Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Meal Planning Part One: Dinner

Whether you are interested in making your life healthier, greener, or just saner, meal planning is a good organizational tool to add to your "toolbox". It saves money, saves time, and saves extra trips to the store and drives through the drive-thru. It ensures that my family is eating healthy, balanced meals and a wide array of foods. In some cases, meal planning makes delegating easier, as my 12 year old can check the menu on my white board and get dinner started. Meal planning is done at my house every Tuesday, when the sale papers for that week come around. I plan for the week ahead starting that Sunday, leaving me several days to pick up what we need when I pass the stores in question. I plan based on that week's sales and on what I happen to have on hand at that time, which keeps us within budget.

To prevent monotony and keep my focus on frugal, healthy meals, I use the following rotation:

1 large, meat-based meal with starch on the side--think steak and potatoes. We usually have this meal on Sunday. It makes my meat eaters happy and gives them something to look forward to on lentil soup night.

1 pasta based meal. This could be something as easy as spaghetti with red sauce, or something more complicated like gnocchi or homemade ravioli.

1 egg or cheese based meal. Egg-based would be omelets, souffle, frittata, quiche. Cheese-based could be quesadillas, homemade pizza, grilled cheese with tomato soup, etc. Vegetarian-but-not-vegan.

1 bean or legume meal. Great for keeping costs (and weights) down. When I'm being cheap we might have two of these and skip wild card night.

2 chicken based meals. One "family pack" of chicken lasts us two meals if at least one of them is a stirfry, soup, casserole, or other meat-stretching type meal.

1 international dinner OR recipe experiment OR what-the-hell-it's-on-sale meal. Basically, wild card night. If you are seafood lovers, you could have seafood this night. I'm allergic to most seafoods, not enough to die but enough that even residue on dishes could make me sick, so we eat seafood in the summer when my dear husband can grill and save me from the washing dishes/vomitting/washing/vomitting rotation that indoor seafood cooking can cause.

Okay, so you have a few ideas, hopefully seven. Now you have to look at your calendar. Mondays and Fridays here are busy from dawn to bedtime, so I might do crockpot chili or something super easy like omelets or spaghetti. Sundays are family night, and Saturdays we often have people over. Wednesdays are not always busy, but generally tiring, so I will need something easy. Every family has their own rhythm. In our house, our meal schedule roughly looks like the following:

Sunday: Meat and starch
Tuesday: Egg/cheese
Wednesday: Chicken 1
Thursday: Chicken 2
Friday: Bean or legume
Saturday: wild card night

Be flexible and move things around as needed. The goal is to do what works for your family, not what what works for my family.

I plugged in the meals I chose until I had this:

Sunday: Planned: grilled steak and potatoes. Actual: Pizza (I hate to confess this... A friend and I were working on a newsletter we co-edit and before I knew it, the clock chimed five and I had an hour to stop at the store, make the twenty minute drive home, and get dinner on the table.)

Monday: Whole-wheat spaghetti with marinara sauce and meatballs, garlic bread, salad

Tuesday: Vegetable frittata, salad

Wednesday: Oven-fried chicken, roasted red potatoes, peas

Thursday: Sagemommy's Thai chicken: Remaining 3 pieces of chicken chopped and stirfried with vegetables, served with brown rice with a sauce I make from mixing half peanut butter and half teriyaki sauce over medium low heat and adding small amounts of chopped fresh ginger, sesame oil, and cayenne pepper.

Friday: Curried lenttils, homemade flat bread, fruit

Saturday: Planned: Homemade falafel. Actual: Grilled steak, baked potato, steamed broccoli. Because Sunday ended up being wild card night and I know everyone will be clamoring for red meat.

Now isn't that easy? I'll do a separate entry for breakfast, lunch, and snack.


Emily McKhann said...

This is such a great system. I just posted a link in the Dinner Time again group in The Motherhood in hopes that more people will find it! Feel free to post links back to your posts anywhere in the Motherhood! :-)