In my opinion, planning a menu and finding a system that works for you is an entirely personal function. What works for one family or one individual may be entirely different from what works for another individual in the same type of situation. Personality types, budget, seasonal foods, work and play schedules, grocery shopping trips and more can all play a factor in what works for you. If you only grocery shop on a specific day of the week or once every two weeks, you may need some flexibility based on what produce is available at the store when you go on that day.
For example, while I admire Tsh’s monthly menu, there is no, no, no way that I could ever plan a whole month and stick to it. It just doesn’t allow for the flexibility I feel I need (maybe I just want it) in feeding my family of six. But it works for her and her family, and I’ll admit to being more than a little jealous because she has some fantastic meals to look forward to, and sometimes I think I get a little bit boring and uninspired with my weekly meal planning (chicken and rice again?). Having a theme for each day of the week is also a fantastic idea, and it ensures you’re not consuming four meals that are all basically…chicken and rice…in one short week. (I get stuck in a rut if I don’t set guidelines.)
Mandi made it extremely easy to see the pros and cons to several different menu planning strategies, and there are a few more I mentioned in my post on why we plan a menu. To come up with our system, we first looked at what our requirements were for a successful menu plan.
What we wanted:
- Flexibility to move or cancel a meal in case of unexpected schedule changes
- Variety in what we eat (avoid chicken-and-rice syndrome and the meat-and-potatoes virus)
- Healthy options with lots of fresh produce
- Reduce what we waste because a recipe doesn’t use all of an ingredient or because leftovers sit in the back of the fridge uneaten
- Trying new recipes or making up new ones of our own on a regular basis
- Ability to take advantage of a deal when we find one
Keeping all those things in mind, we came up with a system that works for us. Like most things around here, it’s a work in progress, but perfection comes with age and experience. Remember that when you find a gray hair. Perfection comes with age. Oh, and one more thing: My perfection is not necessarily your perfection. My perfection may be wrapping up my day watching LOST after all the kids are tucked in bed, work finished, and you may find LOST complicated and frustrating and not worth the investment. To each their own.
Planning Our Menu:
- Stare into the fridge. We start out by looking at what the spoils of the week are and figuring out what meat we have in the freezer, what produce we need to eat and on what kind of time line, whether we have any make-ahead meals we want to eat for the week.
- Check to see if there are deals to be had. Most supermarkets will post their weekly circular online. We shop at Super Target quite a bit, and I’ll check to see what coupons are available for the week there as well. Tara at Deal Seeking Mom also posts her favorite deals for several grocery chains and will often tell you where to get coupons to make it a better deal.
- Look at the protein options available and start to build meals around them. If we have pork chops in the freezer and rice in the cupboard, I may go in the direction of a wild rice casserole, adding mushrooms and creamed soup to the shopping list.
- Incorporate ingredients from one meal into other meals. If you saw my post on the many uses of heavy whipping cream, you’ll know what I mean by this. We want to try to use all of what we buy, and we look for ways to incorporate ingredients into entirely different meals. For example, the cream we purchased for the cheesecake went into the cornbread. Then we used the cornbread leftovers to make cornbread dressing with our turkey breast dinner, and those leftovers topped off a casserole that was placed in the freezer to eat at a later date. This is an extreme example, but it can be as simple as thinking of a way to use the extra mushrooms from the wild rice casserole by planning on having mushroom and Swiss burgers the same week.
- Choose your days. This is the point in the process where we decide which days it would be best to eat the meals we want to make. If we’re buying fish, it will probably be one of the first meals in the week. If there are other time-sensitive items, we prioritize them to make sure we aren’t wasting food by letting something go bad in the fridge. We also work around our work and activity schedules to make sure we have enough time for the prep for each meal. If we get here and realize one of the meals doesn’t fit or we need something easier for one day, we can just reevaluate and choose something else (sometimes with the same ingredients, just a different use).
- Shop, prepare, eat!
:: If you’re having trouble figuring out what to do with what you have in your fridge, try a Google search with those ingredients. You may find a recipe you want to try, or it may just give you the inspiration you were looking for.
:: Check out the Menu Plan Monday at I’m an Organizing Junkie list to see what others are doing with their weekly menus.
:: Subscribe to a few food blogs. Seeing pictures of other people’s mouth-watering foods may have you trying something new and different.
Do you have a meal plan strategy that works for your family?