how to be totally awesome {at planning a weekly menu}

Image from [the nest].

Planning meals can be so incredibly frustrating in my household. I have lots of challenges: I am trying very hard to eat healthfully; I am trying to slash my grocery bill; my husband and I both work and have different social obligations, so we often have different {and inconsistent} schedules; and J is incredibly finicky (there are few veggies he will eat, and he doesn't like seafood or pork, anything that contains the word "salad," or anything spicier than say... ketchup).

I've attempted to make detailed meal plans for the week, purchasing everything needed for 7 delicious and creative meals... then giving up in frustration because 5 out of the 7 nights my plans were foiled - I was short on time/ J had to work late and wasn't home for dinner/ our house was full of people and I wasn't prepared to cook for a crowd/ one of us had a late lunch and wasn't hungry, etc etc.

Finally I have come up with a mostly-successful way to manage my meal-planning so I stay on budget and keep calories in check. Here's my {flexible, but not perfect} process:

1. I determine, realistically, how many nights I even need to cook. Generally we eat dinner at my inlaws' house on Sunday nights, and we either go out to eat or get pizza/takeout one additional night each week. That said, I only need to be responsible for rummaging up dinner 5 nights a week.
2. I plan for leftovers. There are only two of us, so a pan of lasagna can last for a week. I only feel like eating leftovers for dinner once; I freeze the rest in small containers to take to work for lunch during later weeks. So, if I cook two big meals per week, I can usually assume I am off the hook two other nights because we will eat leftovers.
3. I plan for a quick-and-easy cooking nights. Like I posted before, we have our budget-friendly standbys. I ALWAYS have the following stuff on-hand for fast dinners:
-Pasta and jarred sauces
-Omelets (using cheese and whatever veggies we've got around at the time)
-Tofu and frozen veggies for stirfry, and brown rice or rice noodles
-Vegetarian canned chili with a baked potato or on scones (made with frozen dough)
-Canned tomato soup with grilled cheese sandwiches
*I know these are not earth-shattering ideas, and they are not uber healthy... but they definitely beat out the drive-thru window in terms of nutrition. And we like them enough to keep these in rotation.

Based on those considerations, my Sunday meal planning goes something like this:

1. Pick two recipes to make for the week for my big cooking nights. I like to pick two very different things, maybe one kind of Mexican food, and one soup I can make in the crock-pot, for instance. I take a look at what perishable items I already have when planning; if I have a whole lotta celery, for instance, I might make potato soup to use it up.
2. Assume I'll have left-overs from both. If not, I'll whip up one of my quick-and-easy dinners. (I don't limit myself to that list above. Sometimes I plan ahead enough to purchase the ingredients for other fast meals. I use this list of 30-minutes or less dishes from [The Nest] frequently.)
3. Shop for ingredients around those main dishes, and stock up on staple-items.

My menu will look something like this:

Monday: Main meal #1
Tuesday: Quick-and-easy meal
Wednesday: Main meal #2
Thursday: Leftovers from main meal #1
Friday: Takeout or eat out
Saturday: Leftovers from main meal #2
Sunday: Dinner with the inlaws OR something quick-and-easy

See? I only technically COOK-cook twice a week. The rest of the time I just reheat something or throw something together in 15-30 minutes. And it's flexible; if I work too late on Monday, I'll cook the main meal #1 on Tuesday instead. Or if there are no leftovers (or I decide to freeze or eat them for lunch later instead), I just make one of the quick-and-easy meals. No big deal, food doesn't spoil because the plan keeps slipping.

This saves ridiculous amounts of time and money, and best of all keeps my frustration-level low.

I plan to type up a handy little list of FAST & HEALTHY dinner ideas based around stuff I usually already have on hand, and possibly throw in a couple new things to try, and tape it inside my pantry for those nights I simply cannot bring myself to THINK OF SOMETHING.

P.S. This post made me realize something. I think I need a day for "husband cooks while I paint my toenails."

P.P.S. Maybe these printable menu planning cards {aprintaday via design crush} will inspire me to be just a little more cheerful about this weekly duty:

Anyone have any other ideas for planning ahead, fast dinner ideas, etc?


katie said...

i love this new series of how to be awesomes. they make me want to try to be awesome, too.

Elizabeth said...

Agree on the awesomeness!

I follow the same pattern as you when it comes to food planning. AND we have the same quick meals.

Sometimes we have paninis too, using whatever lunch meats, cheese, etc. we have laying around.

If I'm feeling ambitious, I have a recipe for baked ziti that is easily doubled and I can freeze.

When I'm feeling extra lazy, nothing beats breakfast for dinner!

Divine said...

Heck no - I don't have any ideas! That's why I come to YOUR blog!

kellie said...

Elizabeth, thanks for the tips! Paninis are great... I always forget those!

I forgot to mention one of my favorite things ever- our George Foreman grill. Grilled chicken, burgers, whatever, in about 5 minutes. LOVE IT!