menu planning helps

It occurred to me last night, when I was tromping through WalMart buying milk and fruit, that some of you might want to know where the menu planning worksheets are: I don’t know anything about using this, but it looks helpful.





Making a Menu: Part #3 in a series

You know, I love how the word “menu” is pronounced in Spanish…”men-oo.” Sounds so exotic, doesn’t it?

For this next installment, we are going to talk about the importance of making a menu.

Hopefully, by now you have thought about and planned a working budget for your groceries. Your number might be different from my number and that’s okay. Just dandy, in fact…because I am not running your household.  You are.  You might not prioritize the same things on your grocery list as I do and vice versa. That’s what makes the world go ’round. I make a plan that lasts for two weeks because that’s how often we get paid. I don’t do shopping every week unless it’s for milk or fresh fruit.

If you don’t plan out your meals ahead of time, the chances of you staying on budget are going to be very slim. The chances of you eating fast food or just eating out (say hello to salt) are going to increase and the chances of you having an unbalanced meal are increased. The chances of you being very, very stressed at mealtime are going to be greatly increased. What? How do I know this? Firsthand experience.

As I mentioned before, there are many places online where you can print up blank menu plans. Here’s one.  Or you can make one on your computer or by hand. Just make one.  Mine looks a bit like this:


B: Baked Oatmeal

L: Sandwiches/Tortilla Chips and Salsa/carrot sticks

D: Grilled Marinated Beef on Salad/Pudding/Sliced Pear

Baking: None

Yes, baking is a meal. Didn’t you know that?  Seriously, I put baking on there because it makes sense to me. If I am going to serve hamburgers on Wednesday, then I had better make sure I have hamburgers buns baked by then. I need these kind of reminders in my life or I am toast! (Get it? Toast? From bread? That I baked? I know, I am hilarious!)

I will sometimes ask the guys if there is something they have been wanting to see on the men-oo. Sometimes, I will put that on the rotation. Sometimes I don’t. Let me say something here-my hubby would love it if every Monday was spaghetti, every Tuesday- fried chicken and so forth. He likes order. I do not. In fact, repetition like that drives me bonkers. I have tried Taco Tuesday and what not, but eventually, I get bored with that. It’s my personality. It might not be yours. It doesn’t matter though, because (say it with me) I am not running your household – you are.

So, I stare at my blank men-oo and start to formulate a plan. I always have my regular calendar open when I plan the meals. You don’t want to plan souffle on the night you are rushing around trying to get son 1 to practice, son 2 to violin lesson and son 3 to the library. I write down things like: “Tommy at meeting” on Tuesday at dinner so I know grilled cheese is going to make an appearance.:-) I don’t like to have the same meat two nights in a row, so I plan for that. I also don’t want spaghetti on Monday and lasagne on Tuesday. I’m weird like that. I like to spread the Italian goodness around. Maybe throw in tacos or enchiladas in between. We are so very cultured.

I serve pretty much the same things for lunch: leftovers or sandwiches. I just tried a new recipe for homemade popcorn chicken that will be making the lunch rotation. So yummy. From Heavenly Homemakers. I used Paula Deen Silly Salt instead of the spices listed. Please don’t tell me how bad Silly Salt is for you. I really don’t want to know unless you have made an exact replica of it for me to use instead of Silly Salt. I like it that much.

I serve pretty much the same things for breakfasts as well. As the boys have grown, I have tried to work myself out of a job at breakfast time. I like that. I also don’t like the mornings so much. I like the nightlife, baby. However, that being said, I tried an amazing new recipe this morning for baked oatmeal. Wowza. So good. I found it here. My sister made the peanut butter version and said it was delicious. We don’t do pb over here but I am sure it was tasty. I am totally going to try the pumpkin version next. It made a TON. I will package those remaining squares up for breakfast tomorrow. This means I can wander about aimlessly with a cup of coffee in my hand while the boys make their own breakfasts. Yahoo! Breakfasts for us are usually oatmeal, toast and eggs, waffles and pancakes (that I make in big batches and freeze) or muffins(again, that I make in big batches and freeze.)

