Sunday, August 25, 2013

Menu planning 101

I've been menu-planning weekly now for 2/3 of the year. I thought I would post an entry about exactly how I menu plan, and how I make dinner successfully (and mostly on time) most nights of the year.

The first step I take before starting my week's plan, I grab my calendar, which contains my busy life, day by day, for the upcoming week, month, etc.

I also grab a blank sheet of paper. I fold it in half, top to bottom, and turn it sideways with the crease on the left. I write the days of the week spaced out from top to bottom. Then, considering my commitments for the week, I start my plan.

Each week, for my carnivores, I try to spread out the weeks options so that we have a lot of variety. I will be trying for one beef, one chicken, one seafood, one vegan or vegetarian, one soup, one pasta and the last one varies.

Obviously there is inevitably some overlap, because sometimes the pasta will have meat or chicken, or the soup will. So I definitely try to not have the same meat-type three times in one week. I used to also include turkey as my 7th meal, but my carnivores informed me they don't want it anymore. And sometimes I can serve pork, but they seldom want that either.
So, I allow basically an hour when I will be preparing dinner. If I won't be able to have that much time to cook, I need to make sure I plan a "fast fix" for that night. Some of my favorite fast fix meals are sloppy joes, cheese burgers, get the idea.

Most weeks the seafood (fish) lands on Friday. I'm not Catholic; it just turns out that way. I seem to like to serve soup on Tuesday... 

I think I'm getting off track...
In addition to spreading out my meat selections, I like to do the same thing with my starches and my vegetables.  Salad is an exception; we like a lot of salads.

So think about your starch selections:
potatoes, yams, winter squash, muffins, rolls, bread, pasta, orzo, rice, risotto, stuffing, get the idea.

Vegetables -- you don't have to be in a complete rut... Our favorites are broccoli and green beans (and salad), but we also like summer squash, zucchini, beets, cooked carrots, asparagus, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, and raw vegetables: red, green and yellow peppers, cucumbers, tomatoes, various greens.
The next step, after you determine seven dinners, is to flip paper and determine your shopping list for those meals.
Now, my Sweet One in particular for whom I am really writing this is just starting out. Getting married, working late hours, she has asked for my help. So here is my best shot.

First, right now this is not intuitive for you, so you'll need to plan for breakfast and lunch as well. If you want there to be leftovers each day for you to eat for lunch, then you need to prepare quantities for four to six people. I say this knowing that your Sweetie does not eat the way you do, so one serving for him might be the same as two servings for you.

First, with J's input, determine what will be for breakfast for two people for seven days. For instance, I like to buy rolled oats for myself. I guess I use about 1/2 cup of oats a day, I can't be sure. I like to buy my oats from the bulk section at Whole Foods, but a large size of Quaker Oats is relatively good and relatively inexpensive. (Don't but the store brand. It's not worth what you will save.) I eat this with frozen blueberries. I buy a three pound bag at Giant for less than $9. Between what I and other family members eat, the oats and blueberries last about two weeks. For you it will last longer. If J wants bagels or English muffins, I recommend you keep them in the refrigerator because of the roaches, and because they go bad quickly. I'd also recommend you keep your oats in the fridge; same first reason. Write what you need for breakfasts onto your grocery list.

Second, determine with J what is for lunch. One method is to cook six servings each dinner, and eat leftovers for lunch every day. Or you might want to buy a loaf of bread and lunch meats, cheese, condiments. You have to figure out how much to buy -- 1/2 pound of two meats? Three? Four? None? Cheese sandwiches? Clausen pickles? Oranges? Bananas? Requires that you decide. Write what you need for lunches (and snacks) on your grocery list.

Third you need to plan your seven dinners. If you want to use the crock pot, dinner will be ready every night when you get home, but you need to allow time to set it up each night or each morning. Decide what you are eating and put it on your grocery list.

Important, that I learned the hard way: Keep a wall calendar in your kitchen with the dinner plans on it. Make sure you freeze meats that won't be used on shopping day or the two days after shopping day. Each morning take something out of the freezer to defrost for what you are cooking two nights away.

So, lets say you shopped today. Your dinner plans might be steak and cheese subs. You'd cook Steak-ums, fry onions, slap it all in a hoagie roll, top with provolone cheese, maybe add mayo and chopped lettuce. This doesn't make a good leftover lunch, so tomorrow might be PBJ sandwiches for lunch. Put the items you will need on the grocery list.

Monday you might plan a crockpot chicken and rice. If you stick a whole chicken in a pot, it cooks up nicely but with a lot of grease from the skin. So, if you want to cook rice I recommend you cook skinless pieces of chicken OVER two cups of water with a cup of rice (or brown rice). When you get home, cook some veggies in a pot and dinner is ready. Once you get a microwave you can cook veggies in the microwave in six minutes! Put the ingredients you'll need on the grocery list.

Tuesday you might plan beef vegetable soup (recipe says for two, so double or triple it). Plan to serve with rolls, maybe salad, and put ingredients you need on the shopping list.

Wednesday might be your next day off, so you could go with a non-crock meal choice, like hamburgers or sloppy Joes, or whatever. Write what you will need on your grocery list.

Thursday you are thinking another crock-pot meal. Maybe you'd like chicken paprikash. This makes six servings. You'll need to cook noodles when you get home, or in adance, and decide if the veggies in it are enough for your preferences or if you want to cook a veggie, like a can of green beans. Add what you'll need to your grocery list.

Well, I could go on, but I need to start dinner. I think you should be able to get the idea. Pick a dinner, look at how much it makes to decide if you want to double or halve the recipe, add what you need to your shopping list.

When your food list is done, think about other things to put on your shopping list: milk? Eggs? Half and half? snacks? paper towels, napkins, TP, tissues, bathroom cleaner, toilet bowl cleaner, window cleaner, Dawn, SOS pads, etc. Plastic bags, sandwich size? Quart? Gallon? Storage containers?
When you are all done, make a once-a-week shopping trip. Try to limit it to this; it will save you money. Every time you go into the grocery store to buy one thing, you will usually end up buying five. It's better to tell yourself that you need to do without until shopping day when finances are tight. Recipes can skip an ingredient; it will usually turn out fine anyway.

When you get home from shopping get your food put away as quickly as possible. Rest if you can before you have to start dinner. Get J's help for both grocery shopping, putting away, and prep, or whatever he will help with, if you can.

So, I hope you have found this helpful. We can still sit down together sometime, if you get a chance, but in the meantime I thought I'd put this together to help you out.

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