Thursday, March 1, 2012

Meal-Planning: "How do you do it?"

I LOVE to plan things: baby showers, birthday parties, youth rallies, meals, etc.  Almost NOTHING goes according to "the plan", but there is something therapeutic to me about the planning itself.  I try to make what I call "flexible plans".  You have everything available if the plan is going right, but, if it's not, you can change things up in an instant for Plan B (or C, D, or the rest of the alphabet--depending on the the day!)

I've often talked to my friends and family about doing weekly, monthly, and (most recently) yearly meal-planning.  I love knowing that a few hours of quiet planning results in less stress throughout the rest of the year for me.  When I first saw the idea on another blog, I was a little intimidated. "Meal plan for a year? I don't even know for sure what I'm doing in 3 days, much less in 3 months!!"  It's not really as hard as it sounds, so I'll tell you how I do it.

(DISCLAIMER: This is how I do it, and how it works for our family.  If you are completely intimated by this, hate to plan, or don't want to do it, DON'T! If it's not something that you can work with or that will work in your family dynamic, then it isn't worth the time involved to do it.  If you want to do it for a week, two weeks, or a month; try that first.  The important thing is to find what works for you (the cook) and your family.  You can take this whole plan, part of this plan, or none of this plan, and still figure out a workable option for your situation. Trust me!)

I used to menu plan for two weeks because the paychecks came every two weeks. (Pretty smart, huh?!) Then, I decided to go for a month.  Even though I grocery shop weekly or bi-weekly, the menu was already planned.  I stumbled across a blog on Pinterest that had a yearly menu-planning guide (with free printables--SCORE!) so I decided to try it. 

Here is my menu binder with the printables I found on

It's just a plain binder with one of bold turquoise's neat printables on the front.  Inside are plastic sleeves with monthly calendars.  I sat down at the beginning of February (We're going to forget about January because I didn't find all this stuff until February.) and looked at our general schedule.  We generally eat more crock pot meals, soups, stews, and chili's during the colder months.  We eat more fresh fruit, fresh veggies, and grilled meats during the hotter months.   The kids' birthdays all fall around the same time each year (Imagine that!) so I have a general idea when the party will be.  Our church has a mission's conference and a revival during the year where we have dinner at church every night.  We usually know about the time we'll be taking vacation or going away to visit family for a weekend.  The same holds true for the major holidays.  Our family is very habitual--Independence, Memorial, Labor Day, and Thanksgiving Day, we're home.  Christmas Day, we're away.  See, it's easy to plan.  I may not know the exact date of each event when I do my planning, but I can tweak things as they get closer. Besides, if you've planned something, and you end up away from home, you can always fix that meal for someone else (a shut-in, new parents, someone who's just had surgery, or "just because" you want to bless someone.) 

I basically have between 30 and 50 meals that I have memorized or have the recipes for (that I can cook and my family can eat.)  Thanks to the generous gifts of my friends and family, I also have subscriptions to Runner's World, Better Homes & Gardens, and Eating Well (Thank goodness for new recipes when the old ones get boring!!)  I simply write a recipe down on each space on the calendar.  Yes, recipes get repeated! Some get repeated monthly because they are that good!  My family has their favorites so I try to make them more often, but I try not to repeat a meal twice in a month. 

Some recipes are painfully simple: Tacos=meat, taco seasoning, shells or tortillas, fixings. No recipe required!  Some are a little more difficult, but none are top-chef worthy feats.  I try to keep things healthy, but during times like softball season, Frito chili pie wins every time on a busy night.  We're learning to eat more fish and less cheese (Moment of silence, please.........) I rarely fry foods, but when I do, it's homemade fried; not some processed blob from a bag.

This is my major project for this year--my recipe book:

That's it.  It really is that easy.  Nothing is set in stone.  It is a plan, not a contract.  You have an idea of what you are going to cook, but you can always change it.  Hubby goes out of town, and you're left with the kids? Order pizza!  Every one's sick for three days?  Campbell's Chicken Noodle Soup, it is!  You might think it's a waste of time if you aren't going to stick to it, or even a waste of paper.  Even if you only use it 50% of the time, it is well worth it.  I'd say we stick to ours about 95% of the time, just because it's so easy for me just to see what I'm supposed to be cooking instead of having to make a decision.  Try it, and let me know how it goes!

Happy planning, everyone!

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