Weekly Meal Plan: Menus Made Easy
Organized Meal Planning
On a visit to my newly married sister's home many years ago, I noticed a list on her refrigerator. I asked her why she had Monday - Beef, Tuesday - Pork, etc., on a list. She explained that they were on a tight budget, and the weekly meal planning list kept her organized while still leaving her room for a little creativity. She did her shopping once a week, and picked up beef for Monday, pork for Tuesday, beef (again) for Wednesday, vegetarian for Thursday, fish for Friday, chicken for Saturday and had leftovers on Sunday.
She did two days of beef because her husband liked it and because beef generally comes in packages bigger than one serving. I mulled over this concept. I did a lot of the cooking at home, even as a teenager, since my Mom worked. I started using the system and still use it today. Over the years I've modified it to fit what I and my family like to eat, but I generally stick to what is easy. It seemed very logical to have assigned days for the main courses, and the ability to accessorize with side dishes or flavorings. I don't like having the same meal flavor three nights in a row, so organizing what I'm having ahead of time allows me to make sure I'm spreading out the Mexican, Italian, Thai and plain ole flavors.
Even though the meat type is assigned beforehand, I'm able to shop the sales for the week and buy whatever cut is on sale. I have a vacuum sealer that allows me to buy in bulk and freeze the meat if there is a really good sale. I also shop at the day old bread store and freeze bread. I take advantage of buy 2 for a lower price - milk stays good for a longer time after it has been frozen. Just open the carton and pour a little out to allow for expansion. I usually go to the grocery store with a weekly or monthly menu planned out, and a corresponding grocery list, but it is easy to be flexible if one of my ingredients is costly or not available. By having both the daily meals and the grocery list, I can adjust on the fly.
Cooking from scratch requires both organization and planning, but it is often easier than going out. My weekly meal list, and a little advanced preparation makes it easier to go home and cook than to go out. Living in a rural area with no drive through restaurants has made me a firm believer in having extra meals in the freezer. When I make something big like lasagne or chili, I freeze some in individual portions for those nights when I'm just too tired to cook. I cook chicken and ground beef ahead of time and freeze it in meal sizes. This allows me to simply add a few additional ingredients and have a tasty and nutritious meal.
I use a similar weekly menu planning list system for side dishes, fruits, veggies and desserts. I have a list of vegetables that everyone in my family will eat, that only some will eat and that none will eat. When I am doing a big family dinner, I consult the guest list and my "like" list for side dishes. I buy fresh produce when it is in season, then vacuum seal and freeze part of it for later. I have at least four or five standby recipes for each vegetable, so I could in theory have the same veggie several nights and not realize it. I research and try new recipes on a regular basis, always looking to add to my repertoire. I keep certain essentials on hand to make sure I don't have to resort to experimental chocolate dishes too often.
Though most of my meals are well planned, there is always the time when someone stops by unexpectedly or I have to work late. To be prepared, I fill my pantry with side dish staples including flour, cream of mushroom soup, rice, pasta and tomato sauce. I have a few best loved, quick and easy to make side dishes and I always keep the ingredients on hand. Instead of buying expensive "blended" rice, I make my own by buying different types and mixing them together. Basic pasta and tomato sauce can be turned into a meal for many in less than 20 minutes. My pantry always has dry beans, lentils and peas. I make soup and homemade chili regularly during the winter.