Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Menu planning, part 2 - more ideas, less crazy

It's hard to describe menu planning with a picture.

Maybe my crazy method of menu planning (see part 1 here) didn't do it for you. Believe me, it doesn't always work for me. Like yesterday, when my husband had to go out of town on a last minute business trip. I have a week's worth of recipes planned and even the groceries to go with them. But my motivation? I'm having a really hard time finding it. So to help myself out when it happens again (and I know it will), I'm adding a back-up plan to my method.

That is the point of all this work, after all. We're doing it to ultimately make our lives easier and hopefully, better, get the idea. There's a never-ending stream of research telling us how important family meals are for our well being and our health. And by family I don't just mean two parents plus two kids. Family is however you define it and dinner for one is just as important as dinner for six.

If you're still not convinced that it's worth the effort, check out this food manifesto by Mark Bittman. He has a bunch of great ideas on how we can improve our food supply, but he also talks about the value of home cooking. Another good source of information is the 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans that was released this past week. It can be tough to follow the guidelines at a restaurant, but at home you're in control.

In the end, no matter what your motivation, planning meals (and cooking them) will take some time to make it a regular habit. It makes sense to find the method that works best for you and your lifestyle.

Here are a few more ideas to help you get started.
  1. Create theme nights. If you were a kid in the 1970's, you might remember Wednesday as Prince Spaghetti Night. The ad campaign may have been hokey, but the concept still makes sense. Whether it's Pasta Wednesday or Soup and Salad Thursday, a routine makes it easier to plan the menu and to stick to it. Find four pasta recipes, four soups and you're on your way to planning a whole month of dinners.
  2. Plan for leftovers. If you're making a pot of spaghetti sauce, it's not much more work to double the recipe and freeze the extras. Soups and casseroles also freeze well.This is my 'new' back-up plan, by the way. But it only works as long as the dinner gets made in the first place.
  3. Cook ahead of time. Similar to #2, except you're typically only planning a week ahead. Prep and cook meals on the weekends or whenever you can find the time. Plan for the days you know you'll get home late and you'll stop making a side trip to pick up a pizza.
  4. Finally, don't forget to treat yourself. I still love going out to eat at restaurants - who doesn't?  But if healthier eating is your goal, those meals need to be a special occasion, a treat. It's going to be tough, but I promise it will be worth it!
Now let's get cooking!

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