Psst. Wanna know a secret?
Although I really do enjoy cooking--baking especially, if you haven't noticed, but meal times are tough for me--specifically the evening meal. Supper? Dinner? The terms are interchangeable around here, but other places not so much. Anywhoo, I digress. Lunch is easy for me. We typically have sandwiches or work on the leftovers. But the evening meals? It's our only meal of the day that we are all together. I want it to be a nice meal--maybe not super elaborate and certainly not gourmet but more than the same PB sandwich the kids and I had for lunch. Not that there is anything wrong with that--we've had our share of PB sandwiches. But ideas are scarce for me when it comes time for preparing something. I guess you could say I am not good under meal planning pressure. The only way I have found to counteract this is to do meal planning.
I first started doing meal planning after The Little Man was born. It was a good way for me to balance the meals that our friends were bringing, the food I had pre-made and placed in the freezer pre-baby as well as the cooking I occasionally felt up to. It was a God-send for me to just look at the calendar, go to the freezer and essentially pull out the evening meal.
And I have tried to continue with the planning. Some months are better than others, but when I don't meal plan it's bad. I get horrible idea block, I never have the right ingredients in the cupboards and we eat out way more than we should. Thus spending way more money on food than necessary.
I resisted meal planning for a long time. My big argument was "how am I suppose to know what is going to sound good two weeks from Tuesday?". The crazy thing is this--when I have it scheduled out, it nearly always sounds good. And if not, I can easily switch it with another night's meal from later in the week or month. If we end up with dinner plans with friends or we end up not at home at meal time, it's fine. I just flex the planned meal to another night. I also plan a meal or two out--and that goes into the monthly budget. The other added benefit of meal planning it that we have less waste. I PLAN to re-purpose leftovers or make full recipes and freeze half so that I have a quick meal for another time.
What I do is this--I print out a blank calendar and plan out 3-4 weeks at a time. I use meal plans from previous months for ideas, as well as my cook books, websites like allrecipes.com and ideas from blogs that I read. I coordinate the meal plan (main dish, veggie and usually one other side) with the grocery ads and coupons that I have so that I can get the best deals. And I try to do one new recipe a month. I generally do one or two (at the most) big grocery shopping trips a month. I make my grocery list as I do the planning.
I just re-read that last paragraph and it sounds like I have this big, complicated process. It's not. I promise you. To plan the whole month, it usually takes me less than an hour TOTAL and I don't usually get it all done in one sitting.
So, what's been on the plan so far this month?
Chicken Broccoli Braid
And yes, my kids eat it all. Some meals go over better than others, of course--just like at any one's house!
I am always up for new recipes and open to new ideas for the process. Are you a meal planner? If not, what's holding you back? If you are a meal planner--how does your process vary? Do you have a "go-to" recipe or family favorite?