Save Time, Make a Menu

More time has passed since my last post than I would have liked. My computer is giving me fits and I am hoping to get a new one soon, but until I do, pictures are going to be missing from my posts ~sigh~ …  So please bear with me!

The time that I would have used to type up my post, I have been using for planning instead.  I have started a list of topics I can write about. Recipes, the project I’ve dropped hints about, our vegetable garden, etc….all which will benefit greatly from being accompanied by photos!

Because I didn’t want to wait any longer to talk to you all, I decided to give you some tips on planning a menu for your family. I have to admit, in years past, I have decided to do a menu, but my lack of organization made it difficult and I quickly fell back into old routines. This year my goal is to get my act together, so to speak.  I have been taking steps to be a little more organized in both my time and my house in general.  As part of my weekly schedule, I have set aside Thursday as my meal planning/grocery list making day.   So how do I make a menu?  I’m so glad you asked!

meal time

1.) Organize your recipes.  The cook books are easy, keep them in one spot, and always return them when you are finished.  The loose recipes, on the other hand, take a little more time.  You could organize them in a binder or in a recipe box.  I prefer the box and use 4×6 index cards, but that’s just a personal thing, you will need to do what works for you.  Regardless of how you store them, I highly suggest typing them up and printing them so that they are easier to read.  If you use a binder, slip them in a sheet protector, if you use index cards, try laminating them.  This makes them easy to wipe clean and as a result they will last longer.  For a few more tips on organizing recipes go here.

2.) Make a list of all the recipes your family enjoys.  Notice I said all the ones they enjoy, not all the ones that you have!   This is the most time-consuming step, but it makes the menu planning so much easier.  The list can be on a piece of scratch paper or you can type it out on your computer.  Make it as simple or fancy as you like. (Right now mine is on notebook paper, but I intend on typing it out once I finalize my weekly schedule).  The list should include the recipe name, location, and page number if applicable.  For example :

Chinese Chicken Stir-Fry (Cook it Quick, p. 102)

Stuffed Chicken Breasts (recipe box)

Including the location may seem silly, but it saves more time than your realize. It also enables someone else to find your recipes in the event you are unable to cook.

3.) Evaluate your schedule and plan your menu.

First look at your calendar and decide what evenings are exceptionally busy for your family.  Those are the nights you plan a quick and easy meal, use the crock pot, or schedule that evening as leftover night (given you will have leftovers by that day of the week!).

Next decide what evenings you would have time to prepare a more complicated meal.  This is the perfect time to try that new recipe or to make that favorite comfort food your family loves.

At this time, also figure out what day(s), if any, you will be dining out.  My family doesn’t normally know when we will eat out, but if we do, it is typically on a Friday or Saturday evening.  So I plan meals for those days that would be made from my kitchen staples, and nothing that would use a special or highly perishable ingredient.

Use your recipe list you made in the previous step to help you make the menu.  Having the list will help you remember meals that you may not have prepared in a while, giving you more variety to your menu!

I make my menu on a Thursday for the upcoming Friday – Thursday.  Here is an example of what mine may be for any given week:

Friday:  Meatloaf (recipe box), fried potatoes, green beans

Saturday:  Spaghetti & meatballs (recipe box)

Sunday: Chicken Pot Pie (recipe box)

Monday:  Crock Pot Pasta Fagioli Soup (recipe box)

Tuesday: Leftovers

Wednesday: Cast Iron Burger (recipe box) peas,  french fries

Thursday:  Pizza (Mennonite Cook Book, p 302)

If you make a meal and there is a lot (more than you’d want to eat as leftovers), freeze it as a quick meal for another week.  In the event you eat out or have an unexpected change in plans, no worries, just postpone preparing that meal until the following week.  Just don’t forget, especially if you purchased perishable ingredients!

4.) Make your grocery list.  Add to your grocery list any ingredient you need to prepare the meals for the upcoming menu.  Another tip is to keep your grocery list handy throughout the week (my family’s is on the refrigerator).  As you use something or run out of anything, add it to your list immediately.  This will help in saving time and will keep you from forgetting to buy something at the store.  It also helps to go to the grocery store the same day each week.  I make my menu and grocery list on Thursdays, shop on Fridays.  At first I thought this wouldn’t work, and I can honestly say that I started this in January, and the only days I missed were when I just had my baby.  Once you get into the routine, it’s so much easier than you expect.

Once you have a menu, how/if you display it is up to you.  I highly recommend hanging it somewhere so the family can easily see it and you avoid the “what’s for supper” question.  You could search Pinterest for some inspiration for a fancy way to display your menu.  Currently mine is written on a piece of paper held by a magnet to our dry erase board in the kitchen.  Not fancy, but efficient.  Displaying it in a more eye-pleasing manner is on my ever-growing  to-do list!

If you decide to give menu planning a try, and I hope you do, I would advise you to start with one week at a time.  Once you become comfortable you could always increase that to two weeks, three, or even a month.  Since I started doing this, I no longer have to worry about what I’m going to make for supper.  Strangely enough, I also have not had near as many complaints about what we have to eat!!  I’m not guaranteeing the same results for you, but it sure makes it worth trying, right? Let me know how that turns out!

Do you have any menu planning tips you’d like to share?  Please leave a comment below, I’d love to hear from you!

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