Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Menu-Planning Made Easy!

I'm sitting here in my cold, quiet house and thought I'd use the time to write a blog post!  The kids are on a two-hour delay with school due to the frigid temperatures and I was *hoping* to sleep in a bit.  However my body usually had other plans...it likes to wake up at the same time every morning with our without an alarm. So as I laid in bed telling myself to go back to sleep, Self smelled the fuel-oil furnace running which means only one thing...the fire in the outdoor wood burner is either out or almost out.  Since hubby often works very late in the winters and is not necessarily the morning person that I am, I have taken it upon myself to make sure the fire is taken care of each morning...it also gets me some brownie points with the hubs! 

Ok, back to my meal-planning!  First of all, let me just say that I love LOVE meal planning.  I know what you're thinking, and yes I AM weird (just ask my friends), but it seems to be one area in my life in which I am organized.  And that makes me feel good.  I also think it helps to save money at the grocery store.  That makes me feel good too.  Up until the past couple of months I mainly just looked through my pantry and freezer to get meal ideas to add to the menu before adding any new meals and jotted them down on a notepad.  But I got tired of looking for the recipes I had planned and it seemed like I would always forget ingredients or lose the list.  So I decided to devise a new process for meal-planning and thought I would share it with you!

TANGENT ALERT:  I love listening to podcasts.  I listen to them during the day when the kids are at school and I'm cleaning or cooking or doing laundry.  I love to listen to them when I take walks outside (which seems like I haven't walked outside for exercise in like YEARS since last fall...I miss you sunshine and temps above freezing...) and I love to listen to them on my iPod while driving to work.  I came across the Inspired To Action Podcast last fall and it is my ultimate favorite!  (Side Note: I just came across God Centered Mom Podcast this week and I equally love it too!).  They are both free through iTunes or you can listen to them online via the links above....I give you permission to stop reading this and go subscribe right now. 

A few months ago I was listening to one of the Inspired to Action Podcasts and Kat Lee was talking about how she uses Plan To Eat (by the way that is my Affiliate Link!) to plan her meals online.  It's a site that allows you to keep a recipe book online with all your favorite recipes (either entered by hand or added quickly from any website...even PINTEREST!).  You can easily drag those recipes to the days you want on the calendar and then it compiles a shopping list for you.  So once you are done planning your meals, your shopping list is ready for printing (with the exception of toilet paper, shampoo and things that are not edible...but you can even add those things to the list before printing!).  If you sign up you can get a 30-day free trial to try it out and see if it's something that works for your family.  After that, it's $39/year...BUT they often run 50% off sales several times a year (usually around holidays) so I was able to get my subscription for $19.50 a year as part of a Black Friday Sale.  SWEET!  And what's even cooler is that when I hear of another sale, I can buy it and the year will be tacked on to the end of my subscription so there's no overlapped missed months! There are so many more great things about Plan to Eat, but I will save them for a different post!

Ok, back to meal planning.  So here's what I do...

1.  I look through my pantry and freezer to look for meal ideas.  We usually have 1/2 a cow, one full pig, and some chicken in the freezer, so no need to buy meat if I don't have to!  I write down some meals that I can make, or mostly make, from what I already have.  I also check the previous meal plan to see if there are any meals that I ended up not making and therefore have the ingredients for and can carry over to this menu plan.  This happens a lot.  I apparently have a fear of running out of meals and plan too many...

2.  Once I have a partial menu made, I look through my favorite go-to recipes and pick out some to add to the menu.  I bought an ADORABLE chevron organizer (sort of like a coupon organizer) from the Dollar Tree for...get this....ONE DOLLAR.  Isn't it cute??

Inside, I used the Tabs to put following labels on:  Mexican/Pizza, Beef, Pork/Fish, Chicken, Soup/Pasta, Sides/Desserts.  Here's a picture of the inside:
I stuck all my favorite recipes in the appropriate section and this is where I keep them for quick reference each month. If I try new recipes, I just print them out or add the recipe card to the folder.  If we try it and don't like it, in the trash it goes!  I have TONS of recipes that I have printed and even handwritten that I have never tried so this is a great way to weed through them and possibly find new faves! 
3.  Once I have approximately 10-14 meals picked out, I go to Plan To Eat (affiliate link!) and put those meals onto my calendar.  I say 10-14 meals because I grocery shop and meal plan every two weeks.  I take a look at the calendar to see what we have planned for the next 2 weeks and plan enough meals accordingly. 
4.  Once my Meal Plan is done, I add my staples and toiletries, etc to the shopping list and print it out along with my Meal Plan Calendar and any new recipes that need printed.   Here is what my current menu looks like:
I handwrote two meals at the bottom that I had forgotten to add as extra meals if needed.  I usually only plan dinners since we keep breakfasts simple and have eggs, cereal or toast each morning.  The kids eat lunch at school and hubby and I usually have leftovers for lunch.  I hang this menu on the fridge so I can easily see what I had planned for today's meal.  When I make a meal, I highlight it on the menu so I know what meals are still available (I don't always make the meal on the specified day...that would be too structured and boring.  lol)
5.  I take all the recipes that are for the current menu and clip them together with these amazing clips I found at the Dollar Tree (I think you get 6 in a pack and they are found in the checkout line of the stores).  I LOVE these and have bought probably 4 packs of them!  We use them in place of chip clips to keep packages air-tight...and I seriously love their bright colors!  I clip all the recipes together and hang them on the side of my fridge on a Command hook.  This keeps the recipes all in one place and I can easily find it when I need it!  When the 2 weeks is up and it's time for a new menu, I put all the recipe cards back into the file folder and start over.
  I may or may not have an obsession with cute magnetic notepads from TJ Maxx....
I know this probably seems like a lengthy process, but it's actually been quite quick once I collected all of the recipes to put into the file folder and entered them into Plan To Eat.  And it's been fun being more intentional about trying recipes from cookbooks that are taking up space in my pantry and from online (can you say, Pioneer Woman?)  I was in a complete cooking rut before and now I am finding recipes that I used to make but had forgotten and new ones that are now our favorites!