Tuesday, May 29, 2012

The Meal Deal

Here's the deal, I abhor cooking without a plan. A set of guidelines to keep me on track so I know what I'm doing. Okay, you got me. I just don't want to put that much effort into trying to fix something fabulous for dinner, and running to the store at the last minute because said recipe calls for some ingredient that is not a fixture in my pantry. NO!! It's not called laziness. It makes me cringe just to think about the stress and anxiety that go along with trying to come up with a meal at the last minute. MEAL PLANNING DAY!!!!!

It's been really busy around here. Springtime in the great state of Michigan. It's impossible to stay indoors and get anything done. I just want to go outside and play in the dirt. Really!! We've waited so long for this beautiful weather and now it's here. With an exclamation mark!!  Everything is growing so well and looks so lush and inviting. However, as we all know, if you leave something for too long, you end up with a mess on your hands and must use a lot of extra time to get back on track. Like my household duties. Things are a bit, shall we say, out of sorts. That's putting it mildly. My new laundry schedule was working itself out, the meals were planned, my desk was clean and most things were in their place. As in, "A place for everything and everything in it's place." Well, back to the drawing board. Shall we? Of course we shall. First things first: dinner menus.

Since it's already Tuesday, we just returned from camping yesterday, I've planned meals for the rest of this week from what we have on hand in the house, which was purchased last week. But for next week and the week after, a plan of action is in order. Doing this now will save so much time and frustration in the next two weeks. I will have everything on hand for all of my dinners for the next two weeks, minus any perishables that won't keep that long, and produce.

How to plan your meals:

Grab your grocery store ads and coupons for the week, from the Sunday newspaper, or get them online. Circle any deals that interest you. Pay special attention to see if you have coupons for any items that are on sale, try to cash in on the double coupon, plus the sale price, and possibly the special store coupons.

Use a menu planning sheet to write down meals for each day. Below is an example of the one that I have created for myself using Excel. (I am only posting a jpeg of it right now. Let me know if you'd like for me to post a file you can download.) Look at your calendar and write down any activities next to the corresponding days. Days that are really busy, plan an easy meal. Something that you can make ahead the night before, make ahead and put in the freezer, or even a meal you can put in the crock-pot in the morning.

Ask your family for ideas for meals, or even just a list of their favorite meals. We played a little "game" one night at dinner and just went around the table telling what our favorite meals and soups were. I kept a list of everything we came up with, and on those days that I seems to draw a blank as far as what to plan, I just take a look at that list (stored on my computer) and pick something fitting. I try to mix it up a bit so everyone gets their favorite meal sometime. This is also a good time to look at the grocery store ads and plan meals according to what is on sale for the week. If ground beef is on sale for the week, maybe make a meatloaf, or something that contains ground beef. You get the idea!!!

At this point I like to transfer my meals to a grocery list planner. This is a way to jot down all of the ingredients that you will need for each meal. I only write down the items that I don't have in the house and will need to purchase at the store, like ground beef for a meatloaf. Again, you got it!! Real Simple Magazine had a nice tear out page, that was a year, maybe two years ago. Anyways, here is a link to the Real Simple website in order to download the Weekday Meal Plan and Shopping List sheet that they have posted online. I recreated it for myself in Excel to include Sunday and Saturday

Add these items to your regular grocery list....and you are good to go shopping for two weeks of meals. Perishables that won't last until meal day, or produce can be purchased closer to the week you are going to use them. Shop for those items the weekend before, or at the beginning of the week you will need them. Plan ahead so you don't start cooking Sunday and find that you are missing items because you planned to go shopping on Monday. If so, purchase Sunday's items during the prior week's shopping trip.

Sooooo.....here's the weird part. I actually print out a menu for the week and post it to the side of the refrigerator. This frees more time by not having to answer the age-old question, "Mom, what are we having for dinner?", again and again, every day. My family knows where the menu is posted. It only takes a few times of them being instructed to "look at the menu" and your family will also catch on the location of answer to the aforementioned question. As I have not yet printed menus, we just got back yesterday, I will have to post an example later, but I change them often, so they are always different.

Okay, peeps!!! Guess what? Meals are planned for two weeks in advance, my mind is clear of that task. I just have to look at the menu to see what I'm cooking for the day, taking out any frozen items to thaw the night before. Easy. This frees up more time to for me spend outdoors and.......go play in the dirt!!!

A small side note to make my meal planning easier. Tuesday and Wednesday is soup night in our house. Fall, winter, and spring, always. During the summer, it depends, soup in 90 degree weather just doesn't sound good sometimes. Anyways.....I make soup on Tuesday night, but I make a really big pot. Wednesday night we have the leftovers. I always tell my family that soup is usually better the second day. That's one day that cooking is diminished, it's a good night to make a nice dessert or fresh bread to go with the soup. The other side note, Friday is pizza night. Busy Fridays we have Little Caesar's Pizza, it's hard to beat a $5 large pizza. Other Fridays we try our hand at making pizza different ways. Lots of fun. It also depends on the kids, if they aren't around for the evening, TM and I are more spontaneous with our meal. Have fun with it!!!

Now go forth and play in the dirt!!!

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