Monday, April 4, 2011

Menu-Plan Monday

One of the best ways I have found to stay organized as a homeschooling mom is to menu-plan. I cannot live without my menu plan. All sorts of bad things happen when I don't menu plan. I have found that we eat out more often, we eat fast food (blech!) more often, my kitchen stays messy and I am generally grumpier when I don't menu plan. It's true!
I think the reason why menu-planning affects my mood the way it does is that making healthy, yummy meals for my family is an extreme passion of mine. You might say I am a bit obsessed with it. I get highly irritated when I can't get some time in my kitchen. I love cooking from scratch. I love coming up with new recipes and finding ways to stretch our budget in the kitchen. I love knowing that the work I do in my kitchen is one major way I can show my family that I love them.
But, I am not one of those fly-by-the-seat-of-my-pants type of girls. I HAVE to have a plan. I cannot look into my fridge at 5 p.m. and wonder what is for dinner. That is a recipe for disaster in our household. I need the comfort of knowing I have everything I need rather than realizing at the last minute I am missing a vital ingredient and trying to get 4 kids out the door and to the store and still have time to get everything ready. I do try to have a few back-up meals that I can whip up on the fly for those days when things get crazy-hectic and my schedule falls apart, but for the most part I like to stick to my menu-plan.
I also have found that I save more money at the grocery store this way. Plus, it just gives me piece of mind knowing in advance what we are going to have. I can plan for leftovers on our busy evenings where we won't be at home for long. I know when to take out meat for thawing. I can throw stuff in the crock pot in the morning on days we are extra busy and I know that my family will have a nutritious, yummy meal ready for dinnertime.
I will let you in on a little secret. My grocery budget for our family of 6 is $100 per week. This budget includes all types of toiletry items as well as all food items. With the rising costs of foods, this budget can be a bit difficult at times, but I am grateful for it because it also requires me to be creative in the kitchen.
So how DO I plan my menu? I have a process that I go through every Sunday to plan my meals for the upcoming week. I plan for three meals a day, plus sometimes snacks/treats, for Monday through Sunday. Some like to plan by the month and just rotate many of the same meals on a monthly basis. While I like this idea in theory, I have found it hard to implement because I like to take advantage of weekly deals to make my meals for the week. So here are the steps I use, which can be adapted to suit anyone-there is no one right way to menu plan:
  1. Rick brings home the local Sunday paper each week. I sort through all the ads, making notes of things we need and ideas for meals planned around the good deals. Most supermarkets have what are called "loss-leaders" which are items that are deeply discounted, that they are taking a loss on, in order to get you into the store. I have done this long enough that I know what the best prices are, when things are likely to go on sale, and how much I am willing to pay for certain items. I also clip coupons and like to pair coupons with sales to get a good price on certain items. I am not an extreme couponer because a lot of the things I buy (mostly perishables) you can rarely find a coupon for.
  2. After I have made a tentative list, I will then go to my recipe books, box, or my favorite online resources and round out my meal list. If I am using a recipe book (which I rarely do anymore) I will make note of the book I found the recipe in and the page the recipe is on so I can find it quickly. If I am getting recipes on-line, I will write them on a 3 x 5 index card. All of the recipes for the week will be brought to the front of my recipe box so I can find them very quickly. If I try a new recipe and we like it, I add it to the box permanently.
  3. Then I expand my grocery list based on my recipes. I check my refrigerator, freezer and pantry to be sure I have the items I need for a particular recipe and whatever is missing then gets added to the list. This helps me avoid buying things that I already have in the pantry and helps me stay organized. Plus it ensures my fridge and pantry get cleaned out once a week-BONUS!
  4. I get out my calendar and pencil in what I want to make for breakfast, lunch and dinner every day that week. It helps me to use my calendar because I can see at a glance days that will be particularly busy or evenings where we have something planned and I might not need to make anything that night.
  5. Then I go shopping on Monday. Rick is home on Mondays and we like to shop together, or sometimes he goes for me-what a relief! Have you ever tried to drag 4 kids in and out of several stores in one day-it's not a pretty sight! I do shop at multiple stores to get the best deals on particular items. If you don't have the time or desire to do this I suggest shopping at Aldi if you have one in your area, as they tend to have the lowest prices on just about everything. Wal-mart is not my favorite store but they do price match and we have one very close to our house, so if I am in a hurry and don't have time to run all over town to the different stores, I will just take the ads into Wal-mart and get the same price. If you do this, make sure to clearly mark what you want and read the fine print carefully for sizes of items. This will help you get through the line faster and is courteous to those who may be behind you in line. I also like to shop at Meijer, Payless and Marsh as well because they double coupons.

