"Recipe" for making our month-long menu plan
1. I created a page that looks like a month calendar in Microsoft Word.
2. I brainstormed dinner themes that our family likes (Eg: pasta, turkey, fish, ham, chicken, salad, beef).
3. I thought about what our week typically looks like and chose what dinner theme would work best for which night of the week. (Eg: Sunday- salad, Monday - chicken, Tuesday - fish) The rationale behind nightly dinner themes was to ensure that I wasn't serving pork three nights in a row!
4. I thought about our favorite family meals and plugged them in first to the appropriate days. (Eg: on a Sunday when the dinner theme was "salad", I would ensure that one Sunday in the month had one of our favorites: Cherry Chicken Lettuce Wraps)
5. In the gaps in the calendar left after that, I got on-line and researched what I needed. I googled "beef" or whatever. Recipes that looked tasty I'd "plug in" to the remaining gaps of the menu and then print out the recipe for future reference. This enables me to experiment with new recipes.
I started this in January, but as the days have gotten longer and warmer and more spring and summer variety appears in the markets, I have been getting back on-line to freshen our menu to reflect the flavors of the season.
Once I got the calendar grid ready, the nightly themes designated, and the skeleton of our favorites in place, the actual updating the calendar and filling in the gaps with new recipes takes me about an hour each month.
The menu also helps me with my shopping. The menu becomes my shopping list, ensuring I have the ingredients I need. I do a local run to the grocery store each week for the fruit and veggies I need, and we go as a family into the city to do a "big shop" maybe twice a month for big ticket items. My pantry and fridge are stocked, ready for me to cook, ready for our family to eat.
If you're feeling motivated, you can also add on breakfasts, lunches and snacks to help "rise to the occasion" when it's meal time for your little loves. It may seem overkill, but for me, having something written down saves me time and time again when it's time to eat and I'm chewing my bottom lip looking for mealtime solutions.
Do I stick with the menu? It's a tool. It's there for me. It supports me with my work, but I am at the controls. Sometimes I'll swap a meal around or completely drop it that day... it depends on what we need and what works for us that day. But 90% of the time, this little menu's been my fairy godmother - transforming my daily chef from frazzled to successful.
Click here to see our June 2012 menu.