Pictured recipe: Cajun Chicken Alfredo
As much as I was ready for winter to go, springtime begets a whole new set of circumstances. Circumstances involving 3 of 4 children participating in 5 different sports, with Hubby & I each coaching different teams in different seasons. It all seemed very do-able on paper, with sports seasons that historically did not overlap much, but now are apparently going to overlap quite a bit. Welcome to my Fall ’10, Part Duex.
Which means that the best case scenario puts Hubby & I going different directions 5-6 days per week, assuming his work travel schedule doesn’t take him out entirely of the equation. If that happens, you find me here, blogging from my happy place, snarfing down molten chocolate cakes like it’s nobody’s business while wishing it would all just go away. It’s a legitimate coping mechanism.
Let’s just hope that doesn’t happen, because my hiney might not appreciate the extra jiggles. No amount of laps around the soccer field can make up for downing multiple molten chocolate cakes in on sitting. Even if I am chasing a small herd of 5 and 6 year olds.
‘Tis the season.
Oh, and that self-imposed moratorium on caffeine that I have been toying with for the past two months? I’m so over it! That foolishness ends tomorrow morning with a colossal mug of leaded chai.
In addition to copious amounts of caffeine, the key to my sanity during busy seasons comes down to one other thing: menu planning.
While I realize that the whole idea of planning a written menu may seem a little over the top, it really helps to maintain a level of calm within the storm because it is the one thing that I don’t have to think about while trying to help with homework/getting kids in their respective gear/synchronizing Swatches with Hubby/cooking dinner all in a 60 minute time frame.
That, and it keeps us from eating carry-out pizza six nights a week. Besides, restaurant and take-out meals are
always generally more expensive and less healthy than home cooked meals. With a little forethought, we can eat well for a lot less money than would be spent on a comparable restaurant meal.
For those of you who are a little intimated at the thought of planning a menu, or fear the commitment of planning too far in the future–fear not! Menu planning is really easy and takes a lot less time than you think.
- Make a list of all of your “family favorites.” These are the meals that everyone loves, or at the very least, meals that most of the family will eat. For years, our family favorites list was our menu plan. In fact, I have a friend that has a two week meal cycle of family favorites, that she repeats each month. Same meal, same night of the week for two weeks. Repeat. That’s what works for them.
- Write a list of ingredients necessary to prepare the family favorites. This will serve as your base shopping list for the menu.
- Take a peek in the refrigerator, freezer, and pantry to see what food you already have on hand. Cross of any on-hand items from the base shopping list. I know this step seems a little self-explanatory, but I can’t tell you how many times I have skipped it, and come home from the store with an item, only to find that I had 3 of them in the cupboard. It happens.
- Browse the circular for the local grocery store and see if anything on your list is on sale. If it is, make a note of it on the shopping list, and consider stocking up, if you have room to store the extra items.
- Plan your menu on the same night each week so that it becomes a habit. I plan and/or review our menu plan on Sunday night.
- Get out your calender, and plan meals based on what is scheduled for each day of the week. For example, if I know that I have a busy day, and won’t have time to cook one night before running out again in the evening, then I might plan a slow cooker meal for that night so that I can throw dinner in the crock pot in the morning. If I have a bit more time on another night, then I will plan a meal that takes a bit more time to prepare on that night. If Hubby will be travelling one night, then I may let the boys choose what we have for dinner that night, etc.
- Start small. If the thought of sticking to a menu plan for an entire week seems daunting, try planning 2-3 days at a time. You can always work up to more days, and eventually you will find the number that works for you.
- Plan for a “buffer” night. I typically plan our meals for 10-14 days at a time. In that plan, I allow for one or two buffer nights to maybe try a new recipe I ran across, or for a “Leftover-Palooza” to eat any leftovers that might be piling up in the fridge. Or sometimes I just don’t feel like cooking so we eat cereal for dinner. Think of the buffer night as a free space on your Bingo card. Plan for a little flexibility, but not so much that the menu plan disintegrates.
- Shop for your meals, and stick to your plan! I look at the menu plan each night before bed to make sure that if we are having chicken for dinner the next night, that I moved the chicken from the freezer to the fridge to thaw.
That’s it! A super easy way to eat well and retain some sense of sanity through menu planning.
Oh! Another thing: I found these great FREE menu planning spreadsheets online. You can plan for a week, two weeks, or a month at a time. I love them because they make the whole menu planning process much easier.
For those of you that plan your meals: what do you do differently than I do?
If you have never planned a menu: Try it, and let me know what works for you.