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Monday, December 2, 2013

Tip Tuesday--Menu Planning

This week we have a guest blogger.  J will take you through some of the how to's of menu planning and how she got started.

Please welcome guest blogger J... 


When C & I were first married, I relished the fun of cooking dinner for my husband and using all our new kitchen gadgets and accessories.  In fact, one might even say I was excited about it! 

And then we realized, hey, we’re DINK's – dual income no kids – and can afford to EAT OUT!  Suddenly that brand new can opener and spatula weren't quite as exciting as they used to be.

Then we moved to St Louis so C could start seminary; still no kids, but no longer two incomes.  Cooking at home became our reality once again.

About a year into life at the seminary, I realized that our meals were getting kind of boring.  A lot of repetition and standing in front of the pantry at the end of the day with not a clue what to make.

Then Christmas came and we were gifted with something that changed my life in the kitchen forever.  What was it you ask?  A new gadget?  A cookbook?  A shiny new appliance?  I’ll tell ya…

A twelve month calendar.

Wait, what?!?

Yes, a calendar.  It was with that calendar that I started planning our menus.  My wonderful mother-in-law – who was once described to me by my husband as the woman who makes her own Bisquick! (no pressure, right?) – had been planning meals for some time for her family but I thought for just C & I it wasn't really necessary.  But as I stood in the pantry wanting to make a dish without all the ingredients on hand on a nightly basis I decided to give it a whirl.

I took her advice and tried to switch up the proteins to ensure variety.  Beef, chicken, and sausage mainly.  I threw in a meatless dish every now and then for my frugally-minded hubby.

I would sit down with the calendar on a Saturday morning, grocery circular in hand, and plan for two weeks at a time.  Then I would write out my grocery list and head to the store, ensuring I would have everything on hand I would need to make my dinners.  This process helped me in a number of ways.  VBS if you will (can you tell I’m a Lutheran pastor’s wife?):

  •   Variety – no more “meatloaf again?”  Having the calendar, I could look back and see when we last had something.  Or, if we tried something new but had forgotten about it, I could throw it back into the mix.
  •  Budget – I could spread out expensive meals – steaks for example – so that I wouldn't be blowing my budget regularly.
  • Sanity – I could look at my calendar – which I strategically hung on the inside of my pantry door – in the morning before leaving for work so I could know what was ahead of me when I got home.  No more standing in the pantry with a confused look.  And if something needed to sit out to thaw, or be thrown in the crock pot, I could do that before leaving for the day.


To give you an example, here’s what my calendar looks like for this month so far:
 See?  Easy and painless.  I now only plan for a week at a time since becoming a stay at home mom; weekly grocery store trips are one of our favorite activities.

c has discovered the joy of the “cart car” or “car cart” as we like to call it.  Just don’t be in a hurry to get the shopping done if he’s with you; he likes to hop out often and must circle the cart and make sure all the tires are properly aligned before getting back in.  The frustration that results dissipates quickly though as he turns the wheel and honks at other shoppers as we pass then.  He’s a goof.


Ok, back to the calendar.  Let’s take a closer look:

Last week, C had a meeting on Monday night so he wasn't going to be home for dinner.  So I switched 
Monday and Thursday opting for an easy meal of hot dogs for c & I.  Between stew, king ranch chicken and tortilla soup, I knew we would have plenty of leftovers so that went down for Wednesday.  C likes his pizza, so that usually finds its way onto the menu for Friday – a day he has decided is pizza worthy.

Now, no one is perfect.  Let’s look at last May:
No need to zoom in on this one, you get the idea.  Obviously, there wasn't much planning going on at this time.  e had just joined our family (4/27) and we were graciously brought several meals by friends. Then we had graduation and celebrations associated with that.  Then our anniversary and I’m sorry, I’m just not going to plan to cook on that day. J  Point being: it’s ok to fall off the wagon.

One added benefit to this is if you keep your calendars long enough you can eat the same meal on August 12th several years in a row just because you can. 
But really, it can produce a nice jog down memory lane.  When c was starting to eat real foods as a baby, I added his menu to our calendar as he tried new things.  That calendar is a nice little reminder of how he entered into the world of solid foods.  (Could be handy to reference for e now, if only I could find the box it’s in…)

So, give yourself a leg up on menu planning and put that calendar your company is bound to give you this holiday season to work!

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