Friday, March 26, 2010

Meal Planning 101: So Now What???

So...I'm sure you read my last two posts on meal planning and may be thinking at this point "Okay - so you have your hoity-toity plan and are going to run with it but where does this leave me!?"

It leaves you in a perfect place to start!!!

Disclaimer: (aka - Carol gets off track!!)
I am NOT the queen of organization that you might think I am. Maybe I shouldn't remove that impression - you may lose faith in me. But my reality is that I am the single mother of two VERY BUSY toddlers. My daughter is far more adventurous than most 2 year old girls i've seen. While other girls her age are playing Pretty-Pretty-Princess and babies and cooking and reading my girl is doing something different. She is climbing the stairs on the WRONG side of the bannister, then standing on the top step till she has her balance and securing herself there by holding onto the ceiling with one hand and waving the other hand around to taunt me....or jumping from the top of her Little Tykes Car bed to the floor while holding scissors she just scaled the dresser to get....or she is standing on the tray of the high chair trying to reach the mantle so she can dangle from it....oh and defeating child safety locks.

Her little brother spends his days imitating. Trying to figure out how to do everything she does. This leaves no time for organization since my kids only nap in the car. Short of parking my car IN my living room to blog (And I think my dad would frown upon the GIANT car shaped hole that would cause...) I have to write most posts at night while they are sleeping.

Wow I am so off topic!!! See - No organization :) I promise!!

Tips for making meal planning manageable: (aka - Back to the subject at hand!)

*Try to meal plan at the same time each week. If this isn't possible then try to at least do it in the same way each week so that you can kind of make it routine. Don't they say you have to do something 7 times to make it habit? Or is it 70? If it's 70 I am in such sad shape!!

*Create a system and stick to it for at least a few weeks to see if it works for you. If it doesn't or you hate it, dump it and start over or revise the parts you hate. Like Francesca Battistelli says "It's your life, What you gonna do? The World is watching you." If not the world - at least your children are watching you. No kids? YOU are watching you. :)

*If you have older kids, age 5 and older, you might want to start giving each child a dinner night. Let the child plan that night, choose a recipe & handle all cooking & preparation and clean up (or you can farm the clean up out to another child) This accomplishes a few things...
--It's less work for you.
--It teaches responsibility.
--It teaches Independance
--It allows your child the chance to learn something NEW.
I plan to start this with the girl when she turns 5. I already let her cook with me sometimes. Depending on how adventurous she is.

*Try to create a system so that each week isn't a rebuilding of everything from the bottom up. Don't try to re-engineer the mouse trap. If you have a system then there is very little work involved each week.

Steps to Creating a system:

1. Decide what is important to you. Do you want to have nutritionally balanced meals? Do you want to try to expose your kids to cuisine from other countries once a week? For me - it was important to increase our nutrition and diversity of eating as well as to build memories. That is why I want to cook one fancy meal a month so my kids can say "Growing up our mom really worked hard at least once a month to make us a REAL Feast!" It's a memory - a small sacrifice of just a few extra hours - I'm weird that way.

2. Write it down. I hate to write. I type everything. I write painfully slow and messy. I type 140 wpm and typewritten text is NORMALLY legible unless you choose an ugly font. I typed it up in Excel.

3. Try to figure out some categories. PERSONALLY I would limit it to 7-10 categories, MAYBE 14 if you want a fancy rotation...
Here are some to get you started:
*Make Ahead Meals
*Crockpot Creations (what? C'mon - you gotta have creativity ;) )
*Sandwich night
*Make your own night (mini pizza, taco, burrito, salad, potato, sandwich, Pasta)
*Beef
*Chicken
*Pork
*Meatless
*Pizza
*Seafood/Fish
*Brinner
*Make your own Takeout
*Movie Night
*Salad
*Soup
*Leftover roulette
*Pre-packaged night. (Wanchai Ferry, Stouffer, Birdseye, Pizza Rolls, Bagel Bites. These are our friends)
*Ethnic Night (Try a dish from a new cuisine - Mexican, Italian, French, Ethiopian, Argentinian, Chilean, Brasilian, Portuguese etc)
*Geography night - This is borrowed from a friend of mine who did this with her son when she was homeschooling. When she taught him American Geography they covered 3-4 states a weekish. They learned all about the state, drew the flag, etc. etc. and also learned about the culture in each state. Her son was 4th grade at the time. Part of learning about the culture was learning one recipe that was native to that state or consumed a lot in that state. Ex. - Chess Pie originated in TN. - Nebraska could be a corn dish, Idaho could be potato dish, etc. There are 52 weeks in the year and 50 states. You could easily have the last two weeks as weeks to redo your favorites. As an added bonus - if you homeschool or just want to enrich your child's learning you could have them research a little about the state and then you could have a fun quiz type game of Alabama trivia after dinner. Could be fun!!! Please let me know if you try it :)

4. Remember you don't have to do it all at once. Figure out your categories then find recipes, or let it rest a bit. Avoid becoming overwhelmed :) If you are overwhelmed - you won't finish it!

5. Find your recipes or write them down. Try finding recipes that fit each category you chose and sticking links to them in an excel spreadsheet or a google docs spreadsheet. (docs.google.com) !!! You can add to it gradually. - - If you have lists of recipes then you don't have to pull them out of your brain when you plan for the week. You can just go to the spreadsheet and say "Hmm what sounds good this week??" then copy & paste into a word document or something before you print it :)

6. Try making some test menus - here are some of mine:

Week 1:
Brinner - Pancakes & Sausage
Salad - Beef & orange salad
Chicken - Creamy Crunchy Strawberry Chicken
Pork - Pomegranate-citrus glazed pork chops
Beef - Chili Burgers with Guacamole
Meatless - Morning Star Farms
Pizza - Homemade 1/2 Buffalo Chicken & 1/2 BBQ Chicken Pizza

Week 2:
Brinner - French Toast, bacon, fruit salad
Salad - Chicken Fajita salad
Chicken - Crockpot cranberry chicken
Chicken - salsa chicken
Beef - pot roast
Meatless - beans & rice
Seafood - Shrimp Linguini

These are not my actual meal plans. The first one sounds pretty good though. I might go with that.
If you use a spreadsheet you could use the fill option to change the background color of each cell once you've used the recipe. Or maybe you want to denote "Hey - i really LOVED that recipe - let's do it again in a few weeks!" You don't have to have 52 chicken recipes or 52 beef recipes. You could do 12 of each or 4 of each and rotate. The important thing is that it's planned.

Chicken is $1.99 a lb at Kroger in my area this week - feasibly you could just do chicken 7 nights a week since it's cheap!!!

Does this help? SO sorry it got so long. :/ Opinions?

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