Monday, August 22, 2011

Menu Planning or why I know what I'm having for dinner of December 8th

That would be goulash. Or at least my version of it. I have all of our suppers planned out through the end of the year. Why do I do it? Because I'm lazy that's why. You may ask why someone goes to the trouble of planning out their dinner if she's lazy. But here's the deal: I sit down for less than an hour to plan out my meals and I don't have to think about what I'm having for dinner for another four months. I can plan my food budget and shop accordingly. I won't find myself missing an ingredient or discover that I should have thawed some chicken. A quick check of my menu plan on Sunday tells me what I need to have thawed for the week ahead. A quick glance while I make up the grocery list tells me what I need to buy. I save money. I save time and I don't waste food. I get almost giddy in a grocery store and am apt to buy everything I can pick up. A lot of fresh food used to go unused. That doesn't happen now. When I first started this, I used to actually print it out on a calendar. That was a bit of overkill, though not a bad idea if you have kids. You can print it out and post it just like the school lunch menu and hopefully ease any disagreements over what they want for dinner. I've planned out through the end of the year this time, though often I simply do it a month at a time. But I'm preparing to fill the freezer for winter, so I thought I might as well plan supper. Now, by planning a menu I mean scrawling things in a date book.

I like to use books with funny pictures in them. They make me smile. I like the week at a time planner, so I can just flip it open on Sunday and see what's ahead for the week at a glance.

The method to my madness is to jot down a list of our current favorite meals. I survey the hubby. Those with larger families would obviously want to let everyone weigh in. As I watch a lot of Food Network and subscribe to several food magazines, I try to make a note whenever I see anything that looks good. This is my neat notebook where I write down ideas and make my carefully organized grocery list.

My handwriting is the next best thing to calligraphy. As I have a large collection of cookbooks, I like to pull them out when I plan. I thumb through them and look for things that appeal to me or for favorites I haven't made in a long time.

Of course, you can also check a few books out of the library. Or print off some recipes from favorite websites.  I also like magazines.

I go through and start writing down recipes that appeal to me. For new recipes, I also note which cookbook or magazine they came from and what page the recipes are on.

That information is actually contained above. The Spanish Beef & Rice is in 30 Minute Meals 2 on page 138. I believe myself to be writing in English. Notice how I spelled Skillet Lasagna. I know how to spell skillet. I swear. Like I said, I scribble it down. Mind you that was the second time I wrote it down. Because I write everything first in a notebook and then try to go back and place the recipes on good days. I have yoga with a friend on Monday nights, so I like to make something quick and easy that will be ready in just a few minutes after we're finished. And if you know a certain time of year is going to contain sports tournaments or some other activity that takes up your time, you can plan what to eat accordingly. Even if it's just putting down sandwiches and making sure to buy plenty of lunch meat and cheese. It's also helpful for balancing out rich dishes and healthier dishes. If I know a given Sunday is likely to find us inside watching NASCAR, I can plan a slow-cooked pot roast and also plan to use some of the beef on Monday or Tuesday.  I have an especially good recipe for a shredded beef taco filling that I like to make a giant pot of and freeze the extra in single meal size portions. Since it is excellent with chili, mexican pizza or other mexican dishes, I know if I have four servings frozen, I can plan four quick and easy meals incorporating that meat.

When I sit down to write my grocery list for the week, I'm able to look at my date book, see what the meals are for the week and check the pantry to see what I need to buy. I don't always stick to the plan, but if I have chicken something down, I will usually try to do something with the chicken and my pantry ingredients. And some days things just won't grab you and you are going to want something else. But I will say that using this planning, I bought $200 worth of meat in January for the freezer and didn't have to buy any more until the end of April. It's also a great idea when planning to go look through your kitchen and see what you have that you haven't been using. Find a couple of recipes that make good use of your garbonzo beans or couscous or those frozen mixed vegetables. If your garden usually overwhelms you with zuchinni, plan a few recipes in advance for when natures bounty comes in.

Simply writing (if you want to dignify my scribbles with that turn) what I'm fixing to eat down has a made a world of difference for me. It saves me time, money and aggravation. Give it a try for a month and see how it works for you.

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