Well, we did it.
I’ve been thinking about menu planning for a long time now. (How long? you ask? Well, I’m calendar challenged, and add to that I have very little sense of time, so let’s just leave it at “long time now”. Years?)
Oh, I’ve done menu planning before. Before the food allergies hit so hard (oh, my, that would be 14 years ago!) I would look at the inserts to the Tuesday Food Day and plan menus around the sale items.
While we were on our rotation diet I planned two weeks of menus at a time.
Tried once a month cooking. Threw my back out. Tried a variation–doubling recipes and freezing half. Worked for awhile but then the girls started their growth spurts and quite often that “extra half” got devoured, or seriously depleted, leaving enough leftovers for lunch but not enough for everyone to have for another dinner.
When life got busy and the allergies had abated somewhat, I started cooking catch-as-catch-can. I’d found I pretty much bought the same staples every week (milk, eggs, fresh fruit and veggies, bread either bought or baked) and once a month or even less often I could stock up on pantry items (pasta, rice, dried beans, half a side of beef for the freezer, that sort of thing) and I just fell into a rhythm of cooking.
But sometimes when life is busy the rhythm sort of stumbles. You find yourself fixing spaghetti twice in one week. Maybe even thrice. (I guess it’s the equivalent for working-outside-the-home moms when they’re going through a drive-through several times a week.) There’s the occasional night when the children just graze and there’s no formal dinner on the table. You know things have to change.
So… I brainstormed lists of foods. Beef/pork/lamb (“meat” in other words), chicken, pasta, meatless, pasta, crockpot. Sunday is a shared meal at church, so “Tea” is the order of the day.
I assigned an order to the days. For the summer, starting with Sunday, it’s Tea – Crockpot – Pasta – Chicken – Meatless – Meat – Leftovers. When fall hits, we might have more than one crockpot day, depending on our schedule, and it might not be Monday but some other day. Still, the summer is a great time to have a regular slow cooker day, when we can try out new recipes and also avoid heating up the kitchen. The other days can be slow-cooker days, too, depending on the recipe chosen.
I put all the names of the recipes I’d brainstormed onto quarter-index cards. (Cut an index card in half. Cut the halves in half. That’s what I mean.) I happened to have four colors of cards, so I assigned a different color to each category (except crockpot, tea, and leftover day).
I wrote down a cook rotation schedule on the July calendar. Mom-Eldest-Middlest-Youngest-Mom-etc. We then took turns selecting recipes. (I went last, after the girls had taken turns selecting all their recipes. We avoided conflict, in that Eldest got to be first to pick from the Meat category, Middlest got to be first to pick from the Pasta category, and Youngest got to be first to pick from the Chicken category. Since they all had favorites in every category, they seemed satisfied.
The choosing went on sort of like captains picking players for teams, until we’d assigned a meal to every day of the month.
It’s worked pretty well so far, five out of the last seven days. We were thrown off a little by park days where we went to a local river to cool off and so dinner didn’t get cooked. But other than that it’s working.