Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Mommyhood--the menu plan for the month

So, before I get to the real important stuff about menu planning, let me just say that I was not always a menu planner. When I got married I cooked only what I knew how to cook. No cookbooks, no Internet help, no nuttin'. I went from memory on how to cook the basic meals I grew up with, ie: Italian food.My husband was okay with that seeing how he didn't grow up with a variety of  Italian meals. We were both happy.

As time went on the unwritten recipes got old and we were on the hunt for something new. I grabbed ideas from here and there, but still never even thought of looking in a cookbook. (I never saw my mother follow a recipe-I don't think she even owned a cookbook! I must have had it in my mind that: a) you cook only what you know and b) to fear cookbooks).

Soon children began popping up around me and things did need to change, but I had no idea how to change it. I was too embarrassed to ask for help. Too afraid to add anything new into a very busy mommy schedule. And also, too afraid of finding out that I wasn't smart enough to follow a recipe and get it right.

I began following Martha Stewart recipes. (I followed them only because that was the only magazine I was getting. It was a bit overwhelming). You know what else overwhelmed me? The idea of making up a menu for the week, and going food shopping according to that menu. I have no idea why that was so, so, scary. I think it was because my mother never did it, my mother-in-law never did it, and it just seemed too foreign to me. It seemed too difficult of a task to wrap my brain around without someone taking me by the hand and explaining it. Also, mommyhood and ministry were really keeping me busy. It felt like if I took on anything else I was going to break.

So, to make a long story even longer, my husband and I, with four children and one on the way, went to a conference talking specifically about menu planning, couponing, food shopping etc. I cried as I sat and listened. It all seemed too much to grasp and yet I knew if I could add this new task to my life, life would be easier and have less stress. Things would be organized. There would be peace in my home right around 3pm as I went to the fridge to start preparing dinner. I just had to learn it. (My husband saw my fears and my desire to defeat them. He linked arms with me in this journey. Seriously, I couldn't have done it without him).

So here goes. To all you brave women- here are my menu ideas:

I sat down one day and wrote out breakfast ideas and talked it over with the kids. (I talked about it with them because my honey is already off at work when we are having our breakfast at 6:30am). So, they loved the ideas and we went from there. Below is an example of one week's worth of breakfast dishes that we used repeatedly for the four weeks of a month. So, let's say for the month of January every Monday we would have cereal or oatmeal for breakfast. Every Tuesday for that month we would have bagels...get the idea?

Mon.     Tues.       Wed.      Thurs.        Fri.        Sat.     Sun.
Cereal   Bagels  Pancakes  Cereal   Quiche    waffles   Cereal
    or                                                     or
oatmeal                                       Banana muffins

On Wednesday mornings I make the *pancakes, but on Thursday night the girls make either the quiche or the banana muffins for the next day. I like this schedule, thus far, because the kids know the routine, they are quick to help and get it set up, and once again there is no arguing over what is for breakfast that day. They know in advance that "tomorrow is quiche day" and that 's that. (I also love, love, love that my girls are learning to plan the night before for the next day's breakfast and they are learning to bake). I have found that repetition is a wonderful teacher. So with that, having a routine, month long, breakfast and lunch menu is helping them to perfect the lessons they are learning that month. Then when we sit down for new breakfast ideas they will take on more new lessons.

*(If anyone would like this pancake recipe let me know. IT'S fantastic! You simply make the batter, pour it into a 13x9 pan and bake 20min. These are obviously not flap-jacks-and for me-that's perfect!)


Again, I went to the kids with my ideas for lunch. Example below:

Mon.    Tues.     Wed.        Thurs.          Fri.               Sat.            Sun.
Egg       PBJ    Chicken  Quesadillas   Cold Cuts     A Free         PBJ/
Salad                Salad                        sandwiches     for all       or a meal

In this schedule the girls prepare the Egg Salad, and the boys prepare the chicken salad. Honestly, I am amazed at how a schedule has given everyone a job, and a goal. We are working together without confusion in the kitchen. Lunch is prepared without an attitude over "I don't want that!" We made the menu together and we are working together to make it come alive. (I know many moms use dinner left-overs as their lunch meals for the next day, but I like to re-use them as a left over meal for dinner instead).

