Guest post by Sue of Homemaker’s Friend
“Meals are small acts of great importance, moments set aside for conversation, reflection, and relationship.”
Do you recognize that “exasperating hour” when the household starts to fray around the edges? Have you felt the lack of ideas while standing in front of the pantry or refrigerator door? Have you resorted to a frozen lump of ground beef in hopes of inspiration?
My euphoria of “ground beef stimulus” is usually short-lived as I make choices and straightway eliminate them. “Sloppy Joes- no bread.” “Taco Salad- no chips.” “Chili Soup- no beans.” At the last minute, ingredients are thrown together that do not complement each other in taste or appearance, and…
…the kitchen is a mess,
…I’m in a stress,
…the family tries to guess-
What is for supper?
I haven’t always been a menu planner. In fact, I was a bit dubious when I first heard the concept. Wouldn’t it take the fun out of preparing a home-cooked meal? What if I wanted to eat pizza on the day the menu said mashed potatoes?
After our third child was born, the trips to town that were previously enjoyable turned into a frustrating experience. Unlike his siblings, this little fellow detested shopping. After a few chaotic episodes, my husband suggested that he stay with the children on a Saturday morning, while I did a month’s worth of grocery shopping.
At that point, in seemed logical to plan menus since the trips to town were less frequent. True, we still needed to purchase perishable items, but that was less daunting than a huge list. Time eventually changed the stage of our family and our method of grocery shopping, but I am still an avid menu planner.
I soon discovered that menu planning had many benefits. In place of spending much needed brain power on “what to make for supper,” my mind was clearer to focus on other things that required my attention.
When the menu is only in my head, it is more difficult to delegate meal preparation tasks. As a result, I end up doing most of the work. Children are great helpers and most times there are little jobs that they can do. If the menu says: Pizza, veggies and dip, fruit and cookies, it is easier to assign small tasks. Someone can get a jar of fruit; another can prepare veggies and so forth.
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If you think about it, we are extremely repetitious in the kitchen. How many times do we grate cheese, chop onions and fry hamburger in one week? or two weeks? If menus are planned, we can look ahead to see if we will need to prepare those foods again. With little additional time and energy, we can easily double or triple those amounts and we have the convenience of ready-to-use ingredients.
Example 1: Weekly Menu Planning using the Homemaker’s Friend Planner. Perforated shopping lists are included in the planner.
Like in other areas of homemaking, our persona, budget, seasonal food, work schedule and our husband’s preferences are a factor in menu planning. What flows well for one homemaker may be completely different from what is comfortable for another. You know your family and your schedule the best, so customize menu planning accordingly.
Menu planning does require some forethought and effort, but it actually saves time in the long run. It is a work in progress that will take practice, but the more you do it, the easier it will become. Two basic types of menu planning are a weekly menu plan and a four-week menu plan. Both methods share the following benefits:
- Grocery shopping is easier
- Meals are more balanced and include more variety
- Money is saved
- Added flexibility
- More likely to try new recipes
- Sale items taken advantage of
- More prepared for impromptu guests
There is not one perfect way to plan a menu. My sister-in-law Beverly generally plans a week of menus on Monday and she consults the sale flyers for current specials. She has easy access to several grocery stores and she usually makes a weekly shopping trip. In my area, local choices are limited, but we do have a large city close by. I typically plan menus four weeks at a time and buy in larger quantities.
Example 2: 4-Week Menu Plan
Here are 7 tips to help you get started with your chosen menu planning method:
1. Choose a theme to help steer you to a particular section of a recipe book.
Here is an example: Monday- casserole, Tuesday- meat and potatoes, Wednesday- soup, Thursday- casserole, Friday- Italian or Mexican, Saturday- grill or CORN (Clean Out Refrigerator Night). Remember these formats are not laws; they are plans that can be modified at any time.
2. Check your calendar for upcoming events.
Note on your meal planner anything that will affect your blueprint – birthdays, parent/teacher meeting, church events, youth activities… Take thought as you choose recipes so that you are not planning a time consuming meal after a full day. As things come up throughout the week, menus can be altered. Why make the family’s favorite meal on Friday evening if the teens will be at a youth gathering?
3. Start menu-planning by looking in your freezer, refrigerator, garden and pantry.
This provides you with knowledge of items on hand and may be a springboard for menu ideas.
4. Select your recipes to be used.
To make the planning process easier, use a few cookbooks and/or your own personal recipe collection at one planning session. An abundance of cookbooks and food magazines may tend to bog us down with too many options. With the four-week method, it is easy to incorporate everyone’s favorite foods throughout that time frame or to try a new tantalizing recipe.
5. Make a shopping list at the same time you plan menus.
For Beverly, this is the list she uses immediately. As I lay out a month of menus, I have a list for each week. Sometimes, I purchase all of the non-perishables items in one shopping trip, and then pick up the perishables locally. Menu planning helps you to save time and money by reducing the number of trips to the store. If you know what is on the menu, you can easily take advantage of advertised sales and seasonal produce.
6. Select a format for menu planning.
Notebooks, blank month calendars and white boards are good options. Beverly uses a daily planner that has a space for menu planning (see Example 1, above). I use a four-week computer print-out; then transfer the basic information to my planner (see Example 2, above). Notations are made in the planner of any prep work that is needed like defrosting meat or getting food in the crock pot.
7. Take note of similar recipes that could be made at the same time.
For example, Finnish Cake and Ice Cream Cake take many of the same ingredients, so why not make both while the fixings are out? It saves much time in clean-up and ready-made food in the freezer is like money in a savings account.
Example 3: Shopping List for 4-Week Menu
It is helpful to plan at least one meal per week that is easy to assemble so when the unexpected occurs, you can move menus around to give you some space. Sometimes a bought pizza and ice cream sandwiches make the difference between calm and chaos. Occasionally I “plan” a store-bought meal just to get a break from cooking.
With the four-week method, you can easily double recipes one week and then, have a similar menu two weeks later. The notation “x2,” indicates that that specific recipe should be doubled. (See Example 2.) Occasionally that extra dish in the freezer becomes the perfect gift to help a friend through a crisis and it is a blessing to use our resources in this way.
As mentioned before, there is not one perfect way to plan a menu. But with a little practice, you can change that “exasperating hour” to a “prepared hour.” Try it.
…the kitchen might still be a mess…
…but the stress will be less,
…you won’t need to guess,
…what is for supper?
Do you plan your menu? What are you best meal planning tips?
Note from Erin: You can organize your meal plans with Sue’s 2015 Daily Planner! The planner includes space for planning your weekly menus, plus perforated shopping lists that you can tear out as needed! Click here to read my personal review of the planner, and to get your own planner, click through this link!