There are three things that make me feel like I’m winning in my home life:
- making my bed
- cooking dinner
- and keeping a tidy home.
I’ll share my secrets to keeping a tidy home next week. Today, we’re going to talk about what it takes to get dinner on the table, meal planning.
As I thought through the way I menu plan, I identified three steps that help simplify the process.
- I have a running list of my family’s favorite foods that are usually on hand.
- Dinner is the only meal I plan.
- I have narrowed down my resources to a trusted few.
Let’s walk through the steps one at a time.
Step 1: Keeping Inventory & Making Grocery Lists
There are many, many ways to keep track of what you run out of and make grocery shopping lists, but my favorite way to keep a grocery list is on a free app called Wunderlist, I just add to it as we run out of things, and as I add recipes to the menu. The app can be downloaded to your phone and accessed on your computer. You can share your lists with others who have the app as well.
In the past, my family wrote down items we ran out of on a dry erase board, then I added those items to my grocery list before grocery shopping. This system actually worked well and we’ve recently implemented it again, this time with a chalkboard.
You could also use a note pad, inventory checklist or roll of butcher paper.
Our running list looks something like this.
Our Grocery List
Fruits and Vegetables
Fresh or Frozen
- green beans
- diced tomatoes
- tomato sauce
- tomato paste
- black beans
- ground beef
- deli sliced ham
- deli sliced pastrami
- sour cream
- cream cheese
- deli sliced swiss cheese
- deli sliced Colby jack
- Cheddar cheese
- sandwich bread
- Honey Nut Cheerios
- corn flakes
- spiral noodles
- pancake mix
- muffin mix
- pita chips
- tortilla chips
- rice cakes
- ice cream
- peanut butter
- salad dressing
- red wine vinegar
- olive oil
- pickled jalapenos
- Orange Juice
- Apple Juice
- Mexican Coke
- Dr. B
You’ll notice in the example below that being familiar with your list will help you plan meals.
Step 2: Meal Planning
Usually, I get a craving for a particular dish and use that meal as the starting point for the rest of the week. For example, last week I was craving boiled shrimp. So, I added the ingredients for a shrimp boil to the grocery list. Keeping in mind my craving for shrimp and the food I already had on hand, last’s week’s menu looked like this…
Monday– Shrimp boil
As I prepared the potatoes, I decided to save some to use in a Balsamic Chicken recipe I wanted to try.
Tuesday – Balsamic Chicken
This recipe called for potatoes, green beans and grape tomatoes. I’m planning to use the other half of the frozen green beans for bacon wrapped bundles as side dish with salmon this week.
Wednesday – Fish tacos
My husband uses the unused corn tortillas to make breakfast tacos.
Friday – Chicken and Dumplings
You’ll notice that Thursday was left blank. And we ended up eating sandwiches instead fish tacos on Wednesday. The reality is that we were too tired to cook Wednesday, and we filled in the blank on Thursday with take-out.
Tip: Whether it’s last minute plans, being too tired, or not feeling well, the fact is that life happens, so set reasonable expectations and be flexible.
And that’s okay because the key to successful menu planning is flexibility. So make room for leftovers on your menu. Have rummage night. Pick up a rotisserie from the grocery store. Keep some quick recipes on hand. Order out occasionally.
Our grocery list has several grab and go breakfast items. Since each of us gets up and leaves at different times in the mornings, having those items on hand is the extent of menu planning for breakfast.
Even when my daughter was little, there were certain breakfast items that were kept low in the pantry for her to help herself to. Helping young children establish independence and be self-sufficient is a great confidence builder. (Says the Early Childhood Specialist)
Lunch is also self-serve based on what we have on hand: sandwich fixings, leftovers, deli-style foods…
Of course, when my daughter was little, I packed her lunches for school. She took over that responsibility in middle school. Again, giving children chores creates a sense of ownership and pride as a contributing member of your household. And it’s one less chore for you.
Step 3: Collecting Menu Ideas
Sometimes finding ideas is the hardest part of menu planning. As I mentioned, I often start with something I’m craving, then go from there. Other times I get ideas from displays and samples while I’m grocery shopping. This week’s menu was inspired by a Facebook post from Southern Living.
But if I’m lacking ideas, I turn to these resources (* marks affiliate links):
- The Pioneer Woman – We love the Pasta with Tomato Cream Sauce
- Southern Living – *The Slow Cooker cookbook, the magazine and the Southern Living Facebook page. The cookbook is available new and used on Amazon. The used hardcover is listed in very good condition for only $4.93. I’d snatch it up if I didn’t own it.
- Restaurant Favorites – We try to create our own version at home. You can can also search Copykat Recipes online for your favorite restaurant cuisine. That’s where I got the recipe for Olive Garden’s pasta e fagioli.
I keep it to just those few sources to save time and avoid overwhelm.
Right now my recipes are somewhat scattered. I have a few favorites in the Southern Living Slow Cooker Recipe Book, stacks of recipes stuffed in a DIY recipe binder, countless recipes saved on Pinterest and some of my recipes are actually archived in this blog. Enter ‘recipes’ (without quotes) in the search bar on the top right of blog to find them.
I suggest finding a storage system that works for you and sticking to it. I prefer keeping a recipe binder, so I plan to clean out mine, add recipes from cookbooks and get rid of any cookbooks I don’t use.
Whatever your process, taking the time to menu plan is worth it. I cannot tell you how rewarding it is to fix a warm meal for my family or to watch them enjoy a favorite snack.
See you in class,