Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Meal planning, schmeal planning

That's not what I believe, but it's how I've been living lately.

I want to plan. I really do. Or, more accurately, I want to live with the benefits of meal planning, and the only way to do that is to actually, um, you know, plan the meals.

But somehow it gets away from me.

So, this week, I'm looking into how to change that.

There are a million ideas and resources out there, and I'm looking for suggestions ... the best books? The best websites? The most-likely-to-succeed? (And yes, I do realize that my commitment is the key ingredient in this recipe ....)

Please feel free to share what has -- or hasn't -- worked at your house.


Anonymous said...

You sound like me trying to make some kind of schedule for us to follow! LOL!

A good place to start for menu planning is Menus 4 Moms http://www.menus4moms.com/kitchen/weeklymenu/2006/aug/060821.php

Every Thursday they email out a weekly menu that includes the grocery list and recipes (well, links to them). They also have TONS of archives with the recipes and grocery lists. Your sure to find something there to get your "creative spark" going!

Bon Apetite!

God Bless,
Donna in the 'Burg

Maureen Wittmann said...

Here's what I do (from the ThriftyHomeschooler email list):

Every Monday I sit down at my dining room table with that week's grocery sales fliers, my grocery list, and my favorite cookbooks. I then make up a menu for the week based on what is on sale and what is currently in my cupboard.

Remember what I said last week about knowing what is in your cupboard? If you have dozens of hard boiled eggs in the fridge left over from Easter, then you may want to have deviled eggs for dinner one night and perhaps egg salad sandwiches for lunch. Don't buy new stuff when you have perfectly good stuff already on hand.

In fact, make sure that you set aside a day on your menu for leftover night! Never let anything go to waste. Every once in a while I go completely through my cupboards and fridge and make sure that there aren't any forgotten items in the back that I can put on that week's menu.

How does making a menu save you money?
- you buy only what you need.
- you use up what is already in your cupboards.
- you have no need to make unscheduled trips to the convenience store since you preplanned.

The first time that you make a menu, it will take some time. But trust me, once you make it a habit and do it every week, it will take no time at all. I promise.

With a little preplanning, you can save $$$.

Jeannine said...


A good place to start is a cookbook called Saving Dinner by Leanne Ely. The meals are delicious, varied, healthful, and arranged seasonally. Each week, she provides a shopping list and six recipes (including one slow-cooker one. I don't use a slow-cooker, so I just adjust those meals for a regular pot). I love the suggestion that the cook get a night off each week! We usually do pizza that night.

Have fun!

Liz said...

Ok here's the deal here. I am NOT organized. I can't even predict what I will feel like cooking or eating on Thursday when I sit down to write out a grocery list on Saturday. I try to keep basic ingredients around and then buy some basic cuts of meat, veggies, etc. to work with. I may think on Saturday that I'm going to make something elaborate with chicken breasts on Tuesday. But come Tuesday I may well just broil them as usual. I may believe I'm going to feel like fajitas on Monday because I think Abby's going to be here for dinner, but when it turns out she goes back early I likely will just broil the steak and serve it with baked potatoes because the guys don't really care that much for Mexican.

Rachel Ray's Express Lane Cooking is more up my alley than a lot of the organized cooks stuff. Leanne Ely has a good menu saver type cookbook where she gives you lists of what to buy for a week at a time. Rachel Ray keeps basics on hand all the time and then grabs a few items and goes through the express lane on her way home from work. I operate pretty much like Rachel, I keep a pretty good basic cupboard, but may run into the local grocery to pick up a couple of limes, or some sour cream, or even a piece of salmon (when I didn't feel like tuna noodle casserole after all for Friday).

I try to keep healthy and Weight Watcher's friendly foods around all the time so I can go with whatever happens to sound good.

Now this morning, I was all out of my Kashi, so I thought about what I wanted. I could have had oatmeal, I could have had granola bars, I could have had grits. None of them sounded good. So what I actually had was a piece of toast (reduced calorie) with a teaspoon of butter, 1 slice of bacon, an egg, a cup of tea, and a glass of orange juice.

Today I'll buy more Kashi because that's certainly something I'll want SOME of the time. And today I've got to go buy lunch meat and bread for Gabe's lunches. But plan it all out in advance...Nope, I've tried it, it just doesn't work for me.

