Getting a meal on the table has never been very easy for me. When I worked in BC time (Before Children), my husband did most of the cooking and did a fine job. Frequently, we cooked together and then I always did clean-up. That was the deal and it worked for us at the time.
Then while I was on maternity leave, I started cooking dinner on a regular basis and oftentimes, by myself since I would cook and we would eat as soon as he got home from work. I would spend too much time throughout the day trying to figure out what I was going to make for dinner. Most of it would be just think time, but still it consumed a lot of my time. I would decide what to make and then rummage through the refrigerator and pantry only to find I was missing an ingredient. So then I would put the missing ingredient(s) on the grocery list. By the time, I got around to buying the ingredient(s), I had either a) forgotten what recipe I bought them for b) was now missing other ingredient(s) c) couldn’t remember what cookbook the recipe was in or d) all of the above.
So over time, my menu planning has developed somewhat out of necesity. I could spend snipets of time thinking about what’s for dinner tonight throughout the day and everything would be fine. I can think about this and play Go Fish at the same time, but I have no written plan. So I could forget my plan before I could even check to see if my plan could work. I’m forgetful. So menu planning is a coping skill. So with a little planning dinner gets on the table much easier. I try to plan our meals a week in advance and based on what’s on sale.
I have tried several different menu formats. Everything from a hanging calendar on the wall or frig to spreadsheets. I tried weekly formats and monthly formats. I even cooked one day for most of the day to prepare all the week’s meals. It was like eating leftovers everyday. Since I’m not a fan of leftovers, this didn’t really work out for us. And I really didn’t save any time. In fact, it might have taken me longer. I tried adding them to a daily planner along with everything else, but having them squished in with the rest of my doings for the week didn’t work out.
So I found a specific day planner with a large space at the top for dinner. It has smaller sections for the other meals that I might only make one thing for, such as waffles for breakfast. The intended use for this particular calendar was for keeping track of multiple people. It has a column on the side to write the names of the people. This works better for me than any other format so far. I have several sections, dinner, breakfast, lunch, snacks, desserts, and potlucks. I know some people may not have a need for a potluck section, but I generally have two potlucks to prepare for every week. So they get their own section. It also has tear out sheets in the back for grocery lists and to do lists.
So I collect ideas and recipes here and there then I sit down with my computer and my menu planner. I usually do this on a Sunday afternoon. I check out the sales and plan what we eat. Sometimes it might not be for that week but later in the month. Some of the sale items, especially meat, can be frozen and used later.
Lately, I’ve been trying some recipes from Once a Month Mom. I haven’t tried very many of their recipes, but so far they’ve all been good. My goal is to use one of their frozen meals about once a week to lighten my cooking, but not feel like we’re eating leftovers. The Once a Month Mom meals are freezer meals and don’t make you feel like you’re eating leftovers at all. Huge time saver. They have several menu plans to choose from. I tend to lean towards the traditional meals, but they have some specialties like gluten free. They even have spreadsheets that you can adjust for the amount of servings you would like. So you don’t have to do the math.
So as I get better at the whole menu planning, I’ve found that I’m planning further ahead, yet my menus are still usable. Since it’s in writing, I don’t forget and I can always look back to see when we last had a particular meal to make sure we have variety. We use more of our leftovers because I plan to use them in later meals more often. We’re also spending less by not making unplanned trips to the grocery store. You know you’re always going to buy more than just the one item you made the special trip there for. And I don’t go to the grocery store as often, which saves on gas. When you have a plan for what you’re going to eat, you’ll eat out less too.
Do you menu plan? What’s your strategy when doing so?