Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Menu Planning

We have to eat. If we don't plan, we will still eat (most of the time). But we eat on the run or not enough or too much or get too hungry and then overeat or go to fast food and usually spend to much on too little nutritional value. Plus, it makes preparing to food a chore.

But if we do plan, the meals are healthier, it is more calm, you usually save money, and you might even enjoy it. I think it also might help with less fighting due to bad moods due to hunger. It does for me anyway.

Because I love food and because menu planning is part of my away from home job, I find a menu cycle the best way for our family. Our children love to cook as well, and it is beginning to work for my advantage.

So as I prepare to start another school year, I decided simple is the key. We are starting with a two week cycle.

1. Make a table on a large piece of paper. If you can see it all at once it is easier to make a more balanced menu. For instance, you can space your Mexican style meals out throughout the two weeks and not all within three days. I included breakfast, lunch, dinner, and snacks.

2. Get the kids to make a list of their favorite foods to eat, to make, or foods they would like to try. Getting the kids involved in every aspect of eating will encourage them to try more foods and they may even like them better just because they had a part of the process!

3. Start with your most important meal of the day (different for all families) and just write entrees. Look for variety and save your easiest meals for the most hectic times of the day. Also, think of what can be made ahead of time. Then finish the rest of the entrees. 

4. Fill in with sides. Think of what your meal will look like. Try to have as many colors as possible in one meal and use different textures- but also stay as simple as possible! If these meals start out too complicated, it won't work. If they cost too much to make, they won't work. Start simple and add to it later if you think you can take on more.

5. We decided to designate Friday nights as "Family Meal Nights". I hope to really encourage trying new foods on these nights. Sometimes we might have a theme or I might have just one chef plan it and be in charge of preparing. We will be studying new cultures this year in school and foods will be involved, so that might determine what we will eat. However we do it, it will be a guaranteed meal together as a family with the table set and maybe even some fancy dishes.

6. Type your final menu on printing paper and put it somewhere in the kitchen. It could be hanging on your refrigerator or you can put in in a three ring binder along with the recipes. You can even separate the recipes by the week if you want.

7. This does not have to be a strict menu- switch it up if needed or ignore one if you are going out that night or serving leftovers instead. One of the benefits, however, is a fairly consistent grocery list and the peace of knowing that there is something to make if it is needed.

8. If your family feels as if you are eating the same foods all the time, add a third and/or fourth week. However, my goal is to start simple so we shall start with only two. Also, the repitition may help aquire a taste for certain foods and if they help prepare the food, they will be more comfortable with familiar recipes to begin with.

For us, a family- approved cycle menu takes some of the stress out of "just living", brings our family closer together, improves the quality of our food, and helps us stay in budget. Then we can move on to spending time on even more exciting things!

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