Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Monthly Meal Planning - Options Version

Here is my version of meal planning: I plan monthly, and choose what we're eating a day or two or three in advance. It allows for whimsy and cravings in a planned menu, and that is key to its success for us.

This is how I do it:

I make a list of the recipes we like so that I don't forget any of them, or have my cookbook nearby.

On a sheet of paper, I make a chart - 7 days by 5 weeks. Each week, two days say "Leftovers." I try to schedule one day with chicken, one with red meat, and one or two meatless meals. The remaining day or two is "planned overs" (leftovers that you have plans for when you make them). I list five weeks instead of four, because some months do look like they're five weeks, and also it gives us a couple extra dinner options. Good for company visits, or if we just don't want something on the menu.

The nice part: Each weekend, get a piece of paper to write down the week's meals on. Look at the menu, and keep in mind the weather forecast. Decide what you want to eat that week, write it on the week's menu, and check it off the monthly menu. Keep in mind that anything more than two days out is flexible.

It might go like this:

"Well, it's warmer this week but Thursday looks chilly and rainy; let's have Winter Bean soup to fight off the chill. Monday we'll have roast chicken. I'll make stock from the bones to use for the bean soup, and freeze the leftover meat. Tuesday we'll have Yellow Rice & Beans, Wednesday will be leftovers. Friday we can have spaghetti or sausage grinders, and then eat those leftovers Saturday. Sunday we'll have pot pie made from the meat & more of the stock we froze from Monday's chicken. "

Monday: Roast Chicken. Shred & Freeze leftover meat; make broth from carcass.
Tuesday: Yellow Rice & Beans
Wednesday: Leftovers - oops, very busy day; ate on the run, froze the leftovers instead...
Thursday: Winter Bean Soup using homemade stock
Friday: Sausage grinders or spaghetti
Saturday: Leftovers
Sunday: Chicken Pot Pie, made from Monday's planned-overs.

I have had the "eek! food run!" days several times. I'm now convincing the slow-cooker that it needs to cook dinner for us more often.

Portions are guesstimated at 4 ounces (1/2 cup) of meat or starch, or about 8 ounces (1 cup) of anything else. I like to serve the meat with veggies & a starch, or two veggies. Starches could be pasta, grains, rice, stuffing, rolls, garlic bread and so on. During the summer, veggie choices will vary depending on what's at the farmer's market. Portions can have built-in cushions - if you make extra rice, you can add it to soup or stir-fry another night; leftover veggies or meats can be saved for soup or stock; a lunch can be packed up and frozen for another day.

At the beginning of the month, I make sure we have everything on hand to make the meals I've listed. You can do this as often as you get paid; our budget is set up for the big grocery trip once a month, and weekly trips for milk & perishables. Once a week is about the most I want to go - I find I spend too much money if I'm constantly getting 'just one thing.'

Once I'm home from shopping, I'll do any prep that's needed. I chop & freeze any bread that wasn't finished to use later for stuffing, croutons, and so on (still learning this one!). I make sure the freezer contents won't fall on you when you open the door. Then - I get a cold drink and curl up with a book until it's time to start dinner.


  1. Thank you very much for this post! Our weekly meal planning schedule just hasn't been working for us, and I think I might give this a try. One more question- what kind of freezer do you have? Our freezer is the left vertical half of our fridge unit- and it freezer burns things in under 2 weeks- I have such trouble freezing left overs as a result. :( They are usually horrible tasting by the time we get back to them.
    Thanks once again!

  2. The only freezer we have is the one above the refrigerator, and it burns most things after 3 months. If yours is burning things in under 2 weeks, I'd get a maintenance check or at least check the seal on the door and the internal temperature.

    This link on wrapping to prevent freezer burn might help - the one thing that hasn't been damaged (in 3 years) is butcher-wrapped elk meat! The link shows you how to do it.

    (copy & paste into the url bar, I can't get it to link)

  3. Awesome- thank you for the link. I still have to figure out a good way to freeze left overs- but I've got a lot of good information to go on now. Thank you!

  4. This is fascinating! I have a constant battle when it comes to feeding myself, and will definitely be back for more advice.