Friday, January 21, 2011

Finding My (Meal Plan) Groove

I'm trying to get organized. It seems like that's the story of my life. I'm always thinking, searching, and striving for ways to be more productive and effective. A never ending journey.

Even though I can't say I'm there yet, I have learned some good tricks. The problem is, I know the tricks, but do I always DO and LIVE the tricks? No, I do not. I keep trying, though.

One of those tricks I use in my quest for a smoother home life is having and implementing some sort of plan for meal time. We all know how important family mealtimes are. We eat better. We have time to talk together. We save money in the process when we take the time to plan a menu and then stick to that menu while grocery shopping.

Wanting to do better, I spent the last few days brainstorming ways I could be more effective when it comes to breakfast and dinner. To make things easier for me, I set up a schedule to help me go on autopilot. (I've always done this, more or less, but not as detailed.) Since I purchase, store, and prepare basic, whole foods, I needed a plan to see that what I have on my pantry and storage room shelves will be used.

Here's how are weekly winter/spring meal rhythms all came together:


B: Oats
D: Beans


B: Eggs and Toast
D: Soup


B: Muffins
D: Fish


B: Pancakes/French Toast
D: Pasta


B: Other grain cereals
D: Kids Cook/Date Night (this will rotate between the four oldest and it might change to a Saturday if we go out then.)

B: Kids Cook
D: Mom's choice (whatever I'm in the mood to make, have time for, or whatever needs to be used up.)


B: Mom's choice
D: Poultry (or sometimes beef very occasionally)

I made a chart of this to display on the fridge so we all know what to expect.

Next, I went through all my favorite recipes and categorized them into the different groups I have on my menu plan so it would make the planning part easier. I'll type these up and put them in my cooking binder.

For example, when it's Muffin day, I made a list of all the different possibilities I could make, but might forget about, like apple cinnamon, pumpkin spice, mixed berry-oatmeal, blueberry, etc. If there was a question of the where the recipe was found, I made a note of that. I did the same process in all the other categories. (oats, pancakes, cereals, beans, soups, etc.)

Finally, I took a calendar (I was gung- ho and made up my menus from this week until March 12.) and listed each day's breakfast and dinner plan. This is also placed on the fridge for easy referral. It took a lot of thought, but it seemed so much easier when I had my list of options so available and handy. Another thing I've decided to do was keep a Post-It also on the fridge listing all the vegetables I have in both refrigerators that need to be used up. Sometimes I forget or things "hide" and then go bad. When dinnertime comes, I'll look to the handy list to remind myself: "Oh, yeah. I need to do something with that asparagus tonight."

I think it's really important to give our children (both boys and girls) opportunities to plan a meal and prepare it. That's what my mom did for me and I think that was key to helping me feel comfortable in the kitchen. I started early, learned by trial and error, and ended up loving this way of creating. I not only want this for my children, but I also want them to appreciate and gain a better sense of gratitude for all that goes into the process. They especially need to know that Mom isn't the only one in the family who can and should do all the cooking.

Of course, one has to be flexible in all this. The menus aren't set in stone, and there's always room for a switch or adaption. The real beauty in this is knowing that that the tough part- the planning part- is out of the way.

Now that you've heard my plan, I'm curious to know how you make mealtimes more effective. Let's share, shall we?


  1. That has work for me! I like to have a "phanton plan" for meals! It helps with the shopping and compsuption of foods in the fridge. We have two soup or salad and sandwich days, one breakfast for dinner day, a leftover day, a pasta day, a free cooking day (Mom doesn't cook), and family recipe day (usually Sunday we use our Cordner Family Recipe Collection Book). Most of the time I tried to prepare this meal in advance so Sunday is the day that I cook less. I have a list of meals that are quick to prepared and very kid friendly. I don't plan breakfast per day but I plan the choices offered: Smoothie, Cold cereal/yorgut and fruit, toast and eggs, hot cereal. All those can be done in 5 m each is important to us. Sarah takes care of breakfasts in the weekend (Crepes, pancakes are some of the choices then).
    Here are some of the weekly meals: pasta sauted with veggies), baked potato bar, fajitas, portuguese soups, egg casserole, cafe rio type salads, tacos. We can be really creative with salads, sandwiches (in winter time lots of hot panninis in whole wheat, in the summer lots of wraps). I am determined not to waste food so for example I use some leftover veggies to go into a fritada or pasta dish so I cook simple and seasonal.

  2. If I don't have a meal plan then I usually don't feel like cooking. No motivation. As I make my grocery list, I browse favorite recipe books and cooking blogs to get meal ideas and i base my shopping list on ingredients needed. I try to do equal amounts of complicated recipes and simpler recipes (for the busy scheduled nights). If I'm not excited about a meal, i'm not in the mood to cook.
    I like your idea about the list of veggies. i always feel so bad about neglected, spoiled veggies in the back of the fridge.

  3. Lately I don't feel much like cooking, I do it because we need to eat. Planning in advance may help me get more enthusiastic about it...
    We usually buy our veggies at the market downtown every Saturday morning, whatever we get a good price for and looks fresh and tasty. So I prepare our meals around what I already have bought instead of buying what I need for a specific meal.