Thursday, August 29, 2013

Getting Ready for Fall: Menu Planning

The kids ask me every day, often more than once, "what's for dinner?"

How can three little words cause so much stress?

This is my cookbook collection.
One of my goals for this year is to dig into these books and magazines to try at least one new recipe per month.  I have done fairly well with this goal (although August may be a bust).  It has been fun to try new things, and it has been even more fun to discover some keepers that can move into the rotation.

Jenny's post today gave me the menu planning jumpstart I needed.

With school resuming next week--and the extracurriculars starting soon after,  I need to have a quick answer to the question of what's for dinner.  And not just dinner tonight, but if I can have dinner planned out for the next few weeks, I will feel like the pressure's off.  Because really, just deciding what's for dinner is often the hardest part.  The cooking is no problem!

Much like Jenny does, I keep a written list of what we eat for dinner.  I keep my list in my Moleskine weekly planner.  I don't have a dedicated book just for our dinners.  It is so nice to be able to flip back through the calendar for ideas.  I usually write down this list on the weekends when I'm making our grocery list.

At this time of the year, I want to have several weeks of meals planned out. First, I made a low-tech list of just about everything I cook on a regular basis.  So much chicken.

Then I typed all those meals into Excel and turned it into a table.  I shuffled around some dishes so that we're not having chicken four nights in a row.  And here is my menu plan for Monday through Thursday for the next eight weeks.  Sometimes I think I'd like to have more flexibility in my weeks, but when life gets busy, I really take comfort in knowing that dinner is already decided.

Some meals are make-aheads, so I will work on those on the weekends and hopefully make double batches for those nights when the meal plan goes off the rails.  

One of my least favorite things about weeknight activities is that we end up eating around 5:45.  That's a little early for my personal preference, but I'd rather feed us early instead of waiting to eat after the activities.  I want to focus on making our weekend meals more special--that will have to serve as our main sit-down and catch-up time.  Even if it is our Friday take-out.

So how about you?  Do you plan your meals this far in advance, or do you like to have more flexibility in your week?  

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