A month of meals – Part 2

Step one in planning a month of meals is to figure out what you want to eat. Pretty basic.

Besides my usual cookbooks, I have a binder full of other recipes. Isn’t it beautiful?

Some of the recipes were handwritten by the person who gave it to me. Some of these are hole-punched and filed.

Some are printed off the computer.

Some were cut out of the newspaper and glued to printer paper.

Others were ripped from magazines.

For meal planning, I simply numbered a sheet of paper from 1 to 30 and started putting entrees next to the number. I prefer to go meatless on Fridays, so I marked 4 for that. I made sure certain favorites were included. Then I flipped through the books and recipe files for the rest. I’m planning for at least 4 recipes that I’ve never tried before.
One other resource that I had for meals was old calendars filled with menu plans. I’ve been planning meals a month at a time for over a year. I have been planning them, not executing them. There is a huge difference. My current scheme is all about setting myself up for success.
What has been my downfall in the past? Often, I knew what I wanted to make, but didn’t have the time that day to pull it off. Recently, I planned to bake boneless chicken thighs. Unfortunately, the chicken I bought was bone-in. I needed dinner in a half hour, but bone-in takes over an hour to cook. Instead, I was microwaving frozen spaghetti sauce and boiling noodles.
Often, I would forget that the dish I planned for 2 weeks away needed green onions or sour cream or something that I don’t always buy, but needs to be somewhat fresh. Dinnertime approaches and I’m missing key items.
Or I forget to pull the meat from the freezer and really don’t have time for it to thaw. Then I’m ordering pizza delivery. Or we rush to practice and swing through a drive-thru.
I’m hoping to avoid these situations more often by having meals as prepped in advance as possible, by buying all non-perishable ingredients needed at the beginning of the month, and by making now the shopping lists I’ll need for each week. If my Saturday routine has me going to the grocery store for perishables and pulling the week’s meals out of the freezer to begin thawing, I should minimize the need for emergency food. At least that’s the plan.
I decided today to take all those old calendars and put the entrees in a sortable list in a spreadsheet (it’s OK if you call me a dork). Interestingly enough, I had only 60 different entrees for over a year’s worth of eating. Now, one of them was “marinated chicken” which is not very specific – there are many different marinades. But the concept is the same. One was “salmon.” I use 2 or 3 different salmon recipes, typically. So there was some variety within those 60, but not much. I suspect that most families are the same. Family-tailored menu planning really isn’t complicated. Stick with what your family likes.
After I came up with 30 entrees, I filled them in on a blank calendar template (Sunday – Saturday columns and five rows for the weeks). Things that would take longer went on the weekends often. Easy cleanups went during the week so I won’t come home to a messy kitchen after baseball practice. I added side dishes, trying to vary things within each week. I also made out a basic schedule for breakfast and lunch, which I’ve never done before. We’ll see how the kids respond to that.
OK. That’s step one. That’s the easiest part. Next step: building the grocery list.

Local 5K

I’m very disappointed that this race will be the weekend we have booked out of town. If you are in the Savannah area, like to run 5Ks, and want to support a good cause, check it out. Proceeds are earmarked for the Warriors in Transition Unit at Ft. Stewart (my husband’s unit).

A month of meals – Part I

I do recommend, if you should ever make your own monthly meal plan, that you give yourself a few weeks to organize it. You could just jump in – as I have. But then you will find yourself on a Sunday night at a stopping point because you do not have key ingredients – like meat – and you will refuse to pay the local grocery store prices and since the cheaper options are too far away to conveniently visit on a school day, like Monday should be, you will be somewhat, but not entirely, chagrined.

Oh, and soccer practice starts tomorrow. Hooray.

Right now, of 30 meals, I have 15 (half!) as prepped as I can get them. Some, like crustless spinach quiche, can’t really be done in advance (and still taste good). Some were extremely easy to prep, like London Broil in a marinade. Others, like my beef stew, are ready to go (just make rolls).

In addition, I have another 7 in mid-prep. The meat for the chili is cooked. The corned beef for the Reuben’s is in the crock pot. The pot roast is marinading.

The remaining 8 require ingredients (8 simple items). I would have my husband stop at the store after work tomorrow, but it’s his birthday (and we have soccer practice). Perhaps he can go on Tuesday.

In the meantime, I will finish those other 7 recipes, and I have plenty of computer work to do. I’d like to make legible shopping lists for starters. And a nice looking menu. And directions for next time (like how much beef to brown, in total, and how much to leave raw, for the others recipes and what logical order to do things based on cooking time and available pots in my kitchen).

The menu is slated to begin next Sunday, so my goal is to do one last grocery trip for all the non-perishables I’ll need for the month on Friday or Saturday.

More later…

It’s what’s for dinner.

I actually don’t know what’s for dinner tonight. It’s still early.

But I DO know what’s for dinner in September. ALL September. And for breakfast and lunch, too.

Not only do I know what’s for dinner, I am in the midst of putting together all of the recipes I’ll need. And making grocery lists for all ingredients (separating them into “buy now” and “buy fresh” categories). And planning which things can be made in advance. And hopefully doing that pre-cooking or other prep work in the next few days.

When I told my husband these plans, he said that I was “crazy”…and “ambitious.” I asked which, and pointed out that “crazy” was an insult and “ambitious” was a compliment. He artfully dodged answering.

The project IS rather ambitious, and I’ve been working hard all day. My plan is to use this monthly menu three months in a row. While I’m using it, I’ll put together a winter menu to use three months in a row. Then a spring one, then a summer one. If I do this every quarter for three years, I’ll have a 12 month plan!

I do know that there are already books written with this sort of menu planning in mind, but I need to go with food my family eats. If I don’t make tacos at least 2 or 3 times a month, my oldest son will be upset. And if my kids have to face a whole month of casseroles or strange recipes, they will waste away until they resemble concentration camp survivors. I try to limit new recipes to once a week.

If I succeed, and I plan to succeed, I will not only not have to think about planning food for a month, I will surely save money on emergency dinners at the drive-through. We’ve got fall baseball and soccer and ballet starting next week and the week after. I need to get food on the table in a jiffy.

Adrenaline beats caffeine any morning

“Now that’s an ominous sign,” I told Bill as we stepped out the front door. It was 6:40 am and a full moon hovered just above the tree line.

After he pulled away, I went back in the house and headed into the kitchen for a cup of coffee. I stopped dead in front of the refrigerator. Up on top, a snake perched, looking down at me.

I blinked. Do we have any plastic toy snakes, I pondered. Is it a prank of some kind? Am I seeing things?

It moved.

I screamed.

I immediately called Bill. “You have to come home! There’s a snake on top of the fridge!”

Had he been even 2 more minutes down the road, I would not have called him. But lucky me.

We tried to get a picture, but the resident 2 year old had exhausted my camera battery. And the zoom lens doesn’t reach from the other side of the kitchen.

I do not know how the thing got up there. I’m not sure I want to know.

Bill came home, captured the snake, and took it outside. What a guy.

What a day…and it’s only just beginning.