We have never made a big deal about snacks over here. We just don’t have a regular snack time. Sometimes we will slice up some fruit or have a cookie (or two).  Some of you have snacks as a regular event. This is fine. Just put them on your menu. If you don’t plan for it, it is going to mess up your budget at the grocery store. Trust me. I know these things.

So, now you need to get crazy and figure out how to make your BUDGET match your plans. How is this done? Well, first of all, if you are working with a smaller budget, you might want to take Ribeye Steaks off your weekly rotation. This doesn’t mean they are never going to make an appearance – just not weekly. Probably better for you, anyhow! Chicken is a great meat to start with. You can buy a whole chicken or parts – depending on what you want to do with it. If you buy that whole bird, for instance, you can roast it and serve it for a meal, then use the leftovers (if you have any) for chicken salad for lunch or for your salad the next day. I always take the chicken carcass (no real nice way to say that) and put it in a large pot with water, herbs, veg and let it simmer for hours. Strain it, then you can put it in one-cup servings in the freezer for recipes that call for broth. You can use that broth to make delicious chicken and dumplings if you had enough leftover meat. You can use that broth and leftover chicken to make chicken tortilla soup. If I was cooking a whole bird on Monday, then I would serve chicken meal #2 on Wednesday or Thursday. I serve chicken at least 2 times a week.

Because we have basketball practice/games twice a week, I have two nights of crockpot meals or already prepared freezer items. I like a roast or brisket in the crockpot because the longer it sits in there, the better it gets. Last week we had our last freezer lasagne one practice night. I guess I had better make sure I have the ingredients for that x2 on my list next shopping day!

Hamburger is a great budget-stretcher. The larger that package of hamburger is, the cheaper it is. I know, it’s crazy. I take it home and divide it up according to my meal plans. For any meal that calls for browned ground beef, I go ahead a cook it all at once and then package it out and freeze it. If we are going to have a meatloaf during that two weeks, I make it up and freeze it in the pan. Did you know you can do that? Yes, unless the meat has already been frozen and defrosted. You can also make up meatballs ahead of time.  Don’t think eating hamburger is going to make you feel poor. It won’t. Unless you let it.

After you have planned your meals, make your grocery list. Important note here: Do not post your list for family viewage until you have purchased all items needed for men-oo. Sometimes, you get to the store and the ham you had on Wednesday is totally NOT on sale and is, in fact, quite expensive this week. You will need to do a switcharoo in the meat department. Maybe pork tenderloin is a better price. Maybe it’s turkey breast. Maybe it’s nothing and you will have to put pancakes on the rotation that week so just get what you need for that. After you get home from the store and make adjustments as needed, post that beautiful men-00. Call the family in for a lookie-loo. Sigh with contentment at a job well done. Ignore your youngest child when they say, “But Mom, you know I don’t like salmon!” Smile, because it’s going to be a great week (or two!)

I post my beloved list on the fridge for all the world to behold. Everyone likes to look it over and see what’s coming up next. I know, it’s weird – but it’s true.

Your homework for today: Make a menu plan, then make your grocery list from that menu. Take time to look in your pantry and fridge and freezer to see what inventory you have. Thinking you have sweetened, condensed milk and actually having a can of it are two entirely different things. If you are going to make up larger batches of things, plan accordingly. Often, it is less expensive to cook this way. It could also be a fun thing to do with a friend. You split the cost right down the middle and get together and cook/assemble while your children play quietly in the other room (!) You get to visit and get stuff done at the same time. That’s always a good thing as far as I am concerned.

Go get ’em, tiger!





Post #2 in a series…

So, you’ve said to yourself, “I have got to get our family on a grocery budget!”

What? What’s that again? Say it again to my face….You have never had a grocery budget?

I am going to tell you why everyone SHOULD. EVERYONE. That’s right. I said it. Everyone.

I don’t care if you make $98,203,984.09 a year, you need a grocery budget. It doesn’t matter if you make $12,000.00 a year, either.  Here’s why:

You need to know how much you are going to have each pay period/month (approximately), so you know how much you can give away.

