Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Beginner Menu Planning Basics

It has been a really long time since I wrote about Menu Planning.  To be honest, I struggled with it for a long time and I was really disappointed in myself. I knew how much easier it made my life, dinner time ran more smoothly, our food budget was a lot lower, and we are a lot healthier. But I kept putting off doing it and the more I did that, the harder it was to get started again. 

It wasn't as bad as when I learned and began menu planning the first time, I had lots of skills and knowledge to pull from. But getting into the habit of doing it was just as hard this time around. 

So how to begin, or begin again. 

First, you need to go to Food Sense, if you don't know anything about menu planning, this is a wonderful place to start.  Lots of information on why it is such a good idea, how it can help your family, and good ways to get started. 

The next thing you need to do - and this is the most important part --  You just need to do it. 

That's really the most important part. You will need to find out what works for you and for your family. I have had my menu planning methods change a lot since I first started. Sometimes because I needed to find a way to do something better, sometimes because our schedules changed. You find what works for you. 

When I first started, I had an old spiral notebook that my kids had used for school and so it was all bent and ripped up.  I took it to church with me on Sunday and while I was sitting waiting for the meeting to start (That's my story - not when talks got boring) I would write my menu plan.  It was as simple as listing the days of the week on one side of the page and then just filling it what I was going to make for dinner.  I would try and remember what I had in the pantry and then I would make a grocery list on the next page of things I would need. 

I tried downloading the adorable planning sheets, I thought about buying a chalkboard, I know there are people that do it on their phones or ipads or computers. Find what works for you. 

I used to do all my menu planning on Sunday, now I do it on Wednesday when the store ads come out. And because I can order my grocery pick-up on Thursday, pick it up on Friday - and then on Friday and Saturday (when Joseph can watch the little kids), I cook almost all the meals for the week, make lunches for Joseph and Jarren to take to work, and do all the cooking / recipe testing for the blog. That is a pretty big change in routine, isn't it. 

In summer, we'll be changing our routine again. We get a CSA basket that we pick up on Tuesday. That always means that dinner on Tuesday is a sandwich and veggies because I spent the whole night washing, chopping and prepping the fruits and vegetables for the upcoming week. Then I go through the ads on Wednesday and plan the rest of the week - using the bulk of our groceries from the CSA box.   * you might have a very similar experience if you are going to be doing a lot of shopping at the farmer's market. It changes the whole routine from plan first then shop to shop and then plan. 

I have never been one to plan theme nights, but I know lots of people who do and it works for them, maybe it will work for you. Sure Taco Tuesday and Pizza Friday can be great things. But think out of the box. Maybe you love to try new recipes, but find it hard to find time to do it. What about Saturday evening, plan that to be your new recipe night. On busy practice nights, plan to have breakfast for dinner or salads / sandwiches. 

If setting limits like theme nights works for your family. I am all for it! and Themes - don't have to mean you only cook tacos on Tuesdays.  Since I have 4 boys that are quite old enough to cook for themselves, we have tried nights where they are each in charge of a night, they select a recipe they would like to learn how to make and we make it together. They get to add the skills of making actual food and that is three nights a week that I don't have to think of something to make and I get a bonus helper in the kitchen. 

There are almost endless ideas online and probably with your friends - of what works for them. If you think it might work for you, I suggest you try it.  If you think that a new pen or notebook is going to make meal planning work for you, I think you should do that as well.

But I do know this, It doesn't work unless you do it.  You can buy all the online meal plans that other people make for you and you can subscribe to all the dinner services that you can find, but you still are going to have to find what works for you. And the only way to discover that is to do it, to begin. 

So head on over to Food Sense, get a few tips, find out why it is so important and then sit down with a scrap of paper and a pencil and begin.  You'll get better next week, you'll find your groove after a few weeks, you'll be a pro before you know it. But it all begins in the same place, by just starting.