"Boy, we sure eat a whole lot better when Grayson is home," my husband winked at me as he dished up a serving of tender pot roast, mashed potatoes, carrots and gravy. He balanced a piece of french bread on top and headed to the table with his plate. Grayson's plate was already piled high with enough food to keep him going for at least a couple of hours, before he'd return to the kitchen for a second full meal.
I laughed, oh hahaha, but it was a fake laugh. It's true. Now that our crew has dwindled from five, to four, to three, and now two, it's hard for me to get motivated to cook.
Like, at all.
I'm not proud of the turn my menu-planning has taken. After 28 years of fixing food for ravenous people, I'm tired. I've taken about a two year break from any serious meal planning. What can I say? I love cereal for dinner.
But food - good food - is important. Not just for filling hungry bellies around the table, but (if I may be so poetic) for soothing tired souls.
The smell of something delicious simmering on the stove makes a powerful memory of home, and gives families a sense that all is right in their world.
McDonald's just can't do that for you.
Tom's teasing comment stung just a little, because I know I can do better. Just because there are only two of us doesn't mean I should throw organization out the window. I mean, when you can't remember the last vegetable you ate, you know you should make some changes, right? Our tired souls need some soothing.
But have you ever tried making a menu plan? They're so pretty, and so involved. Ugh. That's why I always used to fail - I can't color code meals, people! C'mon, man.
It's time to pull out my best ever, tried and true, super easy, no fail menu-planning guide.
If you've been around Home Sanctuary awhile, you'll recognize the instructions here. They work because they are SIMPLE, and that's why I've mentioned them over and over again.
What would you do if I told you that you could EASILY come up with a whole month's worth of dinner plans without burning up any of your precious brain cells?
Today, we will do it together and by the time we're done, you will be congratulating yourself for being so very clever. Grab a cup of coffee, or some sweet nectar of your choice, and let's have some fun.
Let's Plan a Monthly Menu!
1. First, take out a couple of pieces of paper. So far so good, friend.
2. Next, start writing down BROAD CATEGORIES (themes) of meals - all you really need is 7:
- Crockpot meals
- Grilled Foods
- Soup N Sandwich
- Breakfast for Dinner
- Try Something New Night
- Eat Out Meals (yes, this is a category)
- Paper Plate Meals (also a category)
- Leftover Meals (a very important group)
3. Now, see if you can come up with at least 4 individual meals within each category. Por ejemplo:
Ethnic: Tacos, Spaghetti, Pizza, Enchiladas, chicken stir-fry
Breakfast for Dinner: Waffles, Pancakes, Breakfast Casserole, Bacon and Eggs
This is getting really cool because, if you just take the above categories, with 4 items each, you already have enough meals to cover almost two months!! You're off to a great start.
4. Now, here's how to start plugging the meals into your family calendar. Take (or make) a blank calendar page - you can use this little worksheet:
A. First, you'll take a look at standing obligations that affect your family dinner: piano lessons on Tuesdays and Thursdays, Soccer on Fridays. Volunteer at the Homeless Shelter on Wednesdays. Etc. Write them into the top row.
B. Next, working across the second row of the calendar, begin assigning meal categories, or themes, to days of the week. For example, If you are home all together on Monday nights, that would be a perfect night for a Sit Down Meal on Real Plates. Write that category above Mondays.
On Piano nights, I used to assign Crock Pot Night and Sandwich Night - both are quick and easy with little clean-up required.
On Sport Practice night, I might assign Drive Through (Oh. Yes.) It makes me feel better to plan this into my menu than to feel like a loser because I can't do any better than this.
Saturday nights might be a perfect Breakfast for Dinner night. My family would love it if I made waffles EVERY Saturday night, so no creativity is even required!
C. Once you have a category for each day of the week, you will then work your way DOWN the calendar. Take your four individual dinners and throw them under each theme. So if Mondays are your Sit Down meals, you take your Baked Chicken and Rice, your Beef and Cabbage Rolls etc. and plug them into the individual Mondays. Right now you are simply penciling in your ideas, so you don't have to be too picky until the next step.
D. Once you have a meal penciled in per day, you can start to refine and perfect your masterpiece. If I see that on the first Wednesday I am grilling chicken, I could grill up some EXTRA chicken for Thursday's Chicken Enchiladas. So I start moving the meals around into an order that makes the most sense. A huge pot roast on Sunday might make great BBQ sandwiches on Sandwich Night, so I'll put those two meals into the same week.
Note: If your family has several favorites, don't be afraid to repeat them often. Spaghetti? A weekly favorite. Waffles? Done. The idea that you have to magically come up with 30 different things each month is completely unnecessary. And you don't have to stick to your plan like a religious zealot.
A menu plan gives you options and TIME, because you'll have general ideas right at your fingertips.
How many meals can you come up with? Can you think of some interesting categories? Why not share your ideas and recipes! Leave a comment and/or link to your menu ideas so we can all be inspired!