Tuesday, June 1, 2010
When it comes to organizing my family, I would say that my strongest area is meal planning. I could not function during the week without a meal plan.
Some people plan by the month, but since our schedules are so subject to change, I plan ours by the week. Every Sunday (sometimes earlier in the week if I have time) I sit own with my day planner and plan lunch and dinner for the entire week. Then I make my shopping list directly from my menu, fill it in with other items we need (drinks, snacks, cleaning supplies, etc.) and I'm done.
I probably spend about an hour to an hour an a half a week planning it all out, but it saves countless hours of wondering what to cook or making extra trips to the grocery store. Here are a few tricks I've learned to make menu planning easier:
• Double up and use leftovers.
Almost every time I cook a meal, I make enough to make two meals out of it. So if I make spaghetti on Thursday night, we'll eat it again on Saturday. This saves me time in the kitchen and money at the store by buying in bulk.
• Use your slow cooker.
I am convinced that a slow cooker is a mom's best friend - especially for a working mom. I generally plan two slow cooker meals a week (and since I double the portions, that's four meals out of fourteen done!). If you haven't used a slow cooker a lot, start by checking out two of my favorite sites - A Year of Slow Cooking and Recipe Zaar.
• Have a flexible plan for breakfast.
Some mornings I'm home and able to cook breakfast, but other days I'm off to work or school before anyone else is even awake. I keep a variety of breakfast food stocked - cereal, frozen waffles, sausage biscuits, yogurt, fruit, etc. I also like to use recipes that have to be refrigerated overnight, like stuffed French toast, which I've also posted a recipe for. Just pull it out of the fridge and pop it in the oven, and you have a quick, easy, and very yummy breakfast.
• Keep a few "emergency meals" on hand.
No mater how well you plan, things don't always go according to plan. It doesn't have to be fancy - canned soup, chicken nuggets, frozen ravioli - but keep a couple of emergency meals on hand in case a ball game runs over or you forget to thaw meat for dinner.
It takes a little time and practice, but the time and money you save by meal planning is well worth it!