Are you super-organized, and that 5pm question, “What’s for dinner?” doesn’t raise your blood pressure or make you shriek, “Eeeek, is that really what time it is???”
Does having healthy food in the frig and cabinets — namely fresh fruits, fresh vegetables, and whole grain crunchy things — mean your family snacks, grazes, and feeds themselves breakfast and lunch making healthy choices?
Not here at my house.
You’re kidding, right? Because there are also graham crackers and cheerios and sliced cheese (and shredded, and string cheese…) and soda and tortilla chips and chocolate and frozen sausage patties and baking supplies and people with lots of imagination … all those things that can be PART of Healthy, but not ALL of it.
Oh, it all comes together now and then and we all pat ourselves on the back. And then it falls apart a week or two later. That’s just the way it seems to go around here! And it all seems to depend on MY state of mind. I boss, they comply :) I ignore, they go crazy. Usually we run about halfway between the two extremes. And it’s not like they don’t know better; they do.
Have I mentioned that I have a terrible memory? That doesn’t help, either!
Right now, I’m in one of those get-organized, run-my-life-well, make-sure-you-don’t-forget-things phases. Springtime, second-hand nesting ;), and randomness have brought it around again. Mostly springtime. Has that happened to you, too?
One of the things that REALLY makes an impact on my day, on my ability to get 100% creative (play with my toys!) without stressing about everybody else, and on my family’s good health, is when I Menu Plan.
I have a process. It really works and it makes it fun — not just the menu planning, but the meals, the cooking, and the general sense of being in control. It’s more than just Let’s-have-chicken-on-Monday-this-week. It prevents micro-defrost disasters, breaded chicken fingers and honey mustard dip dinners (from a bag in the freezer, and no, I didn’t make them myself!) or that “Let’s just go out” *sigh* *trudge to the door* solution. Going out to eat should be way more fun than that, am I right?
My process is REALLY low-tech. It involves coffee :) cookies, sticky notes, and scribbled lists, and it works beautifully for me. Oh, and this menu planning grid I have created and perfected over the last few years. I love it! I even have a list of superfoods that prints out on the back for inspiration. Here’s a link to the pdf of my menu plan grid.
I thought I would share my experience with you as I make this menu plan that we will really be using!
Step 1 I look in my frig and make a scribbled note of all the stuff that needs to be used up. Leftovers and produce, mostly — the perishables. Stuff that didn’t actually end up getting used when it should have :/ I am sure you don’t have anything in that category.
Step 2 Our produce box comes every other Monday, so I list the perishables that will soon be arriving. Fava Beans this week. I’ve never had fava beans! Help me!
Step 3 Pick new recipes. My favorite step! I check my internet sources (blogs, bookmarks, downloads, Pinterest, etc) for the recipes I want to make. I peruse my snail-mail made-from-trees magazines and mark recipes from there. That’s where the sticky notes come in!* I end up with …. hmmmmm… at least 20 recipes I Have To Try. And then there are also those my husband suggests; add another 5-10.
How many new recipes can you handle this week? It’s tempting to do one or two a day, but let’s get real. For me, real means 3. Per week. Because ya know, I have other stuff going on, like yarns and fabric and paper and paints and glue and the computer and making up my own recipe concoctions and :P redoing my ~studio~ and reading trashy novels. Pare the list down!
Step 4 Before I start filling in every day with amazingly healthy and balanced meals, I check the calendar. Evening commitments? Somebody working late? Exhausting or overcommitted day? Company coming? Consider it all. I’m almost too tired to continue after thinking about all that ;)
Step 5 I then place the recipes on the menu calendar. They do not have to be evenly distributed ;)
Step 6 And next I place the other main dishes for dinner along with other items that occur to me as I go along.
Do lunch and breakfast if you wish; at our house it is SYS (serve yourself) unless there’s something special going on activity- or food-wise (leftovers that must be used) in which case I’ll jot those down.
Step 7 Now I go back and fill in dinner blocks with complete meals — protein source, veggies, grains/high-carbs. Keep referring to the lists you made of the perishables. Work them in as side dishes mostly, but also add the perishables in as lunch add-ons and snacks. If I have made planned-leftovers, they get written in.
This lunch add-ons and snacks thing is key around here. If I say everybody eat an apple every day at lunch this week, it might happen, but it might be over with in 3 day’s time. If I write it on the menu plan, it is official and the required lunchtime apple is consumed daily. I have such POWER! :D
Step 8 Now I finish off the menu-plan-related items on my shopping list. What shopping list, you ask? Why, the one I began at the beginning of the whole process!
When I write down a recipe onto the menu plan, I also write down the ingredients and their amounts that need to be purchased onto my draft shopping list. Later, I organize it better for my hubby because LUCKY ME, he does the majority of the grocery shopping!
Not done yet! This last step keeps things rolling all week…
Step 9 Look for the prep work that has to be done ahead. Crock pot. Thawing. Chopping and mixing for that meal you have to put on the table 30 minutes after you walk in the door. (Rachel Ray I am NOT!) Be sure to INCLUDE cutting up raw veggies, washing fruit, and making it really, really, really convenient to grab a healthy snack!!! To make this menu plan actually work at my house, the most important row of my menu planning table is the one labeled “prep.”
Notice the * items? ” *fetch <herbs>” ? That means, watch for a moment when it is not raining and go cut them from the garden so you don’t have to get soggy hair, wet feet, and cold in the middle of dinner prep ;) ‘cuz we don’t do umbrellas here.
Now, if I can just remember to actually REFER to my amazing plan daily, it all works! I even remember to eat my veggies and fruits at lunch :)
(BTW my pasta-chickpea-tuna-olives-failedbatchofItaliandressing thing that I made up was pretty good for lunch!)
*Tip: cheap out on those sticky-note-flags! Take a regular (bulk purchased, of course!) sticky note pad and use a rotary cutter to cut it into 4 strips — just make sure they will all have sticky at the top before you cut!
Happy cooking! Oh, and really — if you have a fresh fava bean recipe, could you please share it?