We're continuing our Thrifty Living series with an important skill: Plan your meals with a menu!
Have you seen the meme going around social media that says something like: "No one told me that being an adult meant that I had to decide what to fix for supper every day for the rest of my life!"
Because the struggle is real!
When I was a young mom, many afternoons would find me and my two neighbors (also young moms) sitting on our front steps while our children played on the sidewalk that ran in front of our houses. Each of us would be armed with a cookbook or two, and the conversation would go something like this:
Mom #1: "What are you fixing tonight?"
Mom #2: "Something with chicken. Do you have any good ideas?"
Mom #3: "There's always Shake and Bake."
These conversations would happen between 3:00 and 4:00 - and suppertime was our deadline!
Do you have that problem?
My answer to that is my menu. Having a menu is a tool that helps me give my family healthy meals without spending way too much time and money worrying about what I'm going to fix for dinner!
So, how do we do it?
Step 1: Gather your recipes.
One of the complaints I have about pre-made menus is that there are often dishes in them that my family doesn't eat for one reason or another. Or the recipes are made from expensive ingredients I don't usually buy.
After nearly 40 years of marriage, I have a vast collection of recipes that are tried and true. Some are good for hot weather, some for cold weather. So I get out my cold weather recipes (we're still in the middle of spring here,) and decide which ones will go on this menu.
Step 2: Have your calendar handy.
If we have a meeting at 6:30 in the evening, that will have an impact on which recipe you will cook that evening. The same with an afternoon dentist appointment, or an all-day seminar that keeps me out of the house or on my computer.
Step 3: Write out your menu.
I start with supper. Using my list of recipe favorites and my calendar, I decide which meals to fix on which days. I try to alternate beef and chicken as the protein, and I try to alternate lighter meals and heavier ones. I have a few standards - Saturdays are always hamburgers - but other than that I just plug in what will work with our schedule.
Step 4: Add your breakfast and lunch menus.
I keep it simple - breakfasts and lunches are the same every week. I will vary things if we have leftovers to use up, or if I don't feel like tuna salad for lunch on Tuesday, but at least a plan is in place.
Which brings me to an important point - my menu is a plan. It isn't set in stone. If I forget to thaw the ground beef for the Egg Roll in a Bowl but the chicken is already thawed, we switch with the Butter Chicken recipe.
Step 5: Make the grocery list.
I have created my pantry to store the ingredients I often use in our favorite recipes. I stick to the old adage, "Store what you eat and eat what you store." (More about pantries next month!) So if I wasn't able to make a trip to the grocery store, we would still have most of the ingredients we need to make several of the recipes on the menu.
But we always need to buy fresh items, and I also use my grocery shopping trip to buy pantry items that happen to be on sale.
Step 6: Print out the menu and post it in the kitchen where everyone can see it.
Part of my morning routine is to check the menu. I get meat out of the freezer to thaw (usually three days ahead of when I need it,) and make sure I have the ingredients on hand for today's supper. This is when I start supper in the slow cooker, or pull the hamburger buns out of the freezer. It depends on which meal is on the menu. But doing those tasks first thing in the morning sure beats trying to catch up 15 minutes before supper is served!
What's that? I hear some of you wondering why I use a printed menu from my computer rather than writing it out on notebook paper.
I'll let you in on a secret: I reuse my menus.
Why go to the work of building a menu every week or two weeks when you can rotate and reuse them?
I have two three-week winter menus that I rotate (giving us six weeks before we repeat the menus,) and this summer I'll be making two three-week summer menus to rotate. I keep the files on my computer, and when it's time for a new menu I make some necessary adjustments to fit our schedule, then print it out.
So, how does making a menu help with Thrifty Living?
1) I take fewer trips to the grocery store. You and I both know that the grocery store is a time and cash sucker. Not only does it take time to drive to town and back (it's 30 minutes one-way to our grocery store,) but while I'm there things tend to jump into my cart. Oh, things we need, of course, but still things I hadn't planned on buying.
2) I plan healthy meals, which helps us stay healthy. My husband and I haven't been sick with a cold, flu, or anything else like that since I started planning and using a menu. The key to eating healthy, I think, is planning to eat healthy. When a healthy meal is written down, I'm much more likely to follow through and make that meal. And fewer illnesses means fewer trips to the doctor, fewer days spent out of commission, and fewer medicines purchased.
3) I'm much less likely to grab a pizza or fast food when we have a meal planned at home. Last minute planning means last minute decisions - which always end up being less healthy and more expensive.
Next month we'll start talking about pantries. Talk about a money and time saver! Plus, the opportunity to help our neighbors. It's a win/win.
Don't miss it!