Okay, so today's post isn't really a craft tutorial. But it IS something I think is important and have shared with lots of my real life friends, and they have said they really appreciate and have started implementing in their own homes and families. Soooo...I thought I'd share with you as well.
I'll just dive right in and give you the top reasons to do monthly menu planning, and I'll explain how these things are accomplished as well.
WHY I DO MONTHLY MENU PLANNING:
1) TO SAVE TIME
2) TO SAVE MONEY
3) TO AVOID "WITCHING HOUR" and GRUMPY MOM
4) TO EAT BETTER
As moms, we're all busy. And for our house, the time between 4:00 and when we actually sit down to eat dinner is considered "witching hour". The kids seem extra crazy and restless. I'm more irritable, and I'm constantly distracted with "What should I cook?" and "What's in the fridge/freezer/cupboards?" I abhor that feeling. Avoiding that feeling is enough reason alone for me to start a menu. So about 5 years ago, I started planning out my menus one week at a time.
I would see what's in the freezer and cupboards, and then plan out some meals. I quickly realized that by planning ahead, I was saving money as well as time. BONUS! I could now spend more time doing fun things instead of staring into the abyss of my freezer!
But getting out my recipes and going through ideas once a week seemed tedious. And I always had a big list of things I wanted to try, but I'd only make it through one or two things in a week, and then I'd forget what ideas I had wanted to do before. So I started just listing out meals I wanted to try and keeping that list on hand for when I was ready to make my menu. That saved EVEN MORE time!
Then I bought my giant dry-erase, Board Dudes calendar from Wal-mart, and for me, it seemed like a no-brainer to just go ahead and plug those recipes and meals into the entire month. WOW! My life was changed!
Here is how my menu planning works today:
1) Set aside an hour to plan (more if you like to browse cookbooks).
2) Gather my supplies (laptop with recipes, recipe box, calendar and markers, pen and paper).
3) Go through recipes and make a list of about 26-28 meals or recipes I'd like to try (set those recipes aside).
4) Write out the month and family activities we have going on, so I can see what days are extra busy.
5) Plug in meals and adjust as needed.
6) Make a grocery list of non-perishables and meats from the list.
I don't love cookbooks. I'm a very digital cook. I've been using All Recipes.com since 2004. If someone gives me a cookbook, I quickly browse through it and find recipes I think we might like to try, write them down and put them in my recipe box, and I pass the book along to someone else I think might enjoy it. I also don't keep recipes we don't like. I've tried 5 or 6 meatloaf recipes, and I've kept two of them. There's just no point wasting space in my small recipe box if I'm never going to make something again, right? So my little recipe box is full of tried-and-true favorites!
Since Pinterest came into my life, that's been another main source of my recipe inspiration. I usually pull up my Pinterest "RECIPES" page and browse through that first when making my list.
I usually try to do 26-28 recipes since I know there will be at least one "left-overs" day each week. And we have some meals that are just basically a part of our family now, so I either shorten the list by a few days or add them to the list quickly since I know they'll be on there at least once or twice. Fish is one of those things. Along with Feijoada and burritos. We've made our own recipes for those, and we don't vary from them much, so there's not much to think about there. I'll post recipes for them shortly. :) I included them on my list here, though, so you could see the full 26 days. Yes, it would be nice to have more lines on my list... ;)
For new recipes that I'm trying for the first time, I write them out on a 5x7 card (I keep a pack of blank ones at the back of my recipe box). I include the blog name in case I want to go back and look at it when I'm actually making the meal. Also, as I do this, I keep a shopping list and write down anything that is out of the ordinary and I know won't be in my cupboards.
My list has lots of chicken recipes on it because it's cheaper than beef here. I'd pretend it's because I'm healthy, but let's not kid anyone. I'm cheap. ;)
I place all the recipes for the month in the front of my recipe box, so I don't have to go searching for them later. Cutting back on time drains, right? Easy peasy.
Now...I know not everyone loves the dry-erase calendar concept. For some, it's frustrating not to be able to see more than a month in advance. Again, being digitally minded, I have my important dates like doctors' appointments, etc. on my phone.
I like to also have this big monthly calendar because I need something in my face as well. I'm more likely to forget if it's just on my phone. Even if I set a reminder! lol My kids also like to stay informed, and my older daughter especially likes to know what we're having for dinner and what's happening in the days to come.
Having a dry-erase board makes it really easy to change recipes and other appointments around if I need to. I also love having a variety of colors, so I color-coordinate things on our agenda. It makes the really important things stand out more for me.
If you're like Kim from the 733 Blog and want to have a "real" calendar, she's made a great printable calendar for the 2012-2013 school year. Doesn't hurt that they're adorable! Just make sure you're doing your meals in pencil, so you can switch things around if you want.
Once you have the big things on there like appointments, birthdays, extra-curricular activities, and vacations; you'll have a better idea of what kind of dinner you'll want to make on that particular night. Busy days for us means I plug in Crock Pot meals or other meals I can whip up in 20 minutes or less. No experimenting or fancy meals on those nights!
I also try to think about what kinds of meats we're eating each week. As I mentioned before, our menu has lots of chicken, so I try to make sure we have at least one seafood meal per week, one beef or pork per week, and one or two meat-free nights per month.
Now, I'll have one large grocery-shopping trip at the beginning of the month, and that's when I also stock up on toiletries and cleaning supplies (so I only have to go to Sam's Club/Costco once per month!). Then once per week I go to a smaller grocery store to buy our produce and other weekly perishables like milk, and eggs, etc.
So, not only do I save time having to think of dinners every night, I also save time making grocery lists AND grocery shopping.
Knowing my menu in advance helps cut down on our budget since I can buy our meats in bulk, and we don't eat as many freezer meals and eating out. If I'm running errands, I'm less likely to say, "Let's just hurry and grab something to eat," if I know that night's dinner is already planned out and easy to make. Or better yet...already in the Crock Pot!
Cutting out those frozen meals and dining out meals is also better for our health. And having the extra wiggle room in our grocery budget, I'm able to spend more money on fresh fruits and veggies. Also better for us!
As for "witching hour", when I know what's for dinner, I can easily cut up some fresh veggies or fruit to throw at the kids to tide them over as I'm making the meal. Just knowing what I'm going to make helps keep me much less stressed and annoyed (mostly at myself, but it vents toward my poor kids). Know what I mean?
So...are you willing to give it a shot? Do you already have a menu-planning system? What works for your family?