Sometimes life just seems so busy and hard! Lately I have been really trying to come up with a system to make a few of my motherly responsibilities a little more pleasant and organized. I don’t know very many people who enjoy thinking of what to make for dinner each day. If you are one of those rare people, please share your secret with the rest of us!!! I had the hardest time even making dinner because I just didn’t know what to make. Consequently, our family was eating the same things all the time, or we would just snack on whatever was available. I am a firm believer in family mealtime, so I was not happy about the effect my poor meal planning was having on my family. In my quest for a resolution to this meal planning issue, I came up with a system that has been working pretty well so far.
For starters, I decided that I wanted to increase my repertoire as Master Chef of the Household. I decided that I would make one new meal each week. Trying new recipes has been a bit of a disaster in the past, so I was a little nervous at first. This time the hand of providence must have intervened because I had a series of five or six successful new meals! I gradually became more excited about cooking since I was cooking things that my family liked and that I felt good about! From here, I decided that if my enthusiasm was going to live on, I needed to get organized about meal planning.
First of all, I decided that I really needed to sit down once a month and just get it over with! I decided to sit down and not get up until I had come up with a months worth of meals. This was excruciating torture at first! And I wanted each meal to be unique for the month. Even more torturous! But finally I did it; I succeeded in creating a monthly meal menu and my life has been easier since. (If you don’t want to come up with all the ideas on your own, ask each family member to contribute one or two of their favorite meals to the calendar for the month. Perhaps that family member could also be responsible for helping prepare that meal.)
I started out just listing all of the foods that we typically have for dinner. Occasionally I’ll remember one that I forgot, so I find my list and add it for the next month’s meal planning session. After I had come up with a good list of meals, I began looking through my library of cookbooks for more new meals to experiment with throughout the month.
By this point I had a pretty good list of meal ideas, a task I had previously deemed impossible. I’ve heard from various sources that an effective way to do meal planning is to assign a particular genre to each day of the week. For example, I decided that we would have meat on Sunday and Thursday. (I’m not a big meat person, so twice a week is plenty for me.) Chicken on Sunday and beef or pork on Thursday. I chose these two days for the meat meals because these are the days when I have the most time and we’re all home together for dinner. I assigned potatoes to Monday, so each Monday we’ll have potatoes in some form. Tuesday is breakfast for dinner night. Wednesday is scraps, which is our term for leftovers. I really don’t see the sense in cooking every night. After a few days of meals, we’ll have plenty of leftovers to feed everyone. Again, Thursday is meat, Friday is Italian, Saturday is Mexican. All I had left to do at this point was decide on four chicken dinners, four potato dinners, four breakfast dinners, etc. The hard part was over!
This next step was to make grocery shopping easier. I have a collection of all of my most often used recipes in a 3-ring notebook. I print them up on the computer and put them in plastic sheet protectors to keep the pages from getting dripped and slopped on while cooking. Laminating the pages would also protect them. I found that flipping through my recipe book prior to my weekly grocery shopping adventure to make sure we would have all the ingredients for each meal was a little cumbersome, so I rewrote all my most popular recipes on 3×5 cards, just the ingredients and not the instructions. If your recipes are already on note cards, this process will be easier. Each week I gather the recipes that I will be using and stick them on the refrigerator in a magnet clip. When it comes time to make my grocery list, all my recipes are together and I can quickly and easily make up my list!
This process has really helped me feel more organized and prepared to cook dinner each night. Because I already know what we’re having that night, I can take frozen ingredients out of the freezer and make other preparations that will make the actual cooking of the meal go more smoothly. This method of meal planning has also ensured that my family eats well each night. We’ve been eating a more balanced diet with more variety of foods. If you have other ideas that have helped you in meal planning for your family or comments in general, please share them!
Happy meal planning!