Sunday, February 3, 2013
The Dinner Menu: Meal Planning in Action
My Meal Planning System
I reserve the bottom line of each daily square in my monthly calendar for meal planning. (Sometimes, I actually copy the meal plan on a board, so my family can see what's for dinner. You know, on ambitious days!)
Note a list in the little hand drawn cloud of the raw meats currently in the freezer and quick meals currently in the freezer. That's the sum total of my written inventory process. :)
In order to meal plan, I look at my monthly calendar and mark any days we are eating out for any reason, whether it's date night, Mother's Night Out, or a day when we are just so time crunched with carpool, baseball practice, and errands to run in between.
Usually, I plan about 4 meals per week:
*one crockpot meal, like red beans (leftovers go in freezer for future quick meals or lunches),
*one fresh cooked large meal with next day leftovers, like casseroles or hamburger steaks (so 2 days covered), and
*2 one-time meals, like stir-fries or hamburgers (any leftovers go for lunch).
At least one of those meals usually includes a meat from the sales flyer at Target or from the Target clearance meats. If something we love is on clearance (for example, roast beef), then I bump one of the other meals to the next week.
The other 3 days are covered as follows:
*one night we eat leftovers (all other leftovers are eaten for lunches or frozen for another day),
*another something from the freezer or whatever will go bad if we don't eat it (that is often salad night), and
*usually we do eating out for some reason or other a night or two.
My meal plan goes from Tuesday until the next Monday, usually, because I grocery shop on Tuesdays. I always check for items about to go bad in our fridge to plan the Tuesday and Wednesday night meals, so we don't waste food.
Honestly, this has cut our grocery bill tremendously and means that we hardly waste any food, ever. Plus, we are a lot less likely to eat out and a lot more likely to eat healthy. (My meals don't sound very healthy, but take hamburger steaks for example. I use the leanest ground beef that I can find, lots of onions and garlic, some broth with just a tiny bit of browned flour for the roux, and throw in carrots to cook in the gravy. I will usually serve with a salad with balsamic vinegar - lettuce, tomato, maybe cucumbers if they are in season - and mashed potatoes made with skim milk.)
Flaws in the System
Meal planning this week is extra challenging.
Instead of shopping on Tuesday like normal, I am shopping on Wednesday next week because of a conflict on Tuesday, so it's an 8 day plan. Also, the boys are home from school on Thursday of this week (Parent-Teacher conferences) and on Monday and Tuesday of next (Mardi Gras). Usually we have at least one event out planned, too, but not this time because of Valentine's being the next week (when we will buy an expensive restaurant meals, most likely). So that means 8 FULL meals to plan and all leftovers will likely be eaten during the day for lunch (whereas my husband and I can usually split leftovers since the boys eat at school). There are no advertised meat sales at Target this week, either. I am buying eggs (have a coupon, so omelets one night) and chicken thighs to try a new sesame chicken recipe, so the cheapest proteins I can get are on the grocery list. Because there is no meat sale, likely the reduced meats (that I always shop for Wednesday night's supper) will already be bought out when I get to the store. I'm having to dig in the freezer to round out the menu without overspending.
Doubling the meals while working with the normal budget and unusual schedule means that planning, which usually takes all of fifteen minutes, took an hour. :(
My plan, FYI, starting from today:
Su - Tacos (kids and husband), Enchilada Casserole (me, because the prep is the same and I'm the only one who eats enchiladas)
M - Ham (from freezer), Red Beans with Sausage (from freezer), Rice (rice cooker, saving leftovers for later in the week)
T - Breakfast (omelets and pancakes)
W - Whatever meat is on sale OR hamburger steaks (meat in freezer), oven roasted fries
Th - Honey Sesame Chicken (crockpot), Refried Rice (leftover from Monday)
F - Leftovers (or, if none left, which is possible given our schedules, Roast from freezer and Starch from Pantry)
S - Mac and Cheese (homemade), Ham (from freezer)
Su - Spaghetti (sauce from freezer)
M - fajitas (chicken and steak in freezer, uncooked, and tortillas in freezer)
T - Rotel and Velveeta with chips