Tuesday, May 17, 2011

I was asked how I do menu planning

and it got realllll long. Here it is:

Amie-
You have had some great tips from the other ladies. I do something very similar but I also spend the majority of my grocery budget on maintaining a large pantry. I use coupons but only buy the items we eat when they go on sale. (DH and I made an agreement that I would try couponing but we didn't want a lot of junk in the house, therefore I only use coupons for the things that we ate before I started couponing, did that make sense?) I buy meat and canned goods on sale and keep about 3 months worth (enough to get me to the next sale). I plan out our meals a month at a time but Sunday dinners are the ones where I base the meal around what meat went on sale that week.

There is always a fruit bowl on the table and veggies but I get what is on sale for fresh veggies. We always have carrots and cucumbers for fresh veggies. So, here are a list of my meals:

breakfast:
steel cut oats with brown sugar, milk and butter
eggs and whole wheat toast, jam
yogurt with granola (homemade granola, Aldi plain yogurt sweetened at home, when really ambitious I make the yogurt a gallon at a time)
smoothies and whole wheat toast
pancakes and applesauce or bananas with yogurt
steel cut oat porrige (with apples and spices), milk, butter
graham cake and milk, bananas
rice, milk and raisins

every now and then I will make breakfast burritos or bagel sandwiches (normally birthday request). Egg dishes are limited around here due to my allergies but before my allergy diagnosis hardboiled eggs were regularly on the menu.

I made the decision a few months ago to make one meal that would last for two meals. (Two meals, one cleanup) So, I made a big burrito lunch today. I made enough for everyone to have another burrito tonight for dinner. My husband works for home so we made our big meal of the day lunch. Dinner is less formal and therefore less stressful for the cook. It can be tricky but I use my rice cooker and crockpots a lot! I tend to follow a theme for menu planning (sandwiches, beans, vegetarian, mexican, mom's choice, Sunday, clean of the refrigerator/pizza)
Lunner (lunch/dinner):

mexican = tamales, quesadillas, enchiladas (bean or chicken or beef), nachos, chicken burritos with shredded chicken (crockpot), beans (crockpot) and rice, shredded cheese, salsa, tortillas, roasted vegetable tostadas, pico and guacamole

sandwich (winter is soup and sandwiches) = Scout night, PBJ, tuna spread, melted cheese and tomato soup, cheese crisps(tortillas with cheese broiled until crispy), cheese and crackers with veg and fruit plate, pulled pork sandwiches

bean = pinto beans with cheese, brazilian black beans and rice, cuban beans and rice, white chili, red chili, beef and bean pie, beanie weenie, super soup

vegetarian = baked potato bar, roasted potato chunks, stir fry, mediterranean dinner (lentil soup, with pita and hummus and veg), spaghetti, hash browns and fried eggs, veggie pasta salad, tuna pasta salad, we used to have frittata and spanish tortilla also

mom's choice/date night = if we are on a date the kids tend to have box macaroni and cheese (which I detest)

clean out the refrigerator/pizza = we have pizza once a week with family movie night. I use the Healthy breads in 5 minutes a day recipe for the crust.

Sunday = whatever cut of meat I can find on sale, this tends to be simpler comfort food, it is not unusual for me to roast a turkey and make mashed potatoes even far away from Thanksgiving, meatloaf, salisbury steak, roast, the family all chips in and helps but if I am tired from a long week they have been known to eat bread and butter and apples and cheese too! :)

The one thing I do weekly that has really saved me is a weekly prep day. I normally do this on Saturday morning. I plan the menu and prepare ahead of time. What this means is, if we are out of granola I make granola. I make the bread dough for pizza. I make bread. I cut up stirfry veggies ahead of time and put them in ziplocks in the frig. I mix the yogurt. I peel the carrots and coin them for steaming. I take the meat out of the freezer to thaw. In the winter I make a couple batches of soup and put them in mason jars and put in the frig. Teen age boys here-I’d rather make the stuff that is wholesome than have them filling up on junk. I also clean out the frig.

All the little things that seem to take so much time during the week that we have to do week after week. I figured out a while ago I was spending like 20+ hours in the kitchen with meals every week. By taking 2-4 hours on Saturday I saved myself a lot of time. I also made meal prep a family affair because we had a plan others could read and carry out (a true Godsend when I had pneumonia.)

When I plan my menu, I write the shopping list at the same time and a prep list at the same time. I keep a notebook just for this. I plan a month out. On the left hand page is the menu. On the right hand page is the prep list and produce that I need to buy for the week. I am trying to make the week run as smoothly as possible by doing this. So I measure out the oatmeal and put it in mason jar so all I have to do in the morning is pour it into the rice cooker with water and press on. I measure out the rice. I make the pancake syrup. Yes, it takes a bit of extra space in the cupboard but on my way out the door to my boys' 6:15 am class it has been a lifesaver. Breakfast is ready when I get back. I have gone so far as to clean out a shelf in my kitchen specifically for that weeks menu items. It always ends up getting cluttered but when I did it it was great!

So, it looks like this:
Menu
Oatmeal and toast
Roasted Veg. Tostadas w/ pico

Prep List
Measure 2 cups oats, add ¼ tsp salt into mason jar, slice onions and peppers (double bag onions), cook 2 lb. pinto beans,mash beans, grate cheese, make pico

Pancakes
Roast turkey breast, baked potatos, green beans, apple crisp

Prep List
Combine all dry ingredients for pancakes, put in ziplock, take turkey out of freezer, wrap potatoes in aluminum foil, measure out apple crisp dry ingredients, peel and slice apples, treat with lemon juice put in freezer (or use dehydrated apples)

Weekly Prep: Grind wheat, sweeten yogurt, check granola, make pizza crust/artisan bread, fill containers (flour, sugar, beans, raisins), wash produce


Shop: cilantro, tomatoes, lettuce, bananas, apples, fruit that is on sale, milk (I normally put this on a post-it note so I can give it to DH to get after Scouts)


So, in doing this I combined elements from Once a Month cooking, Make a Mix, couponing and bulk buying. By doing these things I have gone from 20+ a week on meal prep to about 10 hours or less.

Shopping: I buy what is on sale, so there are weeks that I do not do any big shopping. But when a sale hits then I am buying 4-6 turkeys and dozens of cans of tomato sauce.

Doing the menu and food this way has really freed up a lot of my time and energy simply because the decision is already made! I don't mind cooking, I really tire of making the decisions of what to make.

I know this was long and probably not clear in spots (little girls dancing around me most of the time while typing). Just ask questions!