Tuesday, January 15, 2013

How and Why to Menu Plan

 I am a planner. "If you fail to plan, you plan to fail."

Through the years I have come to learn that menu planning is important, and it sets your household up to run smoothly. (Well, not by itself; I mean, I have a plan for so many areas of life, and plans help the household to run smoothly. But this post will deal with menu planning.)
So, why is menu planning important. Here are a few reasons:
  • You save money. When I didn't menu plan, inevitably we would often end the day with fast food or a trip to the grocery store. That grocery store would sometimes have a goal ("Let's get what we need for spaghetti tonight..."), or it might be an unplanned meandering through the aisles of the grocery store, which would include expensive impulse purchases.
  • You save time and gasoline. Now don't get me wrong -- there were definitely days when I didn't even care what we ate for dinner, but I just wanted hubby to watch the kids for a bit while I got some time to myself where I could talk to people who could speek more than one-syllable words. But there were times when it got to be an hour to make a "quick trip", between traffic, crowds, meandering and trying to decide what sounded good...
  • Someone else can step in. It's been awhile since I had anyone step in, but there have definitely been times. There was a time when a doctor's appointment took longer than I expected, and I was able to call my daughter, who was able to find the food in the fridge, find the recipe, and get it prepared. There have been times when I was sick in bed and hubby was able to do the same. And I see hope for the future that my maturing son will do the same sometime soon, or even cook while I oversee.

Well, if you are convinced you are willing to give it a try, you may be asking how one goes about doing such a thing.  There are basic steps to go through, so I will enumerate them here.
  • First, decide when the shopping will be done. Then set aside some planning time before that to put together your menu plan and grocery list simultaneously.
  • Pull out the calendar. What happens when affects what you have time to prepare or so you'll have time to do dishes before you go out to an activity. We usually have, on Wednesday nights, a meal that can be prepared quickly,  so my daughter can get out the door early to her evening activity. Thursdays I want a meal without too much clean-up so I can get 'er done before I go out to my activity with JD.
  • In my home I try to rotate the main dishes, the starches, the veggies (so beef doesn't follow beef, or noodles follow noodles, etc.)  I even tried, for awhile, to have a different animal's meat each night, with a veggie meal for the 6th night, and maybe leftovers for the 7th (beef, pork, chicken, seafood, turkey, veggie, potluck). 
  • I put my plans on my calendar. I put the page of the recipe by the name of the dish (when appropriate). (When I was really organized I kept a FlyLady Control Journal with the printout of the recipe in a plastic sleeve following the calendar page listing the plans, but I am currently not that organized.)
So, last week I planned Gnocchi and Basic Red Sauce and kale for Monday. It is a dish that fixes up quickly, and I planned it for that day because we had an outside activity. For Tuesday I planned Creamy Cauliflower Soup, salad and rolls. I planned it for a day I expected to have time to make a home-made soup (cutting up lots of vegetables).  Wednesday we had Sloppy Joes, rolls, and cooked carrots (kids are allergic to raw) so my daughter could get to her meeting. Thursday we were going to have Lemon chicken (lime chicken option), rice, and broccoli (faux chicken patty for the vegans), but I couldn't find the lemon so I used lime. The rest of the week I'm planning:
Even with planning we often change plans, bump things, cancel things, have nights were we eat leftovers unexpectedly... Often, though, we eat any leftovers for our lunches during the week.

The types of food that we eat seems to change constantly, but I am hoping, eventually, to have a calendar full of potential meal plans to pick from. That will speed things up in the future. Sometimes I get a request for "BLTs" in January, even though I think of that as a summer meal. Often we have at least one evening of chili in August, even though that is more of a cold-weather meal choice. But, in general, there are certain foods we eat more often in certain seasons, and I'm working on getting an annual plan to springboard from to make things easier.

One last thing I also do to try to keep me on track to do my lesson planning each week. That helpful item is to link up to a website where people post their weekly menu plans each week. That item, alone, seems to really help me a lot.

So those are my reasons and tips for menu planning. Go give it a try! Meanwhile I need to go -- I have to go finish my next menu plan. If you are curious about that, check out my last Menu Plan post.

Thanks for reading! To read more "How to" Crew Blog entries, visit the Homeschool Crew Blog.

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