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
- whatever I think of at the moment!
- blackberry, granola, yogurt parfaits
- 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!