The Bell Family

Random ponderings on God, life, and the humor all around us


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Menu Planning

Before we moved to Louisville, our dinners looked something like this:

Whatever scraps we could put together, PB&J, frozen pizzas, the occasional trips to the store to buy the ingredients for a specific meal we decided we wanted at the last minute, or fast food.

Shortly after moving here, I was introduced to a new concept–menu planning.  I was blessed to be in a church with several godly women who lovingly showed me how much more efficient I can be with my time and money (and health) if I would just set aside consistent time to plan our menu.  Now, it took me a couple of years to get the hang of a system that works for our family, but I will share with you what we do.

After trying everything under the sun, we found that planning one week at a time worked best for our situation (some women plan for a whole month!).  Each Thursday I sit down and plan our menu for the next week (Monday-Sunday) and then we shop on Friday or Saturday.

One trick I have learned is to keep breakfast and lunch simple.  We usually just eat cereal and some fruit for breakfast and sandwiches for lunch.  I do keep some non-perishables like soups or mac n’ cheese in our pantry for those times sandwiches just don’t sound appealing.  Then on the weekends I will spice things up a bit, so really I’m only planning two breakfasts and two lunches.  Most of my other planning is for dinners.

I begin by checking my calendar to see if there will be any special events (i.e. guests coming over, a holiday, or a meal at church).  I plan for those events first and put the date beside that meal so I remember it’s not flexible.  If we will be eating somewhere else, I know I only have to plan six dinners instead of seven.

An intimidating factor for me was finding variety, so here are a couple of solutions.  First, I make sure I have at least one protein, vegetable or fruit, and carb with each dinner.  It really helps keep the meal balanced.  Each week I also plan a Mexican, Italian, chicken, and ground beef meal.  Then I always have what I call the something-else meal where I’ll fix tuna, pork, cheese, or whatever I find interesting.  During the colder months, I try to plan a soup each week.  This helps make sure we’re not eating pasta each night and allows Bill to get his meat (he doesn’t think chicken qualifies).

The other thing I try to do for variety is plan something new each week, a recipe I’ve never tried.  It keeps me from falling into the same patterns over and over.  Then one night a month I will plan a gourmet type meal where I really try to challenge myself and cook something special and a little more difficult.

Each morning, I look at the menu and decide what we are going to eat that night so I can pull meat out of the freezer, throw something in the crock pot, or do any other necessary preparations.

I keep all my menus on the refrigerator during the week and then they move to my planner.  I use the old menus often to be reminded of meals we haven’t had in a while and as a way to make sure we don’t have meatloaf three weeks in a row.

For those of you who have never tried planning your menu, I know it can seem a little intimidating at first, but I would challenge you to begin with baby steps.  Just start planning 2-3 meals a week and find what works best for you.  Even with the time I take planning each week, I save so much time and money in the end.  No more quick trips to the store, non-planned eating out, wasted money on food you bought but never ate, or falling into boring or unhealthy eating patterns.  I am so grateful to the women who pointed me in this direction, and I would encourage you to follow in their footsteps.


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Saving Dinner

I just came across a new website last week called Saving Dinner.  The author has lots of great menus already made for many different needs available for a very small price.  We purchased one of her freezer meal plans (only $8.95) that gives shopping lists, instructions, suggestions for side items, and everything else you need to make 22 dinners for 4 people.  You can make as many copies for yourself as you need.  The best part is that she is a frugal woman, so Bill and I only spent around $75 for 2 weeks of groceries yesterday.  That $8.95 was well worth it.  Then we had a great time assembling the meals together last night (we only did 10 at a time, though we actually could have fit all 22 of them in our small freezer, even with ice trays and other food items).  It might sound a little unromantic, but I would recommend doing something like this for a date with your spouse.  We talked a lot and enjoyed working together for a couple of hours so we can save many hours this week on meal prep.  That’s more time we can talk the next two weeks.  All I have to do now is thaw the meal the night before and pop it in the oven or crock pot when we’re ready to cook it.  It really was a lot of fun.  We’re having our first meal tonight–crock pot beef and peppers with mashed potatoes, broccoli, and salad.  Yum!