Meal Planning

By Cedar | September 8, 2011

Two years ago I started on the idea of menu planning. I was going to school part time, painting full time, and at the end of the day I was fresh out of ideas or energy for dinner. Most nights we would end up getting burritos and hungrily devouring more than half our share of daily calories while watching TCM on the sofa.

I have always loved cooking, but I hate to be rushed about it. If I haven’t started dinner by about 4:30 each day, it usually won’t happen. The hungrier I get the more difficult it is to decide what to make. I stare into the fridge, stomach rumbling, with no clear idea of what will satisfy my growing cravings. The solution to this problem; the menu plan.

I dropped the menu planning around the time I got pregnant because I quit going to school and had more time to sit and think about what I would make that evening for dinner. It didn’t really occur to me until last week that I would make my life a whole lot easier if I started meal planning again.

Basically I just write on a piece of paper the days of the week, then next to each day the proposed dinner idea. Lots of times I wander from this list because I feel like having something different, but I try to stick with using the same ingredients in order to use things up from the fridge in a timely manner.

This time when I start my menu planning I am going to start taking our budget into consideration. I am terrible at saving money, and with a baby and a broken camera in the picture it is more important than ever to save for the future (and a camera!). Wednesdays each week I am going to plan our weekly menu. That is the day we pick up our CSA box, as well as the day that the flyer for the market I shop at comes in the mail.

My only issue with meal planning is that following a weekly schedule makes me feel like I lose my creativity in the kitchen. I tend to get myself in a bit of a food rut, scheduling the same things over and over again. Being spontaneous is part of the fun of cooking to me, which is hard to do when you’ve made a meal plan and have tonight’s dinner already in your head.

Does anyone else out there menu plan for their family? If so, what is your process? How do you keep your meals fresh and so you don’t get bored of cooking, and of the food you are preparing?

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13 Responses to “Meal Planning”

  1. L.C. Says:
    September 8th, 2011 at 1:39 pm

    The boyfriend & I have tried meal planning and it has at best resulted in unsatisfying meals and frequently ends in food being thrown out when we just don’t feel like X for dinner. Now I tend to have more loose plans like I am going to do something with the chicken in the freezer which I may switch with another weekday. We also tend to have a standard structure to our meals of one protein, one grain/ starch, one veggie and several things which can be mixed and matched in those categories at any one time. It also means that if we both get home from school starving and exhausted it doesn’t take too much thought to turn something into dinner. Rather than staring into the fridge/ pantry and trying to come up with dinner we think: Protein- these beans look good, Grain- rice is good with beans, vegetable- we have broccoli.

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  2. Jenn Says:
    September 8th, 2011 at 2:47 pm

    I do menu plan! There are several ways you can do it. One is to write down what you want to have each night (this is what I do). Another is to have “theme” nights: Mexican on Monday, Thai on Tuesday, Italian on Wednesday, ect. Still another idea is to just plan your proteins for specific days: chicken on Monday, beef on Tuesday, meatless on Wednesday, ect.

    To keep myself from getting into a rut, I do two things. One, I’m forever looking for new recipes. I don’t always cook vintage, but I have several vintage cookbooks that I use for inspiration and will use recipes out of. If a magazine at the store catches my eye, I’ll look through it and, if more than 3 recipes appeal to me, I’ll buy it. When I menu plan, I’ll sit down with my books and/or magazines and look for what jumps out at me.

    Now, this may seem like an involved process, but I assure you that it’s not! Why? Because I cook certain foods seasonally and because most of the magazines I purchase are monthly publications. So, though I have a stack of magazines, for the month of September I might only use 5 of them.

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    The Glamorous Housewife Reply:

    This is exactly how I plan my meals! I have both vintage and modern cookbooks that I choose from, but I also have about a dozen ‘regular’ meals that I know the kids like. I just pick one or two of the ‘regular’ meals and then suppliment the rest with something new. I laughed while reading your comment because it was like I wrote it myself! I guess we are cooking kindred spirits.

