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Menu planning

January 24, 2011
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Over the last few years, one of my favorite household tasks has become menu planning.

It shouldn’t be any surprise, I like making lists and menu planning involves lots of lists. Lists of meals. Lists of ingredients. Lists of what I need to buy from the grocery store for that week. Lovely, lovely lists.

I started menu planning when the kiddo was around a year old and the hub and I finally decided we needed to lose the baby weight we’d (yes, we) gained while I was pregnant. It worked for quite a while, but once I got down to around my goal weight, I kind of fell off the planning wagon. I picked it back up again after the kidlet was born and have stuck with it. It’s amazing how much easier meals go now. No more running to the store three or four times a week, no more waiting until 8pm to eat because I couldn’t decide what I wanted. No more spending money on meals out when I don’t feel like cooking (well, most of the time, anyway).

After trying different things, I’ve developed a system that works perfectly for me.

It involves sitting down at the dining room table with two pieces of notepaper and some cookbooks.

(coffee and iPod are optional, weekly grocery store advertisement is helpful, but not always necessary).

I’ll sit down, look through the cookbooks and figure out what we’re eating as a family for the next week. If there’s a special or a good deal on something in the grocery store, I’ll use that for one of the meals. Otherwise, it’s just whatever I’m feeling for the week.

One sheet of paper has the meals for the week (just supper, lunch is usually sandwiches or leftovers). The other sheet of paper is my grocery list. As I go through my cookbooks and decide what meals I want to make, I’ll add to the lists.

For example, this week we’re having chicken jambalaya for supper tonight, which required me to get chicken breasts, green onions and green peppers. Everything else we need (chicken stock, rice, spices) I have on hand.

Here’s the recipe. It’s from the South Beach Diet 30-minute meals cookbook. We don’t follow the SBD, but I do like the quick, easy and healthy recipes from the cookbook (as evidenced by the abuse it’s gotten. It’s definitely seen better days).

I try to vary what we eat each week, avoid eating the same kind of protein two days in a row, and prefer to wait at least two weeks before repeating a recipe. Each meal has a vegetable side and fruit that goes along with it. At least once a month I like to try and do at least one meatless meal, just for kicks.

The hub is gone for a good chunk of this week, and our suppers definitely reflect that; hamburgers, grilled cheese sandwiches, tater tot casserole, baked homemade chicken tenders – definitely loaded with kid-friendly meals. Not that the hub doesn’t like baked chicken tenders, but sometimes it’s nice to have some easier things. Plus, the kids go gaga for anything they can dip in ketchup.

My grocery list ends up being a mix of the ingredients I need for the week’s meals, picking up regular weekly staples (bread, milk, bananas. I swear, my kids are going to turn into monkeys with the amount of bananas they go through), and stocking up on things I might need for coming weeks like chicken stock or rice, especially if they’re on special.

Once I have my meals done, I’ll write them on a white board we have in our kitchen.

That way I have an easy reminder of what we’re having. And if someone asks *cough*the hub*cough* I can point him to that.

It’s a comforting ritual that I really enjoy doing each week, and it totally makes me feel like a mom. I really enjoy the process of cooking, I just wish I didn’t have to do all the cleanup afterwards!

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