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Tuesday, March 8, 2011

What's for Dinner? Meal Planning by Marsha

This wonderful idea comes from our great friend, Marsha!

What's for Dinner?

Do you ever cringe when you hear that question? I do, or rather--I did. Jason used to ask me that in the morning when he called me and I dreaded it. Why? Because I didn't know what I was going to make for dinner! Leave me alone! (I mean, well...yeah, that's what I meant). He was trying to be "helpful" and give me a whole day to think about it so I could come up with something by dinner time. Sometimes I had an answer. I didn't mind the question on those days, but on the other days--it was downright annoying. So, I finally came up with a solution a couple of months ago and now I'm ready for that question every day.

What was my solution? It isn't rocket science and I'm sure plenty of people out there do's called "meal planning." I have tried to do meal planning in the past but I always found myself scrambling to come up with a menu the day I was going to the grocery store and some weeks, I just didn't have time to sit down and do that kind of planning. I looked into freezer-meal cooking where you shop and make an entire month's worth of meals in one day but I knew in my heart I would never want to spend a whole day making meals and cleaning the kitchen. I looked into subscribing to an online service that would send me a weekly grocery list with recipes for each night of the week to go with it. I came pretty close to choosing that option but as I looked at the menus, I wasn't sure if my family would eat the stuff. So, I finally sat down and asked my family what meals they like (that I make) and I made a list. From that list, I made a 2-month dinner menu, hitting our favorites every month and the semi-favorites every other month. I tried to alternate the meals our kids love with the meals Jason and I love (that the kids won't eat) so the kids at least get something they like every other day. I also tried not to put too many time-consuming meals in one week, or too many high-fat meals in a week (of course the high-fat meals made the favorite list!). Voila! I now know what we are having for dinner every day, it has been such a blessing, such a stress-reliever!

I took it a bit further and made a repeating weekly menu with breakfast, lunch, and snacks. I homeschool so we are eating at home all the time and I got tired of the food question all day--"What can I eat? What's for breakfast? What's for lunch?" Tanner can be very demanding about what he wants to eat but now he wakes up and says, "What's on the menu?" It's nothing fancy--oatmeal one day, cereal another day, eggs & toast another day, but it just helps us have more variety and it gives me a few less things I have to think about and make decisions on in a day.

So, on my fridge I keep a print-out of my weekly menu (Breakfast, Lunch, and Snacks), in a page-protector, the dinner spot is blank--not-printed, dinners are hand-written in with a wet-erase marker. At the end of each week, I look at my 2-month menu and write-in which meals we are going to have the following week on my weekly menu, I write the date on the 2-month menu (also with wet-erase marker). Choosing weekly from the 2-month menu gives me flexibility to change things around if we have a date or a dinner invitation. It doesn't take long to do this because the meals are already planned and I know the ingredients. My kids love checking the daily menu, my hubby loves knowing that dinner is planned, and I love knowing what I'm making for dinner. It doesn't seem so bad to cook when you can mentally prepare all day for what needs to be done (and do some stuff early in the day). My kids are getting to eat their favorites that I often wasn't prepared to make. When my son complains that he doesn't like what we're having one day, I can just say, "Well, we're having one of your favorites tomorrow so be happy."

I thought I better report on this now while it's STILL working! :) Most of my grand plans work for awhile and then I have to try something different. Maybe this will spark an idea for someone out there who has also struggled with that high-pressure question--what's for dinner?

I'll end with a recipe from tonight's menu--"Oven-baked Chicken." This is Hunter's favorite thing besides steak (which I don't make, he get's that at Oma and Grandpa's house). This is EASY and yummy, but not low-fat, beware! :) It has made our once-a-month list but Hunter wishes we could eat it every week:

Oven-baked Chicken (from Bisquick box)

1 Tbsp butter
2/3 cup Original bisquick mix
1 tsp. paprika
1 1/4 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. pepper
Chicken drumsticks/legs (as many as you want)

1. Heat oven to 425. Melt butter in a 13x9-inch glass baking dish in the oven.

2. Combine all other ingredients except the chicken and put it in a gallon-size ziploc bag.

3. Put a few drumsticks at a time in the bag and shake it around until it is coated. Place them in your hot, buttered, glass dish (you want the pan and the butter to be hot).

4. Bake 35 minutes, turn chicken and bake an additional 15 minutes or until thermometer reads 180 degrees. Crispy coated chicken awaits you!

Notes: You can use other bone-in meat but my family likes drumsticks the most. You can make this with or without skin. I don't like the skin so I take it off MY drumsticks before coating them but the rest of the family likes the skin so I leave it on theirs (it's much easier). You can coat at least 15 drumsticks with this recipe (but you will need more than one pan and more butter). You can usually buy them for 99 cents a pound at Costco. I bought 30 drumsticks for about $8.00 and that will easily make 2 meals. (For most families it would be more meals but my boys pack away this chicken).
Try it out and let me know if you like it!

1 comment:

Alison said...

I started menu planning for the same reason- I hated the dreaded question of what is for dinner!! I have an extra calendar that I write what we are having for dinner for at least the coming week based on what is in the fridge and freezer. I am able to take out the meat based on the plan (and I get everything on sale). My husband looks at the calendar when he comes home and doesn't have to ask. If tonight doesn't look great, he looks and sees that we are having tacos tomorrow :) his favorite. It takes the stress off of both of us and make sure that we don't end up eating non-health foods or ordering out. Your way seems neat with the sheet protector and the wiping marker. I usually look back at the old months to see what we haven't had in awhile but maybe I will try your method. Do you have a sample file to reference??

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