All right, now that you’ve finished hour one, I’m sure you’re ready for hour two of your meal planning adventure! By the way, I never do all three hours at once, since that would lead to total burnout. I usually break it up over the three weeks before the season I want to start using the menu plan, but even spacing it out over a few days would help.
Hour Two: Making the Plan
This is where you get down to the nuts and bolts of making your meal plan. Narrow your brainstorming ideas down to the final 15 (or 21 with no pizza night or leftovers night) and start slotting them into your calendar. Here’s a blank copy of my seasonal menu plan to get you started. Tips on how to organize the meals into a plan below.
Blank Seasonal Menu Plan
- Shopping Day – You’ll notice my weeks begin with Friday rather than Monday or Sunday. That’s because Friday is my shopping day. This way, I can see the whole week’s worth of meals I need to shop for at a glance. Feel free to rotate the days so that it’s organized by your shopping habits.
- Groups of 3 – I like to organize my meals into groups of three that are similar by some theme (again–ethnicity, meat, grain, cooking method, type of meal, etc.). If you used themed grids to come up with your meal ideas, this will be easy! Then you can simply pick a day for each group: Monday is Mexican day, Tuesday is salad day, Wednesday we grill.
- Keep your schedule in mind – When you’ve got a particularly busy night weeknight, make sure you slot in something simple that night, or you’ll end up at Subway again. If you’ve grouped your meals by type, put the crockpot or 15 minute meals on this night! And conversely, don’t put something that needs time to rise or marinate on a day when you have a busy morning.
- Check for variety – To keep things from feeling boring or routine, you need to make sure each week has a good variety of meals in it. After I’ve initially placed all my meals, I go through the list checking for meals that are too similar next to each other. I avoid having the same meat or grain two nights in a row–one can only take so much rice. I make an exception for chicken, but three times in a row is still my absolute limit. Juggle things around until you’ve achieved a good balance between weeks.
- Side dishes – Evaluate each meal for balance. If your main dish doesn’t include enough vegetables, note in the side dish column that you need to prepare a veggie with it. You can either pick something that goes well, or just leave it as “veggie” so you can take advantage of what’s on sale or in your CSA box. You should also note if you need to prep rice, rolls, or other side dishes.
And your plan is finished! Doesn’t it feel good to know you won’t have to think about dinner all season long?
We’ll be dealing with the “shopping list” column during hour 3, next Wednesday!
The Top Five Formula Feeding Myths, Debunked – As a formula feeder myself, I have certainly been (unintentionally) hurt by a lot of lactivist comments. I think every mother should know the truth and get their facts straight, whether you breastfeed or not.
Dealing with Diaper Changing Disasters – Some good go-to places for the stage Sailor’s currently in, where a diaper change is the worst thing that ever happened to him. Some of this advice seems to have worked over the past few weeks, so we’ll see how it goes.
Duplo Printing – We loved painting with cars so this is the next logical step. What other plastic toys can I hit up?
Constructive Eating – I have to wonder if this would make dinner take more or less time. I think some modified “pusher” tool should become the fourth official utensil, because really, spoons can be tricky devils.
Fun Uses for Kool-Aid – Because at $.10 a pop, you can always use more.
Table manners come more easily when practicing them becomes a game – So obvious. I can’t wait until my kids are old enough to compete.