Now for the dinner ideas:

Throughout the month I take a cookbook or two and begin putting little post-it's on some recipes that I would like to try. There is no anxiety over it because I have a month to find a bunch of new ones for the next month.

Now for the specifics:

On Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday I cook a new and different meal on each day.

On Thursday's I get a break- it's left-over night. Everyone gets their plate and chooses what they would like to have. It's wonderful! No complaining-everyone gets their favorite-it's a happy day. (Because I have no cooking on this day I usually use the time for baking).

Friday's are  pizza night. I make and bake the bread in the morning and simply prepare the pizza and a salad in the evening before the meal. (I have been recently told that my pizza is the best! Might be thinking of opening up an Italian pizzeria-I'd call it...Benjaminellie's. (Sorry, for the diversion...)

Saturday is the day when the kids cook. They choose hot dogs, chicken nuggets, fish fillets, mac-n-cheese etc. Sometimes they choose a recipe and challenge themselves to cook something different. (Ben and I will eat whatever left-overs haven't gotten eaten from the week or have a "date-night" dinner).

And finally, but not at all least, Sunday is hubby's day to cook dinner! He cooks eggs, bacon, biscuits etc.

Menu planning for me is finding three new meals or the oldie favorites for each week and the other four days are pretty much taken care of. That's all I can handle. To have to cook every single day would be more than my brain, life, whatever you want to call it, can handle and really just too much food.

Now for writing it down on the calendar. (My menu calendar is separate from the family life calendar) I get my cookbooks and begin placing dinner ideas down. The calendar quickly fills up with new and wonderful recipes (Twelve to be more exact) that I have never tried. I sit down and go through my cookbooks (I have more than one now-aren't you proud?) and write down the name of the cookbook,  the name of the recipe, and the page number down on the day of the week I plan to make it. I fill out the whole month on the calendar. My hubby helps me too. He gives me ideas or tells me what he'd like to have within the month. It's a job we both enjoy doing together.

After that I go back with my shopping list and begin opening up each recipe to find what I will need for each recipe. In no time the list is complete and we're ready to go shopping. We don't over buy or under buy. We have just what we need.

I know you're all asking about the perishables. Yes, we run out of milk and a few items, but we find that it is much easier to run out once a week to get few items than to have to do BIG shopping every week. Once a month huge shopping is enough for us.

So there you have it--Breakfast, Lunch and Dinner menu ideas for a month. Every month the menus change, but we just roll with it. I hope you have gotten something out of this.

If you have better ideas, better planning, better ways of making my day more organized I am totally open to it. I'm not afraid of change anymore! Victory! Happy planning =D


  1. Love this Ellen! I have always planned out our dinners in advanced but just started planning breakfast and lunches as well this past year or so. It makes shopping and life in general so much easier. I have even started adding in a morning and afternoon snack. Works out better than having hungry kids scavenging through the pantry looking for a snack. Now it's already planned out for them and it helps me shop more efficiently.
    For dinners we have a category system that my family helped me come up with we do Mexican Mondays, Italian Tuesdays, What-ever Wednesdays, Crockpot Thursdays, Pizza Fridays, Soup Saturdays (Salad Saturdays in the summer) and Southern Sundays. I fill out my menu for the whole month using those categories. What-ever Wed. is often fish or leftovers(or what-ever doesn't fit in any of the other categories) Thursday is anything that can be made in the crockpot, Friday may be homemade pizza, pizza calzone, homemade pizza pockets or anything else "pizza" I even saw a recipe the other day for a Pizza Casserole I'd like to try. Sunday is of course anything you would consider "southern"...mac n cheese, BBQ, Ribs, Fried Chicken, ect. It's fun. :)
    I love to see meal planning ideas from moms. I’m sure there are lots of good ideas out there.

  2. I love it Deidra! Thanks for more help and more great ideas =D I've thought about adding snacks to the list, not sure if I'm ready...hee-hee!