Today, I decided to talk about meal planning. Over the last several months, multiple people have happened to bring up the subject of struggling most days to figure out 'what's for dinner'.
The whole concept of unplanned meals is pretty foreign...and really scary....to me! With 9 other people to feed in this house, including a somewhat picky eater and a VERY picky eater, having planned meals is a really important part of my job as mom/home organizer. I would be so stressed out if I arrived at 4pm each day trying to figure out what to make for dinner with a whiny toddler and preschooler and the knowledge that a hungry husband and several hungry 'man sized' teens/young adult would be walking through the door soon "starving!" and ready to start eating someone's arm if dinner isn't ready!
While there are lots of areas where putting 'organizer' next to my name as a job description would have my husband and children raising a cynical eyebrow at me, meal planning would not be one of them. Not counting the occasional hiccup, I plan and shop for a week's worth of meals every Friday. (Or Saturday morning if I absolutely can't get it done on Friday...but generally I try to avoid Saturday shopping. It is just way too busy!)
Here's the way I organize our family's meal planning....
To save money, I plan my meals around the sales circular of the local grocery store I shop at. I do the bulk of my shopping at one store. (For some of Peter's specialty food, I have to go to a second store where I will also pick up whatever "super sale" items are on sale that week that we use.)
Every Thursday, I pull out the circular. I figure out what meat is on sale and then I start brainstorming what I want to cook that week. I grab a piece of white lined paper(or back of a 8x11 sheet of computer paper or an unimportant used school paper...recycling is good:) and write Saturday through Thursday on the upper right hand side. Like so.....
Where's Friday, you might be asking? Well, on Friday my parents invite us for a take out dinner of either pizza or Chinese food...so I get the night off from cooking:) It makes the end of the week even sweeter for me!
Quick side note.....I also cross reference our calendar for the following week so I know if there are any games for the kids or meetings we need to attend where I need to make something easy for a quick clean up, or a crock pot meal if I will be out at night....or schedule a leftover(or whatever) night if Jay will be out. Knowing what I'm looking at for the week helps make planning easier!
To give you a real time example, and kill 2 birds with 1 stone, I will create my list for the week while sharing my step by step method for menu planning. (I always, always shop with a list!)
So, this week at Stop and Shop, there are boneless chicken breasts and a beef roast on sale that catch my eye. Thinking through the meals (most) of my family enjoys, I'm filling in Sunday's dinner as a roast, Monday's as lemon chicken, and Thursday as 'awesome chicken'. (Awesome chicken is baked chicken in a homemade ketchup based sauce...and it's great served over mashed potatoes! yum:)
I had a request for cheeseburgers....that will be Saturday's meal. It's supposed to be 54 degrees on Saturday...heatwave!....so grilling is a good option! Plus, it's game day....Patriot's are in the playoffs Saturday night, so burgers with homemade french fries are a good choice!
I always do one pasta dish a week because it's something my pickiest eater will definitely eat! (And he has the leftovers on some of the other days...so I know he won't starve!) Usually Wednesdays will be spaghetti and meatballs...and some weeks I make lasagna. But this week, spag and meatballs it is!)
That leaves Tuesday. I have frozen scallops I need to use in the freezer and I will make homemade Black Dog chowder to go with it.
That's it! One week of meals. Now I think about what ingredients i need to make each meal and the sides and add them to the list. Then I add any paper products we are out of and any really good sale items that I want to pick up. I also add in our 'regular' snack items and any food staples we are out of.
Quick side note.....I set up my list mostly based on the aisles of the store. It helps me to move through the store quickly without having to back track for items....a real necessity when you have the ticking time bomb of a toddler who will only sit still for so long!(and that takes into account the piece of cheese she gets at the deli and the fruit snacks I open for her a couple aisles later!)
And here is the final product that includes the short list for the second grocery store.(bottom right)
My friend, Laura, inspired this post with her New Year's resolution to "plan meals better".(Thanks, Laura:)