Sunday, August 10, 2008

How I Plan My Menus

I thought it would be interesting to show you how I go about planning my menus. I have tried a lot of systems for how to go about meal planning but this one works the best and I have been using it for about three years. For my Menu Plan Monday post (go check out other people's menus at Organizing Junkie to get lots of ideas), I'm going to explain how I came up with this weeks menu.

I think the most important part of my system, and the part that makes it work so well for me is having everything all in one place. I have a small (6 x 9.5 inch) notebook that I call my "food book." The first few pages of my book have my master list of meals. These are the meals I know my family will eat, and that I make on a regular basis. This isn't everything I ever make, just most of them.
Above is my first page - this page, obviously, starts with vegetarian meals and then half way down is the beginning of the chicken meals. I group them this way for a reason - if I have a lot of chicken because there was a killer sale, I might want to make a few chicken meals.
This next page shows more groupings - like ham meals, for instance. If I buy ham, I usually buy a fairly big chunk of Black Forest Ham. I know I will get at least three meals, if not four, out of it so when I do a "ham week" all the ham recipes are right here.

The notebook hangs out on my counter (or desk) all week and I jot things down that I run out of. Each page has a grocery list and the list of menus for that week. It ends up looking something like this:
This is not this weeks list it is just an example. The list of meals for the week are on the top (chinese chicken salad, fajitas, etc). The grocery list goes down the right hand side (hairspray, chapstick, conditioner, shampoo, etc.). If I need to go to Costco that week I'll add the Costco list on the left. This week I only planned main dishes and not sides - sometimes I'm just lazy like that but at least I know what we are having as a main dish!

So how do I decide what those main dishes will be? First I sit down and take out my "food book." I think about my week and what we have going on. Will it be a busy week? Will we be going out for dinner for a birthday or a social at church? Will we have visitors for dinner or overnight? For this week I knew that we would have my niece and nephew staying with us, they are 10 and 6. I wanted easy "kid friendly" meals. Also, my vegetarian daughter would be staying at her aunt and uncles (a kid swap - my two oldest for her two youngest so the cousins can spend some time together), so I could make meat meals and not have to fix an alternate for her.

Then I think about my food situation - how is the garden doing, anything we need to use this week? How about the freezer - lots of chicken? polska kielbasa? Do we have leftovers that need to be used up or extra something that didn't get used last week? How about the sales - good sales on certain items that we could add to the menus without breaking the budget? We have tons of lettuce in the garden and the tomatoes are starting, meaning we need to do salads this week. The blackberries are ripe and there are millions of them on the Butte behind our house.

Then, with all of that in mind, I look at my master list of meals and pick what to make. As I decide on a meal, I add the ingredients I will need to the shopping list. Since there are blackberries, we will have crepes with blackberries. Hamburgers are a kid-friendly meal that we don't usually have because of my veggie girl. We should do ham this week since the veggie girl is gone and ham-fried rice, ham and baked beans, and ham and noodle toss are all very kid-friendly. Red beans and rice is cheap and uses polska kielbasa we have in the freezer and kids usually like it - plus it goes well with a big tossed salad.

So, with all that in mind, this is what this weeks page looks like:I have the dinner meals on top, breakfasts on the left, and grocery list on the right.

  • crepes with blackberries, bacon
  • red beans and rice, tortillas, salad
  • hamburgers, homemade rice a roni, fruit
  • ham, baked beans, cornbread, fruit
  • ham-fried rice, salad
  • ham and noodle toss, fruit
  • baked oatmeal
  • granola with blackberries
  • toast with jam
  • waffles
  • whatever I think of at the moment!
  • blackberry, granola, yogurt parfaits
  • toast
  • leftover baked oatmeal

Sounds pretty good, huh? And it took me about 5 minutes. Since I will have my list of menus with me when I am shopping (the food book goes shopping with me), I can decide to add something if it is on sale by deciding if it would work with those menus.

The other nice think about my food book is that it is a great record keeper. Because I write everything food related in here, it remembers lot of things. For example:
This is the menu and food assignments for Thanksgiving 2007. When I get ready to plan Thanksgiving 2008, I will know exactly who brought what. This way the same person doesn't get stuck always making pie or never getting to make pie! Plus we know what we had (and we even know what time we had it - 2 pm!). I do this for birthday parties (who brought the cake last time?) and other dinner parties here at my house. I also keep track of my mega-cooking sessions in this book so I can go back and see what I did last time I did freezer cooking. I even keep the old books when I start a new one so I can go back and check stuff out. (Yes, I'm a little compulsive about it, but it is what keeps we organized!)

