Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Planning weekly Meal$

I love to eat! It is as simple as that. I have learned to cook delicious meals on a budget (of both time and money) and you can too! I budget $100 a week to feed a family of four. This money also covers household paper goods, cleaning and beauty supplies. If you'd like to reduce your stress when it comes to meal preparation, My Meal Planning Notebook may work for your household.

I am a compulsive list maker and have a notebook which I use for meal planning. This allows me to prepare delicious meals most nights of the week with 15 minutes or less of planning each week (not counting grocery shopping or preparation time).

The purpose of my meal planning notebook is 4 fold:
Home cooked meals save money.
It avoids food boredom by providing insight as to when we last had a specific meal.
It provides inspiration for what to prepare.
A few minutes of preparation reduces food costs,the time spent in the kitchen and my stress!

Home cooked meals save money and it is reported that families that eat at least 3 meals together a week are healthier, have stronger marriages, the school age children make better school grades and are less likely to engage in illicit drug use and underage drinking. What other reasons do you need?

To create your own notebook:

1) Use a small notebook (3ring or spiral) to collect your meal planning data. I use a 3 ring binder which I decorated with scrapbook paper, a set of tabbed dividers and a couple of manila file folders. Use whatever you have on hand and whatever system works for you!

2) Tabbed dividers are labeled by meal type (chicken, beef, pasta, fast and easy, grilled, crock pot, etc.) and placed in the front of the notebook. A final tab can be used for your monthly calendar or just list the days of the week and the date on a piece of notebook paper to record what meals you are going to prepare on what day.

3) For example, my PASTA page has Spaghetti and Meatballs, Pasta Carbonnera and Gib's Cajun Pasta and all other pasta recipes listed. I also record recipe page number if using a cookbook, when necessary.
Each general meal category has it's own list.
Some meals will be listed in several categories...this is OK.
These lists should be meals you will actually make.
If you have recipes that you want to experiment with, use a separate page to list those and add to your main page once they have passed your family's taste test and you are assured you can and want to prepare it!

4) Using a calendar page record the proposed meal on the corresponding day. Your family calendar could be substituted for this since it holds all your daily appointments and responsibilities, letting you know at a glance how much time you can devote to meal preparation and dining. If you will be eating out on a specific day, circle that date and pencil in where you will be dining (Dinner at Grandmas, Track banquet or Anniversary date, etc.) I cannot stress enough how important it is to coordinate your daily responsibilities with your meal plans. If you don't have time to cook a more elaborate meal one day, move it to a day when your schedule does permit it.

For example this week's calendar read
Monday: Chicken Pasta (takes about 40 minutes to prepare)
Tuesday: Hot dogs, Baseball game
Wednesday: Sloppy Joe's, CHOIR Concert
Thursday: Track Banquet
Friday: Outback style steaks
Saturday: Smoked Ribs and chicken

You could expand your list to include all side dishes if you feel that is necessary. Since I have a well stocked pantry, I do not feel the need to include that level of detail.

5) Now check the pantry and make a shopping list for any recipe items you do not have on hand. Purchase any needed items so you can easily prepare the meals you have planned. Nothing throws a monkey wrench into your meal preparation and forces you to order an expensive delivery pizza than being one critical ingredient short!

6) TO expand this idea I place clipped recipes by category in an accordion file (Chicken, pasta, crock pot,etc) which allows me to pull them out and place in my weekly file at the back of my notebook. It makes grocery list planning and recipe preparation a snap.

7) I also have a file of dishes that sound good. I like challenge myself to prepare a new meal at least once a month. They are not always "keepers" but it has been a successful way of expanding our recipe repertoire. I also keep a file labeled SUMMER and WINTER so when I have an abundance of squash, for example, I can go to that file for a new recipe.

8) If you enjoy cooking I'd like to suggest the following sites for recipes. Restaurant websites offer recipes on some of their dishes-search for your favorites offers copy cat recipes of many of your favorites

If you employ a meal planning notebook I can assure you your family will enjoy better meals, at a lower cost and you will experience less stress. Bon appetite!

I'll post some photos of my notebook this weekend!

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