It actually doesn't HAVE to be more expensive to cook this way, and in point of fact doing it this way rather than trying to make myself believe I'll actually make gazpacho on Thursday because I feel like it on Saturday (of course when Thursday comes it's pouring rain and chilly and gazpacho is the last thing I feel like eating or making), results in fewer vegetables rotting in the refrigerator, hence I actually probably save money or at least don't waste food.

I've rambled, and I've also shown why I'll never be prefectly organized. It's that sanguine personality thing... Go with the flow. After all, your husband might even decide to take you out to dinner on the very night you'd planned to make beef stroganoff. Or you might suddenly get unexpected company on the day you planned to have
serve four chicken breasts. Then you've got to figure out how to stretch, or how to put stuff in reserve. Restaurants organize a week ahead, I try to know by 4 o'clock what I'm serving tonight.

Be like the Europeans and shop for fresh food frequently.

Nancy said...

I'm thinking of moving to Gladstone and having Amy do all the planning for me - I will pay her! LOL

Carrie K. said...

As I read your post, I had another window open to www.meals.com so that I could deal with my own laziness/procrastination/ineptitude in this area. I don't mind cooking (too much), but I HATE coming up with ideas for what to cook that can fit in our budget!

Mary Ellen Barrett said...

Karen I second the Saving Dinner suggestion. I went all last winter using it and it made planning a breeze. I order my groceries online so I would just have the book right there while I ordered and then make the meal for that day. It was so easy and I am usually one of those "what the heck can I cook" people at 5:30 p.m.

Check the book out of the library before buying just to make sure it would work for you.

Kristina's World said...

There have been terrific ideas posted.
I try to make a menu as guide, but do not always follow it as plans can sometimes change. When I watch foodtv (ALTON! Brown's Good Eats, Healthy Appetite w/ Ellie Krieger, Everyday Italian or 30 min meals) if I see them prepare a meal I would actually be willing to shop for and prepare, I print up the recipe from the www.foodtv.com. I keep the print outs in plastic sleeves in a 3 ring binder. Like Maureen, I make a basic list from the flyers of the local supermarkets. Using the sale items and our freezer inventory, I look through my recipes and decide what goes with the sale items. Then I usually select at least one old favorite recipe to prepare. I use the calendar to determine what to have on which night. If I have to be out, I will plan something dh enjoys putting together for himself and the children. Also, I usually use a template of types of food per night. For example, Pasta on Wednesdays, Fish on Fridays, Steak on Sunday, leftovers in between.
Happy meal planning, Karen!

Cay in La. said...

I've been using "Fix it and Forget it Lightly" cookbook for the past three weeks or so.

We've been very pleased with it. Today I'm making beef stroganoff.

Cici said...

Well, take this for what its worth. I more of the "meal planning schmeal planning" genre myself. VERY Challenged in that area. So, here is what I've been trying to do even get to the motivated part.

I TRY to sit down and plan a week at a time - but not necessarily by day as sometimes dh won't come home (and the kiddos much prefer fish sticks anyhow), or something else gets in the way.

I write it down on a printed out calendar and stick it in a binder. Shop for the meals - and always the basics (see above reference to fishsticks, or grilled cheese, or...). Then, when I actually make something, I cross it off what was on the calendar (if there was something there), write what I actually made, and then write it down on a calendar six weeks from that day.

For recipes, I like to use allrecipes.com, and make only those recipes with high reviews/number of ratings. After I make it, if picky dh approves it goes on the calendar for 6 weeks from now. Otherwise, its scrapped. And of course, the family favorites. Also, I try to do them nights, as mentioned above. Monday chicken, etc. Friday is always family favorites - usually easy and everyone likes it.

Margaret in Minnesota said...

Freezer meals & a crockpot: these are a homeschooler's friend. I love the Fix it and Forget it series and have both the original and the "Light" version (which has the nutritional values listed and is good for someone doing Weight Watchers, for example).

I use Leann Ely's Saving Dinner quite a bit and just purchased her "Mega Menu Mailer" where you crank out 22 Delicious Dinners at one time.(Allegedly, this is possible, though I did it over 2-3 days.) I haven't tried most of these meals yet but they're in the freezer! I also really like the recipes in Once-a-Month Cooking by Mimi Wilson & Mary Beth Lagerborg.

Hope that helps! I too strive to be a meal planner like Maureen. There's no better feeling than knowing what's for dinner at 9:00 a.m.

Margaret in Minnesota said...

Oh, and I just checked out 5-Ingredient Slow Cooker Recipes by Better Homes & Gardens from the library. Good stuff! I'll probably end up purchasing it. (Yes, I'm a sucker for cookbooks.)