This book system works really well for me. I'm glad you came for a tour of my menu-planning ways!




Crazy Daisy said...

Cool! I'm not that organized. I tend to book mark online recipes that I like and try to integrate those into my plans each week to try new things. Otherwise,I have a mess of a recipe drawer!

Jill Scott said...

Thanks for sharing, this was great.

Owlhaven said...

Your menu planning looks something like mine, though I don't assign specific meals to each day. I kind of decide as I go which thing to cook each day.

Mary, mom to 10
PS--You probably know, but I moved to if you get a chance to change your blogroll.

Extraordinary Ordinary Life said...

I do a master list of meals as well. Your system looks really good and easy. I like handwritten as well just because I don't have to sit at the computer. I can take it with me around the house if I need to.

Lynn said...

Very organized. I do something similiar with parties and holidays but I keep that in a three ring binder with the recipes that I used. Thanks for sharing how you menu plan.

Sonshine said...

Great ideas!! I pretty much do the same thing but I do it all on the computer rather than writing it all out. Then I just print out the menu for the week and stick it on my fridge.

Your menu looks delicious this week! :)

Nicole said...

Oh Wow! I wish I was that organized. When things settle down here I'm going to start on this. Thanks for the idea!

Me said...

This is such a good idea but your notebook must be so thick!

Steph at Problem Solvin' Mom said...

I have been working on a master list of recipes myself, since I started menu planning about a month ago. I love hearing about how people go about menu planning, it's such a great way to pick up tips! I posted a bit about how I streamline my menus this week on my MPM post. Stop by if you're interested!

Take care,

Heidi said...

Very cool. I'm getting my recipe book organized right now and I keep my weekly menus on my Google calendar. I should keep a list of what the family likes to eat instead of trying to remember off the top of my head. :)

Anonymous said...

I am struggling with menu planning because I can't seem to find the right system. I REALLY want to succeed at this...
I like the look of your system and love that it is all in one place. What do you do about recipes? I also cook from a master list that is in my head - but I also like to try new recipes so I find everything gets mumbo-jumbo when I'm trying to create a paper trail back to the recipe I saw. Any suggestions? I would love to hear from you via email ---
Thank you kindly and with blessings, Kim

Angela's Kitchen said...

Really great tips! Thanks for sharing.

Kate said...

Wow, what a wonderful system you have. Mine is very similar. It takes a lot of work initially, but it is so worth it, don't you think?

Jill said...

Thanks to everyone for commenting. I'm so glad you liked my system. It does take some time to set up initially but it saves me so much time and stress later that it is totally worth it!

The notebook isn't big. I just use a small spiral notebook (I think I got mine from the dollar store!). When it is full I get a new one. Since you only use a page a week, it lasts a long time.

I also don't plan a day for things, I just plan 6 meals for a week and then pick one the night before depending on what the day will be like.

Thanks all for commenting, it is so nice to know I'm not talking to the air!


Alyssa said...

I'd love to see your list of meals.

Welcome to My Loft! said...

Thank you so much for writing this all up. I currently use a 3-ring to keep my recipes and OAMC info but I really like the idea of a smaller notebook that can go to the store. I just might steal the idea since I found that as I am making my menus I write them on paper and then do a blog post already. Hope you don't mind. :)

Jill said...

Absolutely! Steal away! That's is why I posted it, so that anyone who thought it sounded good could try it.

Alyssa, I will post my list of meal in a future post - when I have a lot of time. It's a very long list, I'm kind of weird that way.


KrisinTN said...

I really like this idea! It seems to take forever for me to come up with a menu plan for the week and if I don't have the time I just don't do it. Boy are those weeks hectic. we end up eating a lot of ramen noodles!

Lindsay said...

Oh what an excellent idea - seems so simple and easy to! I'll definitely be going out to get me a fancy notebook this weekend because I struggle big time with loose/lost lists!


Elizabeth Channel said...

I'm all about this idea--thanks for sharing!

On another note, is that a banty rooster in your header image?

Jill said...

Elizabeth, no that's not a banty rooster, that is just a really far away shot of Goldilocks our Gold sex-linked hen. She's sweet and lovable, but she's never laid an egg in her life! But I'm really sure she's not a rooster.