Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Menu Plan Madness

I'm sorry for the long time between posts but recently all of my computer time has been taken up by something else. Something important. Something exciting!!!
Yep...That's right...I've been menu planning.
You see, my family never eats at home, like...ever. And when we do its usually because we got take out.
McDonalds (I know)
Mangos (locally owned Mexican place...very yum)
That's just a few of the places we ate each week.
Husband-Man ran the numbers and discovered that we were spending close to $800 or more on eating out every month...WHAT?!?!?!

I know right!? I was kinda shocked too. And we've been doing that for close to ten years. Scary stuff that. I mean...that's a house'm so mad at us.
So after hearing that and also getting tired of hearing, "What are we having for dinner?" and "I don't know. What are you in the mood for?" then, "I don't know. You?" and then sitting there staring into space trying to come up with a plan like the two vultures from The Jungle Book, I decided to do something about it.
Neither Husband-Man nor I grew up in families that did anything close to menu planning. We knew nothing about the secrets of cooking on a budget. We knew even less about actually planning a menu. So I did what any self-respecting not-so-know-it-all should do...I researched.
I used Pinterest. I used my social network. I talked to my co-workers.
Everyone had advice. Everyone had a different way of doing it. Some people did a monthly plan and shopped once a month. Some people had a monthly plan and shopped twice a month. Some people had a weekly plan and shopped on Sundays and some people just had a stocked pantry and created a menu as they went "I feel like having chicken pot pie tomorrow so I'm going to thaw out a couple chicken breasts and cook it... Sound good dear?"
I'm so not capable of that. I have to be strict with myself. I need a plan. I have to be organized. I have to have everything planned out and have a plan B for each plan A. Sometimes I hate being me. You should be glad you can't see inside my brain...I'm sure it's scary.
What I finally came up with was this...
I put a binder together.

Isn't it pretty
Inside this binder is a section with calendars, a section for recipes, a section for recipes we like, and  sections for further categorizations.

My calendar and tabs
I also have a Microsoft OneNote (Best program ever!!!) notebook filled with recipes, and ways to categorize my shopping lists. One co-worker, I'll call her Marilyn because of her love of Marilyn Manson, recommended the phone application Out Of Milk  and it is awesome.
It allows you to scan barcodes and keep track of what you have in your pantry as well as what you need to purchase at the store. Since I always have my phone with me if I find that I need something to go on the shopping list it goes on there immediately. And even cooler is that I can sync Husband-Man's phone and my phone (by signing both accounts into the same account) and if he is the one shopping and I need to add something to the list I can do so and be sure he got it without having to call him. Seriously big thanks to Marilyn for that tip!
So once I was organized and knew where I was going with this all I had to do was compile my recipes and plug them in to the calendar. Easy peasy right? Not really. 
Compiling the recipes turned into a problem. All of the advice I had been given said to compile a list of recipes that my family already liked first...I did that and came up with seven. Not Shameful isn't it?
But then I decided this would be a good thing. It could be a way of trying recipes I find from all different sources (including Pinterest) and having my family try new things. The benefit of course being that as I go I can find things that the family definitely likes which will eventually pay off in that I'll have enough recipes to be able to fill a menu with ease and only have to look for a new recipe for once a week (more or less if I choose).
The difficulty in this was finding enough recipes to fill my three weeks. It took me days. Literally days. I searched Pinterest, cookbooks, asked friends to email their favorites. I categorized as much as possible (or tried to) on Pinterest. Soup. Entrees. Side dishes. Deserts. I never realized how many of the recipe pins on Pinterest were deserts. So not fair...
But after a few days I finally had a full calendar.
Then I moved on to figuring out what I needed from the store and what I already had. I barely had anything.
My first week's menu was:
Sunday: Chili
Monday: Parmesan Encrusted Tilapia (I actually had these in the freezer from a trip to SAMS. Yay me!!!)
Tuesday: Frozen Pizza
Thursday: Chicken Pot Pie
Friday: Designated as a Fish Fry day since we go to our lodges Fish Fry every Friday. (Good fish and the money goes to a good cause. Plus once a month Husband-Man and I work one and we eat free that day. BONUS!!!)
Once that was done all I had to do was assign myself a budget and go shopping. I love shopping. I don't love budgets. Obviously. SMH. I'm working on it. *shrugs*

I input my shopping list into Out Of Milk and off I went. I set myself a budget of $100 for the first weeks needs and I did pretty well at $120. I did go a little off list though for a few things that I wanted to have in the house. So I probably did stay on budget if it hadn't been for those things.

I got everything home and put away and prepared for the fun of following the menu.

One thing I'd recommend is doing a them night a few nights of the week. That makes it easier to set the menu. Tuesdays I plan to make Italian night. At least for this month. I may decide to change that next month. Italian night started with frozen pizza and will include spaghetti, baked ravioli and fettuccini alfredo. 
I'm only up to Wednesday but so far so good. The Pot Roast was awesome...though I recommend seasoning it a bit more. I used the gravy mix and the Ranch dressing seasoning and it wasn't very flavored. Next time I'll add the Italian mix and see if that makes a difference. I didn't add it this time because I was worried it would be too salty. I was wrong but it was still very good. Nice and tender.
In the Crock Pot

 In the bowl
Next project is going to be to replace my dishes. I hate them. I think they are the ugliest things known to man. But for some reason Husband-Man is unreasonably attached to them. Not for long (insert evil laugh)...
I hope you've been inspired by this really long post. I plan to share the results of each recipe I use from least I hope to.
In the you have any tips? Tricks? Recipes you'd like to share? If to me in the comments.

1 comment:

Cathy from Humana said...

I love meal planning. One thing that I like to do is plan in left over days now that my kids are all grown.(If we make lasagna it lasts forever!) I also plan for cooking times so that I don't have to use the oven every day. We had meatloaf on Sunday and I cooked the sweet potatoes that we were eating on Monday at the same time. If I am cooking steak one day, I will plan for something like fajitas for the next day so I can buy bulk meats or cook a full chicken one day and use what is left for pot pies. If I can do most of the work on one day and just put the parts together the day I am cooking, it saves a lot of time. Enjoy the planning!