Happy New Year!
Haven't posted in awhile, but don't think that means I haven't been busy. I've done so much stuff--some of it I photographed, some I did not, but just haven't had the time to upload.
Also, I am aware that the name of my blog is missing from the top. I am working on a new graphic for you to enjoy!
My goal for the month of January is to get organized--with 31 little (and I mean LITTLE) projects that I can do daily, and share with you, to get my life a little more organized.
Today's project is actually something that I have done for awhile, but never formally created a document to help me organize our menus for the week and the grocery shopping that goes along with it.
There are many benefits to planning a weekly menu. Most importantly, if you have planned a menu and have ingredients on hand for those meals, there is no last-minute trip to the store or wondering "what's for dinner?"
I plan meals for each of the 5 weeknights, plus any event I know is going to happen (like cookie or cake baking, or knowing that we will be needing a weekend picnic lunch when we go see our horses) and that's it. Inevitably something happens on one of the weeknights when I don't cook, and that is the meal I push to the weekend and we usually go out on a weekend night. I like to jot down a few things for lunch, although it's usually leftovers. I also make the Bambino's baby food. Usually I just make him whatever veggie is extra from one of our meals (like if I buy a bag of baby carrots for a salad I usually steam some for him), but I also write down a new "recipe" for him to try each week so he gets a variety of tastes. Finally, I love to cook brunch on the weekends, so I make sure I have eggs and the like on hand to do that, too.
Speaking of brunch, another thing I should do (and this is for convenience and money savings) is bake some muffins or something else portable to have for Cowboy to take for his breakfasts. Those Panera bills really add up!
When planning our weekly meals, I sit down with a small pile of recipe books or magazines (I have a subscription to Cooking Light, which I love). With a blank sheet of paper in hand, I write a letter for each day of the week in a column and write down the recipe I have chosen for each night, along with the reference to the recipe book and page number. One of my quirks is that I use the letter "R" to represent Thursday. I don't know where I saw that, it's just what I do :-). As I identify recipes I plan to use, I also write down all the ingredients in a categorized list below. This helps me get through the grocery store as quickly as possible without having to do too much backtracking, though it is usually inevitable.
I created a Word document to help me do this more effectively. You can view the googledoc version here. My plan is to save these sheets that I create in a notebook, so that I can later grab a sheet at the beginning of a different week (maybe a month or so later) and my menu and grocery list has already been "created." My personal problem with this plan is that I like to try new things all the time, so I am not sure I will ALWAYS grab an old weekly menu, but it is a great plan to have saved them so that in a pinch, you can save oodles of time in a busy week.
I have heard of sytems where you have a repeat timeline: one I have seen is where you actually plan 2 weeks worth of menus at once then repeat them 2 weeks later to end out your month. This means you only menu plan 12 times a year! Another system I have heard of is having 8 weekly menus that you rotate all year. Plan only 8 times a year! I also know people who have 10 standard meals that they just cook over and over again and that's about it. This is especially great for people to love to clip coupons (which I wish I was better at), because they know what they will use and always need. Admittedly, my system is not so great for cuponing. I always buy what I need rather than making from what I have. Also, my personal cook philosophy leans toward about 90% of "whole foods," that is, items that are very minimally processed. I have found that coupons are usually for processed foods like Velveeta and the like (not that I don't enjoy a good Velveeta-infused Mac N Cheese every now and then). My personal grocery list is majority produce.
In a perfect world, I will save all 52 weeks this year and then have a whole year's worth of menus to use next year! There is actually a book that does this for you, called Saving Dinner. Here is the link to it on Barnes and Noble. This is the book that encouraged me to plan weekly menus and lists. It is a great resource to have, for sure. They are all healthy menus and are a great starting point for anyone who is interested in getting into cooking for your family. I used it for about a year, then started planning on my own.
I have read other blogs about menu planning, and think that many of them are great ideas, but I know that this plan works best for me personally. My advice to you is try out a system. If it doesn't work for you, try out a different one, or adapt it to fit your personal preference.
Have fun finding new things to cook and getting in and out of the store in record time!
I don't feel like I have elaborated enough on exactly how I use my system or what other options are available. If you have any questions or need clarification, ask in the comments section and I will respond.