Read it again.

I believe this is not an option. I believe with all my heart it’s something we are required to do – to give away what we have. No, not all of it (unless that’s what you are specifically called to do, Mother Teresa!) You might be saying, “But Janna, there is no way on this Earth that I can give money away after we have paid our bills, bought groceries, out gas in the cars, etc.” What I am proposing to you is that you think outside that box. What if you planned it so that you “gave away” a meal when you invited someone over for dinner? What if you brought a friend or neighbor a freshly baked cake or breakfast muffins? What if you purposefully planted an extra row of tomatoes or canned an extra batch of your super-secret recipe of Superberry Jam? What if?

Have you ever been the recipient of such a blessing? I have. I could fill hundreds of pages of a book with times someone has blessed me in a tangible way like that. One friend brought me a Supersized Starbucks when my hubby was out of work. One had our family over for dinner during that same time. I had a friend that not only shared her talent of breadmaking with me, but also her wheat several times before I could afford it all. I have never forgotten that. One friend knows of my great love for M&M’s and has not only brought them to my house when we lived near each other, but sent them in the mail when we didn’t. When I had mono several years ago, we had meals brought to us by beautiful people. A special friend sent me silver salt and pepper shakers before our first-ever Thanksgiving without family. Another dear friend sent me a set of children’s ABC magnets that spelled out “FAITHFUL” during a trying time. I still have those on my fridge. I could go on and on…

So, I ask you…are you planning ahead to give away?

One of the easiest ways is to make a grocery budget. For some of us, that is pretty easy. It’s the leftover money after the mortgage and utilities are paid. For others of us, this can be a thoughtful exercise as we review our purchases over a months’ time and see what is necessity and what isn’t.  Now I am going to mess with your mind a smidgen more:

Everybody’s grocery budget can be reduced.

I am serious. Even if by $5.00. That giant Starbucks coffee was (gasp) about that same amount. The giant bag of M&M’s as well. You can buy a package of meat for $5.00.

After you have the budget, it’s time to make a menu. I propose to you (if you have never planned your menu before, and even if you have) that you plan every meal and snacks (if you do those). Breakfast, lunch and dinner, baby.  And don’t forget dessert. You will never make it if you feel as though you have been dropped into the Great Depression and you already ran out of sugar rations.

There are multiple online sources for printing up blank menu plans, or you can make your own if you are cool like that. I happen to be pretty cool, so I made my own. I am not a fan of clip art, so mine are very plain. You could be super crafty  and make a supercool dry erase menu using an old picture frame with the glass in it and some scrapbook paper. Chalkboard works as well. You will probably find that your family really digs walking over to the posted menu and giving it a lookie loo.  You might involve them in the planning. I don’t. I take requests, but not when I am planning.The great thing about a menu is you’ll find you are eating better, more balanced meals when you have planned them ahead of time. You will also, I’ll bet, have less stress around mealtimes.

If you are having trouble thinking up meal ideas – that’s next in the series. Yes, I am here to help.

Are you still thinking about it? The part where you could give something away each and every payday/month? Don’t be overwhelmed. Think baby steps. For example, yesterday, I made bread and a batch of cinnamon rolls. While those delicious rolls were still gooey and hot, I placed 4 of them on a giveaway plate (these can be plates you buy at the thrift store just for this purpose or at garage sales or (gasp, shudder) even paper plates) and I took them across the street to our sweet neighbors from Italy. I don’t know if they loved them or not, but the point was that I showed them that they were important enough to me to bring them freshly baked cinnamon rolls. Whether or not they loved them is unimportant. Whether or not they ever tell me they loved them is even more unimportant.

YOU HAVE SOMETHING TO GIVE AWAY TO OTHERS.  A card, food, coffee, an encouraging word, a jar of homemade peach preserves, a cd, a gift card to the movies or a restaurant – that part is up to you. Just start looking outside of yourself and find someone to bless with what you have been given.



