Aug 9, 2014

Menu Planning (Version 1)

OK... I have a couple of different ways I do our menu planning. And oh yes!... I DO do menu planning.

(*snort*... I said do-do)
Sorry, I will stop being 6 years old now.

I started the original version years ago and slowly evolved it to something simple to set up and maintain. I was so tired of seeing food go to waste. I would literally be throwing dollars down the drain and bags of cash into the garbage bin. And somehow still, I would manage to stand in front of the fridge in the evenings and utter that same old phrase... 'there's nothing to eat'!

Before summer began I knew I had to make a revision to my menu planning. Not that it wasn't working. It was. But in the spirit of letting my kids pick their activities, I thought I would involve them in picking out how the menu would look for each week.

Before anyone has a full on melt down about giving kids the freedom to choose mac 'n cheese for dinner every night... please read on :)

Today I am showing the revised version - my summer version of menu planning.

Step 1: Ye Good Ol' Paper & Pencil!

For this stage I only focus on what's for dinner. I know I have to make dinner 7 times a week (although Saturday and Sunday meals are interchangeable with lunchtime too... more to come on that later). So I list 7 main ideas I can use for dinner. In case you cannot read the chicken scratch above, our main choices are:
 - Chicken
 - Chicken Salads
 - Ground Meat (usually turkey)
 - Beef
 - Fish
 - Vegetarian
 - Light Dinner
After that is decided I then think about what my week looks like and start allocating a day to each main item. For example: I know that on Tuesdays and Thursdays our days are packed so I chose ground turkey for Tuesdays because I know I can make it in the morning and have it ready for dinner later and Thursdays is a light dinner. Round this household, that means we make some whole wheat toast and bring out an array of healthy 'toppings', like sliced cucumbers and tomatoes, olives, hard boiled eggs, cottage cheese, fresh mozzarella cheese, etc. It gives us a break from heavy foods (and mama a break from cooking!) and helps us eat light.

Step 2: Ideas!

Now that we have what we want to eat and when we want to eat it, the next part is the fun part!
The first thing to decide is how long you want this menu to last.
I knew that summer was about 10 weeks and I also knew I would have zero time to menu plan when the kids were home with me, so I decided to go ahead and make a 10 week menu plan.
This plan works for 2 weeks or 20 weeks. It's so simple!

I began with listing my menu item for each day. So I would put down 'Fish' as my header with 10 lines under it (one line per week for my 10 week plan). Then I came up with 10 ideas using fish that I knew my family would enjoy. Sometimes I stick to the favorites, but now and then I will throw in something new to try. Same with each of the other daily ideas. That way if I screw up royally on a dish I can say, 'Oh well, at least next week it's back to fish sticks!'... lol

Once that is done I made a little sketch of the week and added a column for lunches (grr... no need to pack lunches during summer break but those mouths still need to be fed come noon!)

As you can see above, I keep Saturday and Sunday 'dinners' interchangeable with lunches on those days. We are sometimes out in the evening with the kids or my son's basketball game ends just at noon and we feel like grabbing lunch out.  I also have a 'Pantry Raid' (I said PANTRY!!) on the weekends. That's when the soups come out, or cereal, or frozen food, or sandwiches, or leftovers... get the idea? Mama doesn't want to cook, so help yo'selves!

Step 3: Bring It Together

I found some left over pink poster board, trimmed the side and made my little sketch above come to life on it. And by 'life' I mean I Sharpie'd it on! ;) I knew I would be using business card sized cards for the menu items, so I sized the spaces accordingly.

Then this baby went up on the side of the fridge. I made little pockets (cause I was too lazy to go out and find tiny envelopes) with some yellow card stock and stuck them next to the menu plan. These little pockets hold the business cards. The business cards each have the ideas I wrote down earlier for each meal item. I printed them out on the cards. Cause. I. Am. Anal. Like. That.

Step 4: Ready To Use!

That's It! The menu plan is ready!
Every Saturday or Sunday my husband and the kids reach into an envelope and pull out something they want to eat that week. Then use some tape to stick it on to the matching space on the board.

Once they have put their choices up I go through and add a veggie to go with that dish (the green sticky notes) and if needed some kind of carb to go with the dish as well (the orange sticky notes). That way I know it is a complete meal. 

(The blue sticky notes are for the days we have basketball practice and the pink is for my daughter's gymnastics class. The yellow sticky notes on the right side are quick breakfast ideas for the week.)

This menu plan has made life so much easier and saved us so much money. No more 'what's for dinner?' whining at 7pm and no more throwing out veggies and meat that looked so good in the store and you just knew you would end up making something delicious with them but never actually got around to finding it because it was buried under the old broccoli in the drawer (true story!... hahaha). Now, everything I buy... I USE! Shopping is super easy too since I just go off of what's on the menu for that week.
I bring out my recipe book if I need to look up a list of ingredients for a dish so that I am not guessing on the same day what I need.

**The beauty of this system is that they feel like they are in charge of the menu, but in reality I have already chosen the item I feel like making. In my case, I kept summer quick and easy without too many new recipes and hours of cooking**

 --I have since revised this version with changes to lunch ideas and more healthy choices--
 --I will post those changes soon--

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