Because I know absolutely nothing about lots of stuff...
Because a bloggie friend asked and then another, and then we got to talking about it...
Because it's Wednesday, and I'm wearing my yoga pants... again...
Because it's 76 degrees in the desert right now and folks are wearing leather and fur...
Because eating around the table as a whole family is really that important...
Today's topic is meal planning.
Meal planning used to be something I despised. To be honest, meal planning is still not by best friend. Or even a good acquaintance. But after many years and many trials and errors, if meal planning and I saw each other at a dinner party, we could make casual conversation and get along. Maybe even laugh a bit. In the history of my being a homemaker and mama, I've come a long way in my relationship with meal planning.
So I thought I'd share with you how it's done in Casa de Crazy.
1) I meal plan approximately once per week. The key word here is approximately. First, I know many mamas that do it on a very regular schedule (like every Monday, every other Wednesday, the first week of the month...) but being on a more flexible schedule works better for me. More on that later. Secondly, I plan and shop weekly. Again, many mamas plan for 2 weeks at a time, or even monthly. But I prefer to do it approximately every week as I usually need to go to the market anyway that often anyway to keep milk and fresh fruits and veggies on hand. So I figure I might as well plan the meals anyway since I'll already be at the store. And the thought of planning for longer, especially for a month, makes my head feel like it's going to implode.
2) I keep a running list for the market at all times. I have a little place in my kitchen that all my lists go and the grocery list is there, getting added to all week as we run out of staples. So by the time I start my meal planning the list already has quite a few things on it. The list is always organized, breads on the bottom left, produce on bottom right, home-goods top left, meats in the middle right column, dairy on the top right... you get the gist. It just makes shopping so much faster and easier.
3) Meal planning starts with my recipe book, my computer, and my list. Unlike meal planning, my recipe book is my BFF, it is one of a handful of things in my kitchen that I simply can not live without. I'm lucky to have 3 big box grocery stores pretty close to my home. I pull up the weekly sales online, and pick the store that has milk (or sometimes protein) on sale that week. With my recipe book, I find 5-6 main courses (for either dinner or a hearty lunch) that could be made with sale items. I write these 6 dishes on the back of my list. To come up with the idea of the 6 dishes, sometimes something in my book looks good. Sometimes the sale makes me think of something. Or maybe I use coupons to help me decide. Sometimes the kiddos request something special. Or sometimes I have something on hand I need to use. (Last week I had an over abundance of potatoes. Not sure why or how, but needed to use about 20+ lbs of potatoes so they wouldn't go bad. So meal idea started with the mind set of "what can I use potatoes in?" Potato soup and baked potatoes were two of the main dishes we had last week) But 6 is the best number for our family to last a week. 1-2 of these meals are usually crock pot meals. 1 of these is usually a hearty soup. 1 of these is usually for the grill. 1-2 of these are usually something I can put on the stove and folks can eat it whenever (like chili or stew) in case we have a busy night with kiddos going in and out and we don't have an opportunity for a sit-down family meal. Sometimes some of these 6 meals are used for family lunches on the weekend. Lastly to my list, I add the ingredients that I don't have on hand to make the 6 main dishes.
4) To the list I also add side dishes for those meals, and several things I get weekly, such as milk, fruits and vegetables, salad fixin's... To be honest, there are many things I don't add to the list because I get them automatically. These include, milk, eggs, yogurt, fresh fruits that are in season and/or on sale, salad fixin's, a couple loaves of bread, bagels (part of Tess's requirement for her food issues or I wouldn't normally get them because they're too expensive to get regularly) I also add staples for our regular breakfasts. We have a list of 8-ish breakfast meals, and I keep all those things on hand at all times. I also add what I need for the staples of packing lunches.
5) Then Mimi and I are off to the store. We only go shopping on weekdays in the morning. (On a side note-I've always had the rule that toddler feet don't touch the floor in the grocery store. They stay in the cart... period. Call me a meanie but I gotta get out of there with minimal destruction. When I had Tess and Jude with me, Tess went into the Ergo through age 4, and Jude was in the cart.) The organized list makes it so we do less back tracking, and I get in and out of the store in an hour. I scan the sales as we shop and pickup on anything that I keep on stock even if it isn't on the list, (canned soups, canned vegetables, cereal, meats, tuna fish, crackers...) The grocery bill is usually less than $100.
6) On Wednesdays, I add one more store, Sprouts, which is our local whole-ish foods store. They offer the sale prices from both the week before and the week coming on Wednesdays so there are more sales. Here I get our bulk foods that I keep in stock (granola, almonds, trail mix, whole oats, steel cuts oat, flax seed...) and more fresh fruits and vegetables. The total us somewhere around $20. When I get home the grocery list is then turned over to the side that has the 6 meals listed on it and posted in the kitchen so I don't forget what they are. That kinda thing happens when one has 7 children, or even 1.
7) I never pass up an opportunity to double any meal that I'm cooking, and freeze half for a later date. This includes spaghetti sauce, casseroles, many soups, chicken pot pie...
8) Everyday by noon, I made sure that I have done two things. First, figure out what is for dinner (which is easy since I have a list of 5-6 possibilities will all the necessary ingredients. And secondly, figure out what is for dinner the next night and pull anything out of the freezer to go in the refrigerator that might need to be thawed. Now that next meal might not be made tomorrow. With 9 of us in the house, meals can be unpredictable. Baseball practice, appointments, Boy Scout meetings, and the such can derail what I was had planned for dinner. But by planning what meal is "next" I always have something ready to go for the next few days. And I have to start thinking about it and make the plan by lunch time. If I wait till later in the afternoon, I'm far to late to get anything prepared by dinner time.
These 5-6 planned meals (for all dinners and lunches on Sat. and Sun.) will surely get supplemented with a couple pull-it-out-of-the-freezer meals, a left-over night, pizza night, and/or probably going out to eat with the family once. So these 5-6 meals last about a week, give or take a few days.
I start making the next meal plan when there is only 1 meal left on the list.
Like I said, meal planning isn't my fave. But I know that if I don't stay on top of it, there will be stress, higher grocery bills, too much takeout and eating out, and not as good food. And I know that this is just the way it works for me. There are lots of other good ways to do it. Would you comment and tell us what works for you?
42 minutes ago