What to do when you don’t own a farm…

Over the Christmas holiday, I got my Burpee seed catalog. The joy it brings me is crazy. I sit in my favorite chair and read the descriptions of each veg and tree and berry and dog-ear the pages of the things I’d like to try. I visualize myself harvesting said produce and canning, freezing and drying it all from my victory garden. I can almost taste their beauty and freshness as I plod around in my slippers, sipping my coffee.

Then I look outside.

We don’t live in the country. I have one small raised bed and some empty pots. I can’t even till up the earth in my suburban dwelling and plant long rows of heirloom tomatoes because we are planning on moving by August 1, when our lease ends.

So what’s a girl to do this year?

I have been reading one of my favorite blogs, Heavenly Homemakers as she treads on the sensitive topic of what do you spend on groceries. That blogger has transformed a large portion of her yard into vegetable gardens. I will admit it – I am jealous.  But back to the subject of what is spent on groceries: This has been one of my greatest heartaches of our new city…the grocery stores (The other heartache being away from our families.) I know that may sound crazy, but it’s true. I LOVE saving money at the grocery store. It’s very difficult down here.  I still think I do a pretty good job, though. I feed our family of five healthy, non-processed (for the most part) whole foods for about $250.00 – $300.00 a month.

Say that again?

Yes, it’s true.  This is what I spend. And we are not starving, as our waistlines will show you. We are also big eaters. My hubby is 6 foot 8, my boys are 13, 11 and almost 10. We can wipe out a pizza a minutes.

After talking to my sister about how we do this, she suggested I write about it here, on my blog. So I am going to.

I don’t clip coupons.  I don’t have a victory garden (yet). I don’t have a farm. I live in a city where our grocery stores are HEB and Walmart. That’s it. Neither one of those bad boys double coupons and neither one have options for discounted groceries like I was used to. We also rarely eat out. Now, I realize that right there – I lost some of you.  We have found that now that our boys are bigger and no longer can be satisfied with a kid’s meal, it’s costing us $40.00-$50.00 when we eat out, unless it’s to grab a slice or a dog at Sam’s Club. So we rarely eat out. It takes a bit more planning, but it’s doable.

So topic #1 has been announced:

What do you spend on groceries each month?

Does this include toiletries? Yes, it does.  Does this include cleaning supplies? Yes, it does. Does this include wheat? No, it does not – and I make all of our breads and baked goods from scratch (with minimal exceptions).  I am getting more wheat in February. It will cost me about $6.00 for each 25 pounds I buy. A steal. I will buy 150 pounds of wheat berries.  That should last us a little over 6 months. So, for $36.00, we will have over six months of delicious homemade, whole wheat baked goods. Sandwich bread, rolls, hamburger and hot dog buns, cinnamon rolls, tortillas, bagels, pancakes, waffles, cookies…ah, cookies – how I love you! When you think about the fact that 1 loaf of storebought whole wheat bread is upwards of 3 bucks and we easily go through 4-5 loaves of sandwich bread in a week, how can I not do this?

Now back to the garden. I have thought and thought about it and this girl is going to plant some seeds next week.  I am thinking squash. Seriously. I am pretty sure our chances of having a freeze are over. Let me remind you of where I live: Find your US map and go to the very, very bottom of Texas. The most southern part. That’s right. In the Burpee catalog, we are the subtropic zone. No apple trees for me. No cherries either. But we can grow papaya, guava, citrus, banana like no one’s business.  I am going to plant more than I planted last year. I am going to freeze it. I am going to till up my yard a little, too. Really. I am going to plant some rows of beans and tomatoes and get those in early. I am going to have a harvest, even in our rental house. And when we find our perfect permanent home, watch out, Burpee catalog!

