I’m linking up with House Unseen today…13 photos from 2013…HAPPY NEW YEAR!
I have wanted to write about menu planning for awhile, but have mixed feelings about it. On the one hand, it seems sort of silly. I have friends who make fun of my weekly “menu” on my dry erase board. I am sure that many people are saying, “Well…how nice that you have time to sit down with a cup of coffee and PLAN what you are going to serve each night for dinner.” And still others who are thinking, “Why are you wasting our time telling us things that are basic, common sense?” So I have hesitated to write this post. But…if you talk to people about making dinner or you pick up any “women’s” magazine (I realize that there are many men who handle the “making of the dinner” task) or you read parenting blogs…you quickly realize that almost everyone seems to struggle with the constant, never ending challenge of figuring out what to make for dinner. There is something about the relentlessness of it (is “relentlessness” even a word??). There is no “season” of making dinner, like lawn mowing during the summer or changing diapers during the baby/toddler years. Yes, there are occasional “days off” when you go out to dinner or pick up take out. But, once you hit young adulthood, “Making Dinner” is something that you (or someone in your household) are going to be doing for the rest of your life…at least until you check into the nursing home! So I am going to write about it. Mock me if you must…but hopefully you will take away something helpful…whether you have all of the time in the world to think about dinner or your kids think that dinner always comes with a toy.
Why I Menu Plan…
1. It saves time. Although it does take time to sit down and do the planning, once the meals have been chosen and the shopping has been done, I don’t usually have to go back to the store again that week. And I don’t have to spend any more time thinking about what to make or looking up recipes. The shopping trips themselves are also quicker because I have a pretty precise list of what I’m buying.
2. It saves money. I’m using up what I have and am less likely to waste food when I have planned out the meals for the week. And because of the shopping list, I am less likely to impulse buy. (Only “less likely to” certainly not “definitely won’t” as I know from past experience!)
3. It keeps my family’s eating more nutritionally balanced. Maybe I would be perfectly happy eating pasta every night, but that’s probably not the best thing for our health. Menu planning ensures that we’ll have fish one night, red meat another, and an occasional vegetarian meal.
4. It fits dinner into our reality and makes it more likely to happen. Our life doesn’t look like the life of my childhood, where we sat down to dinner at 5:30 every single night. But when I plan around the carpool to karate and when I schedule leftovers for the night I have to go to a meeting…I’m not so tempted to pull into the drive through.
Before You Start Menu Planning…
1. Make a master list of the things that you usually buy at the grocery store in the general order that you shop. I picked up a copy of my store’s directory and made my list according to the aisle numbers…I know that sounds over the top, but it has saved me a lot of time in the store.
2. Make a list of “Keeper Recipes” for each category of types of meals (Seafood, Chicken, Vegetarian, etc.). These are meals that you’ve made before that were easy enough and that the majority of your family liked. So if you need a chicken recipe for Tuesday, you have a list of 5 or 6 chicken ideas and where to find the recipe (or have hard copies of the recipes attached).
3. Bookmark the recipe indexes of 2 or 3 of your favorite food blogs so that you can easily refer to them for ideas. (My favorites are I’m an Organizing Junkie, Dinner, A Love Story and Simple Bites).
How I Menu Plan…
1. I sit down, in the kitchen, with my calendar, cookbooks/recipes (or whatever online recipe resources you might use) and two pieces of paper.
2. On the first piece of paper, I write down the days of the upcoming week and notes about what is going on with our schedule for the week that might affect dinner.
3. Then I take a look in my fridge/freezer to see what I already have that can be used for any meals this week.
4. Next, I start jotting down (in pencil) possible meals next to each day of the week, making sure not to plan anything time consuming for busy nights. I usually only plan about 5 meals each week since there are usually at least two nights that we get take out/eat out or have leftovers. If we are having fish, I try to plan that for the day that I am purchasing it. I don’t have a set type of meal for each night (e.g. Soup on Mondays, Fish on Fridays) but I make sure to keep things balanced out each week.
5. This next point addresses my menu planning weakness…try not to plan more than one “new” recipe per week. I tend to get lost in looking at different recipes, especially when I’m online. What was supposed to be a relatively quick planning session can turn into an hour of wandering from site to site trying to decide what new recipes to try. I love making new things and could easily spend all day perusing cookbooks and food blogs! Instead, I use my lists of “Keeper Recipes” (see “Before You Menu Plan” above) for most of the meals.
6. Once I’ve decided what I’m making for the week, I write down where to find the recipe next to each item (I bookmark any online recipes or save them in my Evernote app) or if I have an actual hard copy of a recipe, I pull it out. Then I take the paper with the Days of the Week/Meals/Recipe Locations and any hard copies of recipes and put them on a magnetic clip hanging on the side of my fridge.
7. On the second sheet of paper, using the recipes, I make up my grocery list. Don’t forget to include items you need for breakfasts/lunches/snacks. I don’t “menu plan” for meals other than dinners…some people do, but dinners are enough planning for me!
