You've got a crying kid on your hip and two more at your feet.
You're tired, you're hungry, and you're standing with the fridge open wondering how you are going to make a meal for five out of half a head of broccoli and some pepperoni.
Or does this just happen to me?
I've tried many many times to make menu plans. But it's hard. I don't want to be regimented and scheduled in my cooking, i want to have the freedom to experiment and follow my whims. But standing with the fridge open, forty minutes to dinnertime, with no idea what I'm going to make does not sound much like freedom, does it?
What i need is a menu planning method with two seemingly contradictory elements:
1) Scheduling. Meals are planned ahead. I can make a concise grocery list knowing exactly what i will need.
2) Flexibility. I can rely on what is on sale or available at my farmers market. And i don't have to eat the same seven dinners every week.
A few months ago i figured out a solution that works. for me. I hope it works for you too.
For each day of the week there is a type of food. Not a specific recipe, but a general theme for dinner. Some days of the week are more specific than others. All of them are based around our sometimes hectic lives. Let me show you what I mean!
Sunday: A roast. Beef, chicken, whatever. In the slow cooker. When we get home from church. Often shared with friends.
Monday: We have to rush out the door and we don't even all get to eat together, so i keep it simple. Pasta. Probably spaghetti. Maybe lasagna.
Tuesday: Not as hectic. Time to really cook. I make a soup or stew using stock or leftover meat from Sunday. And i bake bread. Tuesdays are pretty awesome around here.
Wednesday: Casserole. And maybe a salad.
Thursday: Pie! Sort of. Chicken Pot pie or shepherds pie, or quiche. Depending on what's cheap.
Friday: Pizza! Normally homemade, but not always.
Saturday: Mexican. Something with ground beef and spices and probably tortillas (and anything floating around my fridge that needs to get used up!). It's a busy day, it needs a simple meal.
So here's what i love about this technique:
1) I have my options right in front of me. Every Saturday when I make my grocery list I don't have to deal with that grocery-list writer's-block that somehow causes me to be unable to think of a single meal except the one we ate last night.
2) It takes into consideration our busy lives, so i don't have to. When i sit down to make my list i don't need to think "i need something simple for Monday, Thursday and Saturday..." because that is already accounted for.
3) It's my plan, I can change it if I want to. I can swap menus mid week. If I'm having a really crazy Tuesday I can just switch it with the Wednesdays meal without feeling like a complete failure. Or if I'm having people over on Saturday but I don't really want to feed them tacos, I'll just switch with another day.
4) We don't eat the exact same meals every week. And there is room for trying new recipes.
5) My grocery shopping is (finally) pretty efficient. I almost never have to call my husband during the day to ask him to bring home potatoes. Or cheese. Or Chinese take out.
Now that I've convinced you, here is how you can make a similar plan for your meals. Go get a sheet of paper. I'll wait...
C'mon, we don't have all day...
Step One: Write down every day of the week. Beside each day, write down any obligation you have on that day. Anything that makes dinner more hectic. Like ballet or soccer or whatever. If you find you are especially tired on Mondays or stressed out on Wednesdays, write that stuff down too.
Step Two: Choose some meals, or a type of meal, that would work for each day, keeping in mind the stuff you've written about that day.
Step Three: If you are super-duper organized, you could even have the necessary ingredients written under each option. That way, when you make your grocery list and choose your meals for this week, you don't need to look up each recipe!
Note: I don't plan breakfast and lunch. I tried that once. By day three I was a frustrated crying wreck. Don't make a plan so specific that it can be completely obliterated by some left over mac and cheese.
Talk to me. How do you plan your meals?