What's on the Menu?

>> Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Menu planning is one of those things that everyone does a little differently. It's always interesting to me to learn how other people do the mundane daily things in life, such as menu planning. I thought I'd share my method. It works for me.

I will admit, I don't love coming up with something to make for dinner every night. Not that I don't like making dinner. I like to try new recipes, to tweak someone else's (or my own) recipes, or to make a tried-and-true favorite and be satisfied with the yummy results.

If you know me at all, you might know that I am not the best {or quickest} decision maker. I agonize over really small decisions, and what should be no big deal turns into quite the ordeal.

This is why I prefer a more structured meal calendar. It takes the daily-ness out of deciding what's for dinner, lessening the frequency of those agonizing decisions!

So here's what I do. Since January or February I have been making a meal calendar on the computer and printing it out each month. If you want to use my method, here are the steps you should take:

1. Come up with the "categories" of food you usually eat, and decide how frequently you would like to eat from each "category." We decided we'd eat most categories every other week. For us these include pasta, sandwiches, rice, tortillas, soup, and breakfast. We have those categories assigned to Monday through Wednesday.

Every Thursday is Leftover Day. Nothing like saving money and cleaning out the fridge at the same time.

Every Friday is pizza night. Usually this is homemade pizza, but occasionally we buy a pizza, have a frozen, or do some other take on pizza, like bagel or french bread pizza. When we make homemade pizza we like to try and mix it up too. One of my FAVORITES is barbecue chicken pizza. So easy and SO GOOD!

Saturday is "Trent's Choice," because, even though planning in advance this way takes the stress off of making the decisions, I don't want to have to make ALL of the decisions. My husband has to choose what we have on Saturdays (theoretically:).

And Sundays I just leave empty at this point, because we usually try to make something yummy on a Sunday, and I don't want to be bothered with thinking about which category my Sunday dinner should fit into each week.

Some calendar programs are nice and will automatically repeat an event every two weeks if you tell it to. I just had to fill out the categories once in our calendar program, and my meal calendar was good to go for as long as I told it to repeat (mine will go until July, when things might change because we may be moving in with the in-laws for a while).

2. After you've printed your calendar with your categories set up the way you want them, you can come up with individual recipes or meals you want to make and assign them to days according to your categories. For example, Tortillas are assigned to Mondays on my calendar, so yesterday I made cheese enchiladas. (I'm going to share that recipe probably Friday, so get excited!!)

You don't have to fill out the whole calendar at once. Usually I'll do about 2 weeks at once. If I'm lazy I just do a few days at a time. Or like this month, I filled pretty much the whole month out at once, except for a few days I couldn't think of what to write in.

This is really flexible, people. I don't want you to get the idea that I'm a meal calendar Nazi. I just use it as a guideline to save me a little sanity. We don't always stick to what is written down. Last month I think I hardly made anything on the day that it was written in, but if nothing else, it was good be able to see what meals I had the ingredients to make, which brings me to the next step.

3. Go grocery shopping. I like to refer to my calendar as I make my shopping list, look at each day and add the items I need to buy for that recipe to my list. Some people are pros at grocery shopping and hardly spend any money. I'm not there yet, but maybe someday.

4. Make dinner. Make what's written in on that day. Or don't. I'm not tied to my calendar, so if I feel like making something else, I do. But, on days when I don't care one way or the other, it's SO REFRESHING to just be able to look at the calendar and know what to make, without having to think too hard about it.

How do you do menu planning? Leave a comment and share your methods!


jon & kira June 10, 2009 at 4:57 PM  

Elizabeth, I must tell you, I just LOVE your blog. I just put it on my google reader, and with 89 total posts to read today, yours is the only one I've read in the few spare minutes I have. I love your ideas. I would love to be crafty and creative like you are. How's Wil doing? Do you know where you're headed yet? I hope you're doing well!

Elizabeth June 10, 2009 at 7:30 PM  

Thanks Kira! How are you guys doing?? I hope the house hunt is going well! I'm jealous...we're still trying to figure out where to go...and we're moving in less than 5 weeks! Yikes! Thanks for reading, and commenting! Your comment made my day!

Shannon September 2, 2009 at 7:34 AM  

I'm in the menu planning slump, but this post has given me a bit of inspiration. Thanks! :)

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