And that's about it. I post my menu calendar on my fridge and check it every morning and evening so I can see what is coming up next. It's not a perfect system and I don't always stick to it but it helps keep me sane.

I don't know about you, but dinner-time in our house is chaotic. Daddy is coming home, we are picking up and finishing up schoolwork, and I am trying to get dinner on the table for 6 hungry mouths, one of whom is usually a VERY vocal baby! So anything I can do to help myself accomplish this more efficiently is great for me. I can chop veggies for a salad while the baby is napping, throw oatmeal in the crockpot the night before so breakfast is ready in the morning, assemble the ingredients of a casserole in the morning before the kids get up and pop it in the oven before Rick gets home. It's what works for us!

This week's Menu Plan:

  • Monday: B ~ bagels; L ~ peanut butter and honey sandwiches, cottage cheese, celery; D ~ dinner out
  • Tuesday: B ~ crock pot oatmeal; L ~ ham and cheese quesadillas, fruit; D ~ pork roast, sweet potato casserole, green beans
  • Wednesday: B ~ cereal; L ~ peanut butter and banana sandwiches, carrots & dip, fruit; D ~ spaghetti & meatballs, salad, homemade garlic bread
  • Thursday: B ~ breakfast cookies; L ~ ramen noodles, fruit; D ~ leftovers
  • Friday: B ~ homemade granola & yogurt; L ~ PB&J, cottage cheese, banana/mango/blueberry smoothies with homemade kefir; D ~ beer-battered fish, baked potatoes, steamed broccoli, beer bread
  • Saturday: B ~ cereal; L ~ black bean, corn and cheese quesadillas, fruit; D ~ linguini with clam sauce
  • Sunday: B ~ muffins/bagels; L ~ lunch out (we usually eat out after church but not always-if we come home we usually just munch on whatever we can grab or leftovers from the week); D ~ leftovers

What about you? Do you menu plan? How do you do it?


Chris and Alyssa said...

how difficult is it to make the homemade kefir? We go through 2 bottles a week with the three kiddos, and they are $4 a bottle. :)

Lisa said...

Oh my, it is SO easy Alyssa!!! I prefer the kefir grains because then you never have to replace them-they keep reproducing and eventually you will have so many you will have to give them away (or you can eat them plain, but I haven't tried that). Anyway, you just put the grains in milk and let them set on the counter for about 24 hours and voila! homemade kefir. It depends on how many grains you have, how much you can culture at once. But I had been making a batch of about 8 ounces a day. Once it's cultured, you just strain it, collect the grains and start again. Mine are sitting in the fridge right now because I was making so much. Putting them in the fridge in a little milk prevents them from culturing. It takes a couple days after they have been in the fridge to get them performing up to par again, but they do come back. Now, do you buy the flavored varieties? Because this is NOTHING like that-it's basically like a cross between plain yougurt and sour cream. My kids will eat it plain but usually I mix it into things. I haven't developed a real taste for it where I can just drink it but a lot of people do. I have to mix it with other things to make it more palatable.

chanamiata said...

I would love to shop on Mondays. I always feel like whatever I buy on Fridays is almost gone by Monday, lol- so I have to hide things. Although I also like to shop at the Amish market (all naturally grown meat and stuff) and it's only open Thursday- Saturday. Like you, I have to plan meals because there are 6 of us and I'll spend way too much money if I don't. Nice that Rick is so helpful!

chanamiata said...

BTW- can I come over for Dinner on Friday? I know I'm a little far away- perhaps if I left after breakfast I'd make it there by diner? Lol.

Lisa said...

Chana-come on over!!! We would love to have you all come visit us! Maybe someday!

We also do some of our shopping unconventionally at local farms and farmer's markets (can't wait for that to open!), and also through our local co-op. Plus hopefully this summer my fresh produce will be coming straight from my garden! I didn't include that part!