That’s all for today. I need to get these boys finished with their school work and bake some bread today. 🙂




Day 2 Sourdough

It’s day 2 and I almost failed at the sourdough.  I remembered it off and on during the day – and then forgot until just now. (9:20 pm)  It had bubbles, so I fed it. I gave it 1/4 c water and 3/8 c flour. I forgot to take a picture. It smelled funny, but I am hoping it’s a good kind of funny and not a “uh oh” kind of funny.  Anyhow, it’s back on the top of the fridge and I am hopeful I will remember to take better care of it tomorrow. I am supposed to feed it in the morning after I take 1/2 of it out.  12 hours later, I am supposed to feed it again.  This will go on again and again every 12 hours until 1 week is up – then I can use it.

Wait a second, did I just agree to taking care of this every 12 hours? Did I know it was going to be this time consuming before I started this? Maybe this is why I have failed at this before. Will it be this hard after the first week?

I guess we shall find out…


Goooooooaaaaaaaalllllls…and other new pursuits

It is the first week of January. Yes, I have not blogged in a while. Not only did we take a roadtrip, but I had to bring my MacBook into the Apple Store for a repair. Is it just me, or does the idea of sending off your laptop -even by FedEx – very scary? Also, and probably more important, I just had to recharge myself. Had to.

So now I am recharged, my MacBook is shiny and crack-free and we are back at our casa. I don’t usually make New Years’ Resolutions, but I do make goals. Usually easily attainable goals. I like that. I am the type of person who writes a list just so she can cross things off of it. I need that positive reinforcement, people. That’s who I am.

So, here’s a partial list of those goals, in case you are interested: Yes, I realize many of these are food-related. It’s kinda important to us around here. 🙂

1. Make a sourdough starter and make yummy sourdough bread.

2. Garden more – this will be difficult as we are probably moving before the harvest time…any thoughts?

3. Sew more

4. Learn to knit

5. Learn how to make real REAL Mexican food.

6. Be a better friend.

7. Blog more.

8. Dream bigger – believe more

9. Become a better home barista

10. Learn how to make artisan bread

11. Shave my grocery budget.

There’s more, but they are secret!

Today, I started goal #1.  Last fall, I received an e-course on making sourdough.  It is from I have high hopes!  I took some pictures so you can follow along with me (as well as document my own success).  I have been saving every glass jar we get around here. Our beautiful city does not recycle glass so I feel like I have to save ’em.  Of course, I save the canning jars. On a sidenote, our city doesn’t even have a street pickup recycling program, but we have two giant trashcans just for this purpose and my sweet hubby drives them downtown to the recycling center.  It is amazing how much we can recycle and NOT put in our trashcans. Anyhow, I had a great HEB marinara sauce jar that was perfect for this very thing. I had sanitized it in the dishwasher a month ago, but when I opened it up it was like walking in Macaroni Grill. It smelled delicious, but not what I wanted for sourdough. I finally figured out it was the lid that was trapping the smell. Oh well.  I rewashed the jar and put it to work.  Just water and flour. That’s it.

Before the big stir. Just water and flour. And a purple towel.

Blurry, but this is after the big stir.

This is the view from the top. Mmmm. Looks delicious, doesn't it?

And finally, with the cheesecloth covering it. Directions say to use plastic wrap, but also that it needs air to breathe. With the humidity down here, I didn't think plastic wrap was a good idea. It said you could use a cloth napkin. Time will tell on this one.

As for the rest of my goals, I have high hopes. I got some new tools for Christmas that will help me in these endeavors (along with other endeavors!) If you live down here and can help me with #5, please tell me.  🙂  If you can offer any tips for being a better home barista, I’d like those, too!

While I was with my Mom, we decided to make some more delicious jam. I made a mistake.  I was not paying attention to what was going on and I added everything all at once – the sugar, the fruit, the pectin. UGH. I boiled it a bit longer but it still didn’t set up.  So, I made 9 jars of what I hope will be delicious berry syrup.  Pancakes are on the menu for Saturday! I am sure my Mom was right when she said I would never do that again. This was after she told me she had done the same thing…once.  Isn’t it nice when someone tells you the truth and admits a mistake? I love transparency.

I hope your holidays were wonderful, filled with peace and lots of laughter.  Laughing is good. It’s hard to feel sorry for yourself when you are belly laughing.