One thing I love about Saturdays is Menu Planning. It's a household chore, sure. But I get to sit down and pour over cookbooks, cruise my favorite cooking sites, sip a strong cuppa java, and plan out the next week of meals. Running an efficient household while raising two boys, staying (happily) married and working full-time is no small task. This single strategic step makes everything flow just a little bit easier...here's how:
Get organized. One side of our fridge is still magnet friendly, so that's our information hub. Create a spot like this in your kitchen's high traffic zone. Make it PUBLIC so your family (ahem, in my case, the Mister) can add to the shopping list, as well as read up on the week's menu. This avoids the whole "well I already had fish tacos for lunch" issue.
Basics: Paper, Pencil, magnet or tape Advanced: MENU worksheet with grocery list, pencil, magnetic list pad, clipboard, highlighters, Spot-On! Magnetic Hook
2. PREP WORK
A. Maintain a Shopping List. Track your household needs on an as-you-go basis. Out of oats? Write it down. Low on canola oil? Jot that note as SOON as you realize it. It's a total pain in the boot to take pantry inventory or waste time conjuring up the "oh-yeah-I-used-up-the-last-of-the-fill-in-the-blank" from the past week.
B. Keep a Family Calendar. In this stage of planning I review the coming week...Are we home every night? Anyone out-of-town? Does the Mister have plans? Do I have a work event? Who has what sports and how late? I want to make sure I don't plan to roast a chicken on a night when I'm working late, or have soccer pick up. I need this plan to WORK for me. Not be a source of frustration. If there is a night I have to work late, I map out something the Mister can easily execute, like Corn Dogs + applesauce + steamed broccoli. (My healthy fast version of Corn Dogs = hot dogs wrapped in corn tortillas).
Before you get too excited, consider the following:
1. How much time will I need/have? By reviewing your calendar in advance you should be able to set realistic expectations. Clue #1? Save the intermediate level recipes or the "baste-every-hour" roasts for a weekend day. Duh! 2. What new ingredients will this require? Are you willing to source out the ingredients required in that new Indian dish? If so, awesome! Make it an adventure. If not, don't commit to it, and therefore set yourself up for failure or disappointment. 3. Are there any special requests from the family? Make sure to give your kids/hubs a voice, if they would like to contribute.
There are PLENTY of recipe resources out there, but I recommend selecting a few "go-to's" each week (fave cookbooks, mags or websites), and one or two newbies so that you don't get stuck in the inspiration stage. Remember, you still have to implement. Your goal at this point is to have an idea of the kind of
Ask friends for their favorites, look at family recipes, mull over magazines. I love looking through cookbooks. Now that I plan my menus, it's much easier to justify the expense of glossy new food porn. Gorge. I always throw a few tried-and-trues into the line up, as I'm not trying to run a test kitchen. That said, I like to pick (at least) one new recipe each week, depending on the busy factor.
My Current Go-To's: Supernatural Everyday (101 Cookbooks Blog) Dinner: A Love Story (Blog) Bon Appetit has a great website. So does Food & Wine and America's Test Kitchen (Heads up: some content is only for paid subscribers). I'm also liking Vegetarian Times, Whole Living...oh! and Cooking Light has made such nice design leaps since I was a newlywed subscriber, that I recommend picking up a hard copy every now and then. Finally, check out Mark Bittman's site, and fittingly, the New York Times Dining & Wine section.
Yay! It's time to map it all out. I made myself a Menu Plan Worksheet that divides the paper into two major sections...Left side, MENU items, Right side, GROCERY LIST. Do it however works best for you. Or download mine here: Weekly Menu.
A. Before you start filling it in, there are some key considerations: Is it well Balanced? Omnivores at heart, we are focused on creating more meatless meals. Got Fish? Let's hear it for lean protein and omega 3s! Special Events? Am I on the hook to bring a dessert to Bunco? School Snacks? Are we low on granola bars?
B. MAKE YOUR PLAN I usually write in the main dish and the side(s) so I don't have to think about it. Write down any special ingredients you'll need onto the grocery list section.
C. Transfer any current "to buy" items from your ongoing fridge list to the grocery list (menu planner sheet).
D. Go shopping and make great food!
CONGRATULATIONS! You've just made the coming week SO MUCH easier. And true confessions...this stuff changes, you know? So if you get invited over to your neighbor's house for brats, you go with it. And ax the plan for that night, or sub it for another night. It's way easier to have too much scheduled than nothing at all.