Thursday, September 27, 2007

Menu Planning A & Q

Micah asked some questions about my menu planning and I had enough to say that I decided to just answer it in post form. Hopefully some of you will add your thoughts as well – a lot of you are veteran menu planners and I would put myself in the novice group. :) Oh, and I answered a lot more than what was asked and I have a few questions myself that I’m hoping for some input on.

I tried planning all 3 meals and it didn't work very well for me - it was overwhelming and usually more than we would normally eat in a day. :) I found myself frustrated and I just needed the flexibility to do what worked for that day. So, I just plan dinners and try to keep things on hand for breakfast and lunch. We typically have cereal, oatmeal, or cereal bars for breakfast (occasionally eggs or pancakes) - the boys and I are not big on breakfast (and Andrew is usually gone earlier). Lunch is often sandwiches (pb&j, egg salad, tuna, grilled cheese, or cheese toasties), crackers and cheese, or scrambled eggs, yogurt, fruit etc. Just keeping a list of breakfast and lunch ideas on the fridge or taped in the cabinet would be helpful and I really need to do that.

As far as meatless is concerned, Andrew doesn't really care so I try to include a few meatless meals here and there. But if it's not your cup of tea (it isn't for many people I know), just plan other things. :) I try to do a variety of ethnicities, types of meat etc. I use less meat by putting it in things (like fajitas or stir-fry). Andrew often takes leftovers for lunch so I don’t plan in a leftover night.

I do try to incorporate a lot of organic products but we are not 100% organic at this point and I don’t know if we ever will be. I still use refined sugar in baking and don’t plan to give that up any time soon.

I am easily bored by the same food all the time, so I work to change up dinners to keep it interesting. :) I read cookbooks and magazines for inspiration. I probably spend about ½ hour – 1 hour per week planning the meals and making shopping lists. It’s fun for me and I get excited about cooking!

Most all of the meals I plan are ready within an hour or less which is important at our house. I don’t know about the rest of you but meal prep time is zero hour for my kids. They are demanding, want held, cry, fight etc. I often give them a little snack and/or drink and have them spend a little time hanging out on the couch and I go play with them or read to them when I have a break. Any other ideas for this time of day? I try to have dinner ready or nearly ready by the time Andrew gets home (between 6 & 6:30). Some days are better than others. :)

I’m contemplating doing a theme for each night – Monday (crock pot), Tuesday (Mexican), Wednesday (beef) etc. I’m not sure if this would be stifling or helpful. It may be an idea I try and then reject – we’ll see. :) Have any of you done this?

Hope that helps, it’s a bit trial and error and as with most things, it's really what works best for you, the cook! I’m gradually learning what works and what doesn’t and the great thing is that there is always next week!


Catherine said...

I guess because my family size is small, planning five separate meals NEVER works for me. Every recipe serves us at least 2-3 meals. So I try to plan out 3-4 meals, and then we alternate them sort of adding in one or two more as I go. In other words, i wouldn't serve two meals on alternating days, but more like A, B, C, A, D, B,E, C etc.

I totally agree about meal prep time being kid melt-down time. I've tried different things to get around that, but what seems to work really well is doing the chopping and prep work earlier in the day where possible. Then I have a variety of tactics for keeping the kids amused while I actually assemble and cook the dinner - those mostly veer toward desperation!

I've thought of the theme night thing too, but I decided I need more freedom that that to change things up, I just get bored easily I guess!

Andrew & Alaina said...

Thanks for the input, Catherine! I really appreciate your ideas and perspective!

I should add that I will often decrease the amount a recipe will make so it will feed us for one meal and maybe a lunch. Since I really do LOVE to cook (it's one of my favorite creative outlets), I try to limit the amount of leftovers. This is completely personal preference. Whatever is left, Andrew nearly always wants for lunch the next the day and if there does happen to be lots of leftovers, the boys and I will also eat them for lunch.

I also try to plan at least one easy meal that is based around things I typically have around home so if our schedule changes, we can just save that meal for another week.

Monica said...

I'm trying a new system this year. I printed some blank menu planners of the internet and am planning 5 weeks at a time. I'm still freezer cooking, so my goal is to make what I have in the freezer stretch that long. I like seeing the 'big picture' and am trying to concentrate on mixing up the side items to make each meal different. I'm really boring when it comes to fruits and vegetables. About every 6 days or so we have a buffet. I bring out any and all leftovers and set them out on the counter and it's all you can eat. Sometimes the kids make up little menus and take orders.

Lunch is my least favorite meal. No variety and it's about finished by the time it's served. So it is with children, I guess.

Got any favorite resources for side dishes?

Andrew & Alaina said...

I like for recipes - you can just type in an ingredient (like a fruit or vegetable) and it will bring up recipes that correspond. The recipes are usually rated and as long as they have gotten 4 or 5 stars, they are usually good.

Taste of Home and Rachael Ray (you can check out the food network website and search her recipes) also have great side dish recipes. I'm kind of boring with side dished,too (as you can tell from my menu).

Anyone else have ideas?