I get questions from friends and family fairly frequently about how I plan my menus and cook dinner every night. I think it is very easy for me since I get to stay home with my kids but for those moms and dads that work it becomes a little trickier and harder to have the time necessary for home cooked meals. Anyway, I thought I would share what I do and why it works for me.
Why do I Plan a Menu? First my most unfavorite part of making dinner is figuring out what to cook. I will procrastinate till 5:30pm if I don't know what I am making and then we go out and grab pizza or something completely unhealthy. If I have a menu planned then I know exactly what I need to get defrosted, prepped, stuck in the crock pot, or just what time to get started. It takes the hard part out of it for me and then I enjoy making dinner so much more. Second, I spend so much less on groceries. I found out a long time ago that if I go to the store with a list then my grocery budget stays in the budget. And especially the less you are at a store, the less you will buy. I can never go into a grocery store to just get milk. I come out with 5 things with the milk. We spend about $75 a week for a family 6 (I think this is very reasonable especially because we eat a lot of what I can in the fall) eating breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Third, we eat a lot healthier. If I know what I am making we eat out a lot less often (saving on the 'ol budget also) so we are eating not many processed, fatty foods. Not to mention that I know exactly what is in the food I am making and my kids are consuming. Fourth, I think it is so imperative that we eat together as a family every day. Studies show that kids who sit down and eat dinner with their parents are much less likely to have eating disorders, abuse drugs or alcohol, and get into bad behavior. These kids also have much more open communication with their parents. The important part is not what you are making but that you sit down and show them that they are important.
Planning the Menu
I first take one morning and brainstorm what we want to eat that week. I usually choose some family favorites for the kids and then I consider what I feel like having, what I am craving and what new things I want to try. A great way to come up with ideas is to look through your cookbooks or search your favorite recipe blogs. I also try to balance out my meals so that we are having something hight in fat (like homemade fries and burgers) we have something healthier the next day (salad). Once I have it narrowed down, I write it someplace that I can see and reference throughout the week. My kids like this too so they can immediately see what we are having for dinner and they don't have to ask me.
Make a List
This is a very important step. It gives you a chance to check your cupboards and see what you really have on hand and what you need to buy. I also try to keep a paper separately for things I think of during the week that I need to get on the next shopping trip and then I can add them to my grocery list. The first thing I do is gather all my recipes and look through each one to make sure that I have remembered all the ingredients. If I think I have enough of something it always pays off to check your cupboards just in case. I always make sure I have a pen in my purse so when I get to the grocery store I can cross off every ingredient when I grab it. This helps me get everything because I have forgotten a pen before and inevitably I forget three things that I have written down just because they got "lost" in all my writing.
Your Kitchen Is Ready
When you get home and get everything put away (my favorite part. I use to beg my mom to put all the groceries away when she got home. I love how orderly it all looked in the cupboard, silly!) you know that you have everything in your kitchen for 7 different dinner ideas (and lunch and breakfasts even though I don't write those down on my menu). This keeps me very organized and like I said above helps me be ready for whatever meal we are having so that the prep work gets taken care of when it needs to. It also lets me ENJOY my cooking, which is what I believe we should all work toward since we all have to eat!