For the last couple of months, I’ve fallen off the menu planning bandwagon. Since my husband’s been off work, he’s been home schooling the kids and doing most of the cooking while I’ve been working more. In January, he’s beginning a new job, so we’ll be operating in more of our family’s ‘normal’ routine. And ya know, it might be nice to figure out what we’ll be eating!
Both of our jobs require us to work in the evenings. Still, we do our best to prioritize family dinners (or lunches, as the case may be.) Menu planning simplifies family mealtimes and helps us to enjoy time together before heading to the church for a meeting, to the piano to teach lessons, or to a child’s activity. Not to mention, it saves time, money and (my) sanity.
There are a million-and-one-ways to plan menus. Over the years, I’ve tried several dozen options. Finally, I’ve found a system that works for me and the way I’m uniquely wired. You see, in my work life, I am quite structured and systematic. Since my kitchen is my creative space, I like to be more spontaneous. Therefore, my menu plans are much less concrete, but still provides me (or whomever is cooking) a variety of options for dinner prep.
Instead of planning meals for each day, I plan by categories (see below) and try to incorporate various cooking options (freezer meals, crock pot, etc.), flavors and cuisines. Along with family favorites, I try to include several new recipes each month, too. This way, if we have a crazy-busy workday or the kids have evening activities, we can choose something quick and easy to prepare. If it’s a slow-paced day, I can make something that is more labor-intensive while enjoying the creative time in my creative space! (I cherish those times!)
What helps me tremendously in menu planning is to keep a running inventory of pantry, fridge and freezer contents. And I’ll tell ya the truth: it’s a bit of work on the frontside. But after the initial lists are made, the upkeep is much less time-consuming. Not to mention, it is so much easier to plan menus, create shopping lists and cook meals for guests or prepare a home cooked meal to take to someone in need.
And since life is going to be kicking into ‘high gear’ again, I’ll also be stocking the freezer with options for quick go-to meals for especially busy days. This has saved my hide numerous times over the years! It’s so nice to have something to quickly prepare for dinner, especially when it’s my husband or children in charge of the meal. If you don’t have room (or time) to prepare an entire entree to freeze, simply double or triple items like spaghetti sauce, soups, even taco meats or shredded chicken. Place in ziptop bags on a cookie tray and freeze flat, which requires minimal space. In minutes, you can have a meal on the table!
Here’s a peek at what our family will be eating this month. Yep, there’s more food than days in the month. Told ya, I like options. Oh, and we eat leftovers, too. Lots of leftovers! In fact, my kids eat ’em for breakfast (They take after their father!)
What about you: Do you menu plan? Monthly? Weekly? Daily?
What are some of your favorite go-to recipes?
Meals for a Month: January 2014
Leftovers, Soup, Green Smoothies, Lentil Salad, Quinoa Salad, Wild Rice & Lentil Salad, Cilantro-Lime Chickpea Salad, Chicken Caesar Salad, Winter Spinach Salad (Blue Cheese, Craisins, and almonds), Chopped Salad, Garbanzo Bean Salad, Warm Kale & Mushroom Salad
Mujadara*, Pinto Beans & Cornbread*, Sloppy Lentils*, Vegetarian Lentil Chili* **, Penne with Roasted Tomates, Garlic & White Beans, Refried Beans** (make in pressure cooker to use in burritos, tostadas, etc.)
Chicken or Turkey:
Moroccan Chicken Thighs w/ Lemon & Olives*, Pantry Pasta w/ Chicken, Yellow Curry w/ Chicken, Roast Chicken (use leftovers for salads, chicken broth/soup), Chicken Piccata , Turkey Quinoa Meatloaf
Green Beans, Asparagus, Roasted Brussels Sprout, Roasted Broccoli & Cauliflower, Stir-fried Vegetables, Honey-Dill Carrots, Various Salads (Wedge Salad, Caesar, Greek Salad, etc.), Baked Potatoes, Garlic-Baked Fries, Veggie Tray.
*Can be made in crockpot.
**Make extra to freeze.