunday evening will either be a simple cheese/crackers/apple slices meal, or soup that can simmer the afternoon away in a crock pot. Wednesdays are reserved for easy casseroles (preferably lacking a red sauce because that means more mess and clean up!).

--Designate a set day for everything. Mondays are chicken, Tuesdays are pork, etc. Friday at our house has been and will continue to be spaghetti night, it's something that both the kids and Josh love. If you have a meal that your family never tires of, schedule a day for it weekly. It's nice to have a day where you don't have to think. ;o)

--Fill in the blanks. Take into consideration if you made a roast chicken on Monday, that would be a good week to use the leftover chicken in a casserole, etc. If a recipe makes more than your family eats (like my BBQ meatballs does) freeze them. When that meal comes around again it's already made. Woohoo! ;o)

--Leave one free day for every two weeks if you like. I'm doing this in case there's a new recipe we want to try, the family is really wanting something not scheduled, or there's a meal that somehow didn't get made.
(Right now I'm still in the middle of "Step 2") ;o)

Step 3:
--Get a three ring binder, some dividers, and lots of plastic slip-cover "thingies."

--Get your master menu list made up. I will have three 2-week rotations when all said and done.

--Put your recipes in the slipcovers and divide them up according to which menu plan they belong to, Menu 1, Menu 2, etc. Keep your master menu as the first page for each section.

--Go through each recipe and write down the ingredients you need. Type it all up--preferably in the order you will find them at the grocery store you normally frequent. (This is obviously the most time consuming and least fun part) Print off a copy of each, put it in your recipe binder. SAVE the rest on your computer. That way the next time you need to go shopping for Menu 1 you just pull it up and hit "print" and you're all set.

And "voila" life is that much easier. ;o) At least I'm hoping so. Another thing I'm doing is keeping a section in the back of the binder for "celebrations" like the favorite punch recipe I have for a birthday party, a pumpkin pancake recipe to celebrate fall's beginning, etc. I'm always misplacing these recipes, so it will be good to FINALLY have a nice, organized place to keep them. Everything looks better in a plastic slipcover. ;o)

And if you want to take it just one step further, get a plastic dish pan/basket for each day of the week. When you return from grocery shopping divvy up the dry ingredients needed for each meal in a basket. Example: I'm making chili, and I have tomato puree', 4 different cans of beans, chili powder, etc. Keep those ALL TOGETHER in their basket. That way on Sunday, I pull out the Sunday basket, and everything I need for the meal is right there. I got this idea out of a Better.Homes.and Gar.dens magazine awhile back. I have yet to implement it, but I think it's a fabulous way to organize your pantry, and will make meal prep that much easier.

Anyway, hopefully this will be helpful for somebody. I am really excited to get this project completed. I won't dread grocery trips so much (I hope!). :o)


Anna said...

I am LOVING this and feel totally inspired..I especially love the meal kit idea to group pantry items so they're ready to go. Thanks for sharing!

Kris said...

This is wonderful, Janna! I'm going to borrow some of your ideas for sure. TFS!! Fridays are homemade pizza night on a pretty weekly basis here-and Taco/Nacho nite almost every Tuesday. :)

Unknown said...

Lang Gang follows the 'homemade pizza' on Friday night....just like the J.crew. I really like your organizing and tips. Hoping they inspire me to tackle this much needed job!!