    Thanks doll,
    The Glamorous Housewife

    ps: Here are links to two of my most recent meal plans:
    http://talesofaretromodernhousewife.blogspot.com/2011/09/weekly-menu-plan-94-98.html
    http://talesofaretromodernhousewife.blogspot.com/2011/08/weekly-menu-plan.html

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  3. Caitlin Says:
    September 8th, 2011 at 3:20 pm

    I just recently started planning out our meals. I’ve been married for almost three years and have a 2 yr old and 3 month old, so fixing dinner every night rarely happened, until a month or so ago when I started looking for crock pot recipes. I love them because you can really start them anytime during the day, whenever you happen to get a little free time, and they are usually pretty low-maintenance. As far as planning meals, I go grocery shopping for about a week’s worth of dinners, and decide each day which meal I want to make so it feels like I have a little bit of creativity each day. You should post your meal plan! I’m interested to hear what other moms are cooking.

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  4. Kylie Says:
    September 8th, 2011 at 3:58 pm

    My hubby and I do a menu plan each week.

    We have a load of cookbooks ( a lot of seasonal ones) and I usually go through them at my computer and write the recipes on the top of an excel spread sheet with the Cookbook and page number etc. E.G: Spring Ragout of Artichoke Hearts, Broad Beans, Peas and New season Garlic, SA, KGC, p:94. The SA= Stephanie Alexander, KGC=Kitchen Garden Companion (Cookbook).

    We don’t specify days for recipes so we can swap stuff around if by the time we get to something we don’t fancy it that night. I then categorise all the ingredients
    into sections so it is easier when shopping, e.g: meat/seafood, dairy, veggies, herbs. I make sure I have a snack section too. I then save it to a cookbook folder on my computer so I can then re-use it and usually each menu spreadsheet has a seasonal reference, Winter, Spring etc. I print it out and cross off everything that we already have in the fridge, garden or cupboard. I put in on a clip board, grab a pen and off I go shopping. People quite often think we are ‘officials’ of some sort because of the clipboard.

    It gets put on the fridge once the shopping is done and each morning before work we pick which one we want that night. Incase we need to get anything out of the freezer.

    It is amazing how little you then have to buy and how much money and time you save. We always pick really yummy recipes and add in some deserts. We also always think about cooking twice of something that can be frozen so that we can have it for lunch the next day or pop it in the freezer as back up…It also means we are building a catalogue of weekly menus that we can rely on if we can’t be bothered sitting down one week and planning…

    We really save a lot of money this way and waste less and never have to think much when we are tired after working all day about what to cook…Occasionally we will think- I really don’t fancy that and get pizza, but we just have it the next night.

    We just have to make sure that with perishables we don’t leave the recipes too long- like anything with dairy etc…Or before we grew our own herbs and veggies that we didn’t leave anything that goes off quickly waiting around in the fridge…

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  5. nava Says:
    September 8th, 2011 at 5:03 pm

    I try to menu plan; I’ve gone down to doing weekly, since we get a weekly pickup of food, and never know what we are going to get, and then fill in around the edges the next day at the farmer’s market, so I try to figure out how to use up the perishables and then what we’ll need for that. Have to admit though, I have the same issue that the hungrier I get the less I want to think/cook, even if I have something planned! :)

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  6. Kyle Says:
    September 8th, 2011 at 9:33 pm

    Roddy and I have been on-again-off-again meal planners, and I would say that we do something similar to Jenn. We tend to start off our meal planning with themes (Greek, Mexican, vegetarian, raw, crock pot meal, Italian, etc). We search through cookbooks like everyone else said… And then from there we try to really alternate and mix up the grains we choose (quinoa, buckwheat, millet, different styles of rice, couscous, obviously you know) as well as the protein of choice. And staying with fruits and veggies that are in season will automatically allow you to vary your food choices throughout the year.

    I would love to see an outline of what you end up planning for the week!

