Friday, June 10, 2016

Menu Planning

Our weekly menu plan is kept on the refrigerator for easy reference.
Previously menu plans are stored in the recipe binder to aid in menu planning in the future
         Menu planning is an essential component of my homemaking. When the time comes for preparing a meal, I know what I'm going to make and have all ingredients available in our pantry. This act relieves me of a great deal of stress. It also helps maintain our family's finances by limiting unnecessary purchases from the store. Our goals for our meals are for them to be simple, healthy, budget-friendly, and space-friendly. Each weekend David and I consult various resources and collect our thoughts on meal options for the upcoming week. We've done it so many times, we've developed a few patterns in our planning and meal options, which makes the process somewhat simple!

Homemade beef stroganoff, peas and carrots
       I've tried pre-printed or electronic versions of menu plans, but wasn't satisfied with them. I found that they were less efficient by requiring more time to enter information and then limiting access to a device when needed. Instead, I prefer to use a basic menu planner sheet that I created. This page includes all the meal categories that are applicable for us and allows me plenty of writing space. I simply make two-sided copies of this sheet when needed. 

     We prefer to plan only one week at a time. A weekly plan allows the menu plan to accommodate changing preferences for foods/meals. It also preserves optimum ripeness and selection of produce. Since we have lived in small spaces, we've found it imperative to minimize the storage demand on our home. Although stocking up can be beneficial, we simply haven't had the space to store more than one week's groceries at a time. Finally, a weekly plan allows each of us an opportunity for us to each have some time alone while the other person shops.


Breakfasts List
      Breakfasts are pre-planned. I simply choose a set of breakfasts from my list. We rotate through all the options, and as a result never tire of the options. A list allows me to have one less decision to make first thing in the morning. It also helps me to plan ahead for the foods that need purchased. For example, if we have bagels a couple mornings in a week then I can place the remaining bagels in the bag in the freezer for use at another time. Presently, I choose the breakfast meals each morning. I often have it ready and waiting when the children come to the table. However, I do intend to allow the children to choose when they are more capable in the future. I will continue to plan seven breakfast options at the beginning of the week, but they will each be able to choose from those seven their desire for the day. I want them to have some choice in the matter, but still within a limit. (Full freedom of choice would not be appropriate and likely lead to pickiness. Mama's not a short order cook! haha). On Saturdays, David joins us and delights us with his delicious pancakes. We often have breakfast meats such as bacon and sausage at this time. (Having breakfast meats only once a week is also a way to save money, and allows it to be a special treat for when Daddy's home). On Sunday mornings, we typically need a meal that is quick to prepare and eat, and doesn't risk messing up clothing. We typically have a muffin or scone, hardboiled eggs, and fruit. It's a fun "snack" breakfast!


Homemade macaroni & cheese with mixed vegetables added.
 (Shh! The children have only had it this way and don't know
mac & cheese typically doesn't have vegetables! haha ;) )
     Lunches are nearly always leftovers. We cook extra portions at dinner, and then enjoy the meal a second time for lunch the following day. We began this when I was pregnant as I needed additional opportunities for additional nutrition. We then decided that it was helpful for a toddler who may or may not eat fantastically one meal or the next. He's offered more opportunities for nutrition by offering complete meals for lunch and dinner. Having the same meal twice also affords him the opportunity to try a food again. It takes repetition to develop a taste for a variety of flavors and textures. Leftover lunches has also been wonderfully beneficial for me to not have a meal to prepare mid-day! It's much less stressful to simply reheat a meal than create a new one! The main negative of doing lunches this way is that we are purchasing and preparing each dinner meal to serve 6-8 people. We feel that it's worth the extra expense and effort currently. 


Snack List
       Snacks are also pre-planned, like breakfasts. I find that I'm much more diligent in providing healthy, balanced snack options if they're pre-planned. Otherwise, it's tempting to grab more processed, packaged options. These are acceptable and fun on occasion, but not appropriate for a daily option. Like breakfasts, I intend to allow the children to choose from a handful of selections in the future. 

       Since breakfasts and lunches are pre-planned and lunches are leftovers, dinner is the main meal we need to plan each week. We aim to alternate meat and meatless meals for taste and cost purposes. We'll find new recipes or use favorites stored in our family recipe binders. We don't necessarily plan according to daily themes (ie. "Meatless Monday," "Taco Tuesday" etc) for weeknights. We do, however, use themes as a framework. For instance, we typically include a pasta meal and fish/seafood meal. Occasionally, I'll make a slow cooker meal or casserole. During the winter we'll have a soup each week. During the spring/summer, David enjoys cooking a meal outside on the grill. Friday nights and Sunday nights are the two only nights that we do tend to have set themes. Friday nights are always pizza night. We make our own homemade pizza as a fun way to end the week and welcome the weekend! On Sunday nights, we typically enjoy a variety of quesadillas and perhaps chips and salsa on the side. When something comes up or life is particularly busy at the time dinner needs prepared, we may veer from the plan and have a "backup meal." Back up meals may be a frozen dinner (stir fry, pot pie, chicken broccoli casserole etc). Although these serve the purpose, they're not used very often due to the expense and poor nutrition (whoa, sodium!). Occasionally, I will have made extra portions of a dinner and freeze the second one for back-up meal option. (We frequently eat these when David has to travel for work so that my cooking and cleaning workload is lightened). Canned soup is also another option, especially preferable to have on hand during times of illness. Jars of pasta sauce and dry pasta store well in the pantry and are quick and easy to serve. When all else fails, there's breakfast for dinner or carry-out!

Enjoying snack time together!
      Having a menu plan to consult and work from each week is a tremendous aid in lessening stress on me personally and on our finances. I don't want to waste my time and energy determining a meal to cook each day and then making multiple trips to the store for ingredients. I much prefer to have methods that will provide myself and our family greater simplicity and peacefulness. A plan is a wonderful means of achieving that goal!

Update:
     I neglected to mention feeding babies. This matter could probably comprise an entire post on it's own! Our general rule is that the children are expected to eat with the family. We do not offer "kid foods" or separate food/meal options. Consequently, the children have learned to eat a large variety of foods!

Other Posts In This Series:
-Bookshelf Pantry
-Recipe Organization
-Grocery Shopping

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