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:

Tuesday

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!

 

~Janna

 

 

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