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  7. Valerie Says:
    September 9th, 2011 at 12:21 am

    Hello Cedar, I meal plan (on a budget too), and what I do is pick a recipe book per week. Obviously you need to have the right kind of books. Gourmet cookbooks aren’t going to help you save money. If you want me to list some of the ‘simpler’ books I have, let me know.
    I pick 6 recipes from the chosen book of the week, then I shop for the ingredients (plus the other household items, the less you go to the store, the less likely you are to stray from the plan).
    I usually have really easy meals and a bit more complicated meals on the list, but I don’t allocate days, because I would find it too dull to know I was having macaroni cheese on Tuesday a whole week in advance lol. I decide on the day what I want to make, depending on time, energy and what I am in the mood for. The more complicated things are usually made at the weekend, but it is also dependent on perishable date.
    I have a ‘meal planner’ notebook, so I don’t forget what recipe book I am using and what meals I have shopped for. It helps to make it more interesting if you are trying out new things too, even if it is just chili its good to follow a different recipe for it. I find leaving one night a week free covers either dinner out, a take out, or when you are so tired you really cant be bothered and grab something from the deep freeze lol.
    I hope that helps. I think if you can overcome the idea that it will be dull you can make it work. I also find you save money if you have a proper list. If you know the exact weight of the things you need there is no waste. Make sure you shop for accompaniments too though, for example you may list the ingredients for chili, but don’t forget the rice or nachos to go with it.
    V
    xxx

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  8. bonita Says:
    September 9th, 2011 at 1:50 am

    ~ * ♥ * ~

    I try to meal plan but even with that I am not very good at getting it right because I often can’t be bothered…. And what is it when the hungrier I get the more I put off cooking??? I don’t know, but I think I’ll try your 4:30pm trick Cedar. May be that’ll get my butt into gear! :D

    xox,
    bonita of Depict This!
    ~ * ♥ * ~

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  9. Michelle Says:
    September 9th, 2011 at 6:39 am

    I love meal planning and have been doing it since I got married…18 years ago! I flip through my cookbooks and my recipe binder (which is stuffed full of recipes I want to try), looking for dinners that strike my fancy, then I write two weeks worth on the family calendar. I like to flip back to the month before and see what I cooked, and I always try something new on a weekly basis. This has led to so many favorites, I am never in a rut of making the same dishes over and over!

    I don’t always follow the plan exactly. Some nights I just don’t feel like cooking what’s planned, but I can look at the other meals and pick something else. I keep on hand all the fixings for “throw down dinners” which aren’t on the calendar, but can be pulled together in about 15 minutes and meet with family approval.

    The one rule I stick with is if the new dinner I’ve made is so terrible my husband (who will eat anything) says he doesn’t want to eat it, we get burgers and fries to go….it doesn’t happen often, and I think my kids secretly wish for new meals to fail so we get a treat!

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  10. heidi Says:
    September 9th, 2011 at 10:56 am

    My fav way to get inspired for new din ideas is to type an ingredient I want to use/use up into http://foodgawker.com – even if I don’t end up following any of the recipes, it usually jogs something I’ve made before or encourages me to get creative.

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  11. Michelle Says:
    September 9th, 2011 at 6:01 pm

    I can never seem to plan more than three or four dinners at a time — after that, I’m out of ideas and not due to hit the grocery store (the ones close to the house are awful) for another few days, and things fall apart.

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  12. Amanda Says:
    September 10th, 2011 at 1:20 pm

    So maybe I am doing this backwards, but it is really successful for us.

    1.) Make Budget
    2.) Make a semi-list for the market i.e. soy milk, greens, fruits, onions
    3.) Go to the farmer’s market/grocer and see what kind of deals are going on
    4.) I then navigate my list and what’s in season/on sale
    5.) Stick to the budget! You might have to leave out some things
    6.) After coming home if I don’t have some ideas in my head I will hit the internet and blogs searching for ideas (using my in season ingredients) i.e. vegan butternut squash recipes

    P.S. Don’t get discouraged if you stray from the meal plan one night- go with your gut. You know what flavors you guys like and you can still be creative!

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