8. Finally, I write out the weekly dinner menu on a “white board” decal that is on my refrigerator, so the rest of the family can see what we’re having (and as a reminder to myself, so I remember if things need to be taken out of the freezer or prepped ahead of time, etc.).
Things don’t always go exactly according to the plan each week…sometimes “Chipotle Takeout” was never on the Menu Plan, but it mysteriously shows up on our dinner table, nonetheless. And sometimes the side of acorn squash that was supposed to accompany the chicken is MIA…but luckily my family is pretty flexible…and will gladly accept a raspberry pop tart as a substitute!
Quick tip…you know how you never use the whole can of tomato paste? So then you stick it in the fridge, thinking that you’ll use it within the week. Then 2 months later, when you finally get around to cleaning out your fridge, you find it…and throw it out. Next time, scoop out 1 tablespoon size portions from what’s left in the can. Put them on a piece of parchment or wax paper on a small tray and freeze. When they are frozen, take them off the tray and put them back in the freezer in a freezer bag. Now, the next time you need tomato paste, you’ll have convenient 1 tablespoon size portions ready to use.
Here’s something to try with the kids while they are home over the holiday break. So easy. Unless you live in Arizona…then it’s not so easy. But here in upstate New York, we just hold the bowl out the front door and within 5 minutes…fresh, clean snow…all you can eat!
SNOW ICE CREAM
Send your kids outside to collect a big bowl of fresh, clean snow. Place several cups of snow into a serving bowl. Add 1/4 tsp. of vanilla, 2 Tbs. of real maple syrup, and 1/4 cup of heavy cream to each serving. Mix it with a spoon. If it’s too soupy, add more snow until it’s the consistency that you want. Eat immediately!
This idea was borrowed from the Heavenly Homemakers website.
Only eight more days left until Christmas…are you ready? I’m not. I did manage to get the cards sent off in the mail today. And I spent way too much time taking photos for the cute little collage that I made (see below) of some of our Christmas decorations. Don’t you wish you could edit out all of the clutter in real life the way you can in photographs? Someone really needs to invent a way to do that. Stop buying stuff, you say? Yes. Working on that. Anyways….this post is supposed to be about Christmas morning. What does your family typically eat that morning? After you’ve gotten up at 5:30 AM because your children or your dog could not wait to see what Santa had brought them and you’ve struggled to open 53 various toys and gadgets (my brother-in-law actually ended up in the emergency room one year after an incident with a toy package and a pair of scissors) and you’ve inhaled your cup of coffee…then what? Wouldn’t it be nice if all you had to do was take a baking dish out of the fridge and put it in the oven for an hour and breakfast was done? This Sausage and Egg Breakfast Casserole can be put together the night before so that Christmas morning you can just relax…until it’s time to get the kids ready to go to mass…okay, so you won’t really be doing much relaxing. And what’s that? You don’t have time to put it together the night before because you have to wrap all of the presents, put a doll house together and go to your in laws? Never mind. Just pour yourself a bowl of Lucky Charms and go back to soaking in the Christmas morning joy and merry and brightness and all of that. It’s all good!
SAUSAGE AND EGG BREAKFAST CASSEROLE (about 10 servings)
~1 lb. sausage, cooked and drained
~8 eggs, whisked
~6 slices whole wheat bread, cubed
~2 1/4 cups of milk
~1 cup grated cheese (cheddar, Monterey Jack, pepper jack or a combination)
~1 tsp salt
~1 tsp dry mustard
Combine all ingredients and pour into a 9×13 inch baking dish. Cover and refrigerate overnight. Remove from fridge about 15 minutes before you bake it. Bake in a 350 degree oven for 45 minutes to an hour, or until a knife inserted into it comes out clean.
We tend to lean in the direction of
chaos casual when it comes to our dinner table. Since the dining room table usually looks like this, we most often eat in the kitchen. Lots of stuff spills, we have to defend our plates from dog sneak attacks, there might occasionally be a tiny, tiny bit of bickering…all in all, pretty much your average dinner time routine. But, there are a few weeks every year, when a peaceful sense of calm drifts down over our banged up pine table. That time of year started this week…Sunday marked the beginning of Advent…and in our home we light Advent candles every night during dinner from now until Christmas Eve. Something about that soft, flickering light seems to lull my kids into a trance like state (trance like state=5 minutes to eat in peace). I’m tempted to use candles all year, but then it might not seem so magical as it always does during this time of year. On this night, we ate a simple meal of pasta, shrimp tossed with a spice mix (from Dinner, A Love Story) and corn. These few minutes together each evening, watching the candles glow, is our counterbalance to the craziness of the season. Whatever your faith is and wherever your traditions come from…take some time today to sit and eat with the people that you love.
As I was taking the photo for this post, my husband asked, “How come their faces aren’t in the picture?” This is why not…