Menu Planning, Day Two
It’s Day Two. Are you excited about the next step? Hopefully you’ve competed Assignment 1 in our Menu Planning series. Getting a list of family friendly meals together at your finger tips will really help you in our next step.
DAY TWO: The Meal Planning Session:
When I’m sitting down to prepare a menu plan for a week, I have these things with me:
- Menu Planning Calendar
- Menu Box
- Sales Ads from stores
- Freezer Inventory
- Old Menu Planners
- New Recipe Binder/mags/cookbooks
- Two boys constantly interrupting for my attention
First, you might want to tackle just your evening meal at first, especially if you’re a family who is away from home for the day and usually don’t eat lunches. Breakfasts are easy for me to plan because we have a pretty set pattern for what we eat each day, so all that might change is the flavor of smoothie we have.
I keep a laminated copy of this on my refrigerator and can just use a dry erase marker each week to write what we’re having for each meal. You can also slip one into a page protector as well. This lets the family know what to expect during the week, which is something my husband loves, especially if he needs to steel himself for a meal he’s not fond of :D
(you can purchase a blank copy of this calendar at my store @ Sweet Shoppe HERE which also comes with a recipe card and shopping lists and the menu planner in two different styles)
But for my planning calendar, I use just a blank calendar page. (download an excel version HERE)
So, to get started, here’s what I do:
- Take my blank calendar and make notations of days where we need special meals (such as a slow cooker meal or something premade from the freezer) or meals we’ll be eating out for (potlucks, friends’, eating out).
- Fill in for breakfasts and lunches where needed (3 days a week we have veggie lunch) These tend not to be filled in on the planning calendar since we eat a lot of the same foods during those two meals, but I do make notations for things that are going to be special.
- Begin filling in for suppers. I usually do a system like this: Mon=beef, Tues=chicken, Wed=pasta, Thurs=pork, Fri=fish, Saturday and Sunday are catch-alls. I don’t always follow that plan, but it helps me even further to plan out. I plan out the main dish as well as 2 sides plus salad. We don’t do desserts on a regular basis, so they aren’t planned for. I also use my Freezer Inventory list to find meals that we need to use up, and will put fill them in for days when they are appropriate. These are my go-to meals that are either fully prepared or mostly prepared that are perfect for days when I know I won’t have a lot of time to prepare (tacos or fully cooked casseroles, etc) I keep a few days during the month to plan for new recipes I want to try which I pull from my new recipe binder or magazines or cookbooks.
- I use old Menu Planning Calendars to get ideas, or to see something we haven’t had in a while. I can use my Meal Guide to find meals when I’m stuck for an idea, and my Meal Cards to also look for ideas for something that may not have made the favorite list. It doesn’t take long to browse through the pork section to find something that strikes my fancy.
- I also use the weekly ads from stores to find out what’s on sale that week. Because if I know chicken breasts are going to be on sale, I purchase enough to cover me for a while, and plan out a few meals that I can double and triple to put into the freezer. If ground beef is on sale, I might want to make sure to notate a few stock-up meals for the next week so that I can double/triple those for the freezer as well.
- I clip the recipe cards for those recipes I’ll need a card for to a big clip on my hood above my stove so that they are handy right when I need them. I’ve already got them out for the next step (MENU SHOPPING LIST), so I keep them clipped so I’m not having to dig through the Meal box one more time to find them.
About leftovers: I used to plan for leftovers, when I had little guys, but the little guys are growing bigger and tend to eat the full meal, so I don’t necessarily plan leftover nights like I used to. If we have leftovers, they’re usually incorporated into lunch the next day, or I put them in the freezer for meals down the road. But if you do cook for leftovers, you can plan a leftover meal one night a week to use it up, and not have to cook!
Preparing for the meal: The night before, I look at the calendar to see what’s for dinner the following night. I know what to pull out of the freezer to allow to thaw in the fridge, or know if there’s something I need to prep earlier in the day to have ready (like a slow cooker meal). This way, I don’t stand in front of the fridge at 5 trying to figure out what’s for dinner. I have a meal already planned, I’ve prepped it early if it needs to thaw, and we’re generally ready to go with little fuss.
This doesn’t always save me on actual cooking time, but it does save me having too many duh moments in front of the fridge/pantry, and makes our life a little easier. On some of the meals, I plan on doing a double or triple batch so I can stick a few up in the freezer to save me time down the road.
Your Assignment: Sit down with a blank calendar page and plan out a week’s worth of meals. Stick to the evening meal for now. Plan out what your meal plus sides will be, taking into account for any special schedule items you’ll need. This will be a practice run, because tomorrow we’ll work on the Menu Shopping List.
Coming tomorrow: Day Three: Menu Shopping List