Wednesday, February 29, 2012

My Crazy system

Some areas of my life are extremely organized.  I wouldn’t say I’m a super organized person, just one look in my purse would confirm that, but out of necessity I have to plan meals.  I started planning meals my first year of marriage and it’s morphed into the system I now use.

I used to plan one month at a time, but it always seemed like the month would end and I’d have to make a dreaded list of ideas again.  So last summer I started planning for the entire season.  I now plan for 3 months worth of meals at one time.  I generally know what produce will be available during that season, which helps me plan meals.   (Living here I can only get things like pumpkin in the fall to early winter, certain things in the spring, certain things in the summer, etc.  If by chance I can find them here in the off season they are crazy expensive.) 

I actually really love this system. 

Here’s a little insight to my madness:
·         Each month I generally plan 23-25 meals for the month.  That number may sound like a lot but we don’t eat out very often.  For starters it’s torturous with Micah and then there is the lack of options available. 

·         I plan at least one-two days a week to have leftovers.  Thursdays we have a meeting at 5:00, so it’s the perfect day for leftovers and I try to have them for at least one meal over the weekend.  If not we’ll do sandwiches or eat out.

·         I start off with a list of the “usuals” that always make it on the menu every month:  Pizza, Tacos, Brinner, Stir Fry, Sandwiches

·         I plan at least one Crock pot meal a week, usually on Tuesdays since I have class all day long.

·         I plan at least one meatless meal a week, usually two and sometimes three.

·         I plan 4-5 company worthy meals a month since we do invite people over frequently.  If there are months where there are more than that I’ll try to tweak something that is already planned to make it a little bit fancier and if it’s a local whom we've invited I might add a meat to a meatless meal.

It may seem like a lot to plan this many meals but quite honestly I use my energy on the main dish and our side dishes are steamed or fresh veggies.
I start by making a long list of ideas.  Usually I try to fill 75 slots, but some of these are things like freezer meals.  Pinterest has been amazing at gathering ideas.

This meal planning system has been quite helpful to reduce waste in our home.  When I plan things like a pot roast, I know I can stretch that one meal into three:  Roast (day one), Cowboy Casserole (Day two), Veggie Soup (Day Three, using the broth from the roast).  Also if I know a recipe calls for 1/2 of a cabbage I can plan something else to use up the rest of the cabbage, so it doesn't spoil.

Also if I have a lot of something and we don’t eat it, I freeze it for a meal on busy days and I even build in "something out of the freezer" days.  When Marvin is traveling I don't cook, so I try to plan some meals I can freeze to prepare for those trips.  It makes it so much easier to feed my hungry boys if I can just reheat it in the microwave.

I tend to move things around a lot.  Rarely will I keep the same meals on the days I planned it for.  At the end of the month there are usually a crazy assortment of arrows on my menu.

I also love variety, I never make the same thing twice in a month.  Weird, maybe, but I don't mind cooking and variety is important to me. I do repeat my regulars every month to keep certain members of my household happy, plus it gives me some freebies every month, I don't have to think about as I'm brainstorming meals.
As I get ready to fill in my menus, I break everything down by categories, chicken, meatless, crock pot, beef, other.  It makes it easier to fill in my menus this way.  As I add an item to my menu I cross it off.

My hope is that I can look back on my menus in years to come and basically already have things planned out, with the exception of adding in new recipes to try.  So it may be a lot more work now but I’m hoping that in the future it will pay off.

So there you have it, my crazy meal planning system.  How do you plan meals?
Find my spring menu here

I'm linking to WFMW this week.


Michelle said...

I think that we plan fairly similarly, except I only plan one month at a time. I try to plan about 25 meals for the month as well. I generally roast one chicken each week and use the leftover meat for soup or a casserole. And we eat pizza once a week (usually) and soup once a week when it's not summer. Other than that...I try to plan at least 4 vegetarian meals, 4 crock-pot meals, and 4 soups. I plan the month's menus first and then plan the weeks one week at a time based on what's left. I keep a master "month list" and cross off of it as I put them on the current "week list." That helps prevent me from changing my menu a million times and helps me allow for things like inviting people over, nights we're not going to be home, and so on. Although changes do, of course, still happen.

I also try to plan my weeks so that I can use things like cabbage or celery that don't get used up 100% the first time. I think I should start saving my menus, though, so that I can use them later on...that's a great idea!

Erica said...

Michelle I'm always looking for new recipes to use up cabbage. It's so cheap here I've been using it in lots of soups, but feel like I always have some to use up.

Michelle said...

Have you seen my recipe for lentil-something soup (I don't remember the name...)? It's got cabbage in it. It's easy and healthy. And uses cabbage!