Thursday, October 20, 2011

"That's Thinkin' Thursday!"

I've found a new love...Pinterest!  It's a virtual memo board where you can post ideas, photos, DIY, and more.  I'm seriously a little addicted because I love finding new and creative ways to do things.  On the site you can both browse and post items, so my brain has been working overtime.  What can I contribute?!

It's led me to a new inspiration to add to this blog.  I'm pleased to introduce to you (insert drum roll here).... "That's Thinkin' Thursday!"  The place where I'll contribute a mixture of my own ideas and things I find on Pinterest, because I know some of my loyal readers won't ever brave that lovely virtual site. 

Today, I'm sharing something that I'm often asked about.  To me, it seems so normal, as it's the way I've always done it, but I know that there are others who struggle with this daily chore.  We're talking menu planning, or answering that dreaded question, "What's for dinner?!"

I'm a busy lady but sitting down with my family, or at least knowing they have a meal to sit down to, is important to me.  Memories are made in the kitchen and at the dinner table.  Gathering together for meals strengthens a family.  So, to keep a calm on the chaos of an evening, I plan.  And here's how I do it.

I plan out our menus two weeks at a time because it follows our pay dates and when I shop.  I do mine on a spreadsheet but you could use a notebook or really any form that works for you.  I like the spreadsheet because I can type faster than write and save it for future/past reference. 
Here's how I decide what to have.  First I write out the dates for the next two weeks and insert any PM appointments, work, after school activities, etc. that will mean a later than normal night.  (These are the nights that can throw you off and cause you to order in or get take out if you're not prepared.)  I plan batch meals or quick fixes for nights like these.  I also then check my pantry for whatever I already have that I can make a meal with.  This saves money!  Once I know what I can work with, I choose recipes from my family's favorites and fill in the blanks. 

I usually ask everyone to give me one request, which helps me feel like I'm not making all the decisions and gives them something to look forward to.  On my favorites tab I have a folder of recipes, broken down by categories, that we enjoy, as well as a multitude of cookbooks to turn to for ideas.  Some weeks it is plain, tried and true favorites and sometimes I throw in a new recipe or two.  The menu is really reflective of whatever is going on in our lives for that time period. 

Once I have the menu set, I then type out ingredients I'm missing on the right hand side which will begin my grocery list.  This also helps when shopping so that you're not just randomly adding things to your cart.  Sometimes my menu is influenced by whatever is on sale at the time (or sometimes it changes a bit if I get to the store and a certain meat is on sale).  The idea is to have a plan but be flexible!

When I can, I batch cook or at least cook meals that can be double duty.  For example, I will cook a pot roast and make more than normal knowing that the leftover meat and veggies will be turned into a soup later in the week.  Also, if we tend to have more leftovers than expected, I'll swap one night out as a "Whatever night" meaning I save the planned meal and we eat whatever is left in the frig.

Maybe this seems complicated?  I don't know.  I just know it works for me.  It keeps me from having to deal with the stress of knowing what to cook at the end of a long day when I'm tired and everyone is hungry.  It keeps us from ordering in or going through the drive-through and feeding my family unhealthy meals.  And, most of all, it ensures that we'll be gathered at the table sharing a meal together every evening I can squeeze it in.  For it's those moments when we're side by side, saying grace, enjoying dinner, discussing our days, and laughing as a family that are among the best of my entire day! 

....So, what's for dinner at your house tonight?


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