Mar 24, 2011

Dinnertime Dilemma

by Jada Swanson (

Recently, in a blog post, I shared why I planned my menus. A friend commented, “The question is not ‘why’ you menu plan, but ‘when’ do you find the time? Seriously, I think I’d lose zzzzz [sleep]!” 

Well, if truth be told, I am somewhat of a nerd when it comes to organization, lists and structure. Having a plan calms me; assures me that at least one area of my life is in control, although another may be in disarray. :o) Just keeping it real, folks! 

In this series of posts on Menu Planning, I hope to share with you the basics of menu planning, various resources, and a few of my personal tips and tricks, which have made this seemingly laborious chore enjoyable.  With the hope that you will be able to incorporate some of these ideas into your family, no matter specific food preferences,  dietary needs, food budget or time constraints. 

In all honesty, in the beginning it did take more time, than it does now. However, the effort was worth it. After a few initial tasks and projects, menu planning now takes no more than an hour or so each week. And while I love to cook, most of my meals take no more than 30-45 minutes to cook from start to finish.

The Game Plan

*Make a list of the foods and/or meals your family really enjoys. 

Perhaps your husband loves steak, but your kids love chicken. You enjoy a vegan meal from time to time. Write everyone’s preferences down. By serving everyone’s favorite meal occasionally, it gains trust. With trust, I am able to introduce new items into our menu plan. 

*Next, make a list of foods and/or recipes that you would like to introduce. 

While I enjoy stretching my family’s taste buds and culinary palettes, if I am constantly serving meals they don’t enjoy, or using exotic ingredients they won’t eat, I am wasting money, time, and effort. It’s all about balance and slowly making changes. 

Since we cannot serve only soda and snack foods, from time to time we can splurge and have fun meals. My family loves when I declare it “Finger Food Friday,” where everything we eat is with our fingers. I can get them to try just about anything on “Finger Food Fridays!”

*Take an inventory of your pantry, freezer and refrigerator. 

There are many great websites, which offer free forms and templates for this endeavor.  Or, like me, you can just use a spiral notebook. I have a “Household Notebook,” (here) which I use regularly, but spiral notebooks are tucked inside of it! :o)

Organized Home

Organized Home
*Put it all together.

Discover what meals you can put together, which your family will eat, from the ingredients you have on hand. Several websites allow you to share the ingredients you have on hand, then share recipes using those ingredients.

All Recipes



As well, collect recipes from family and friends, magazines and online. In my “Household Notebook,” I keep handwritten, copied, or recipes torn out of a magazine. Just hole punch them and tuck inside. On my computer, I have a designated folder for recipes. I do my best to try them all, keeping those we have enjoyed. Periodically, I go through both files and discard the ones we haven’t tried, or didn’t enjoy. 

Formulating the Plan
Do you prefer to use your computer for your meal planning (an online calendar, such as Google calendar or iCalendar)? Or do you prefer a menu planning form? Many are available online, or you can create your own. Do you like to plan a week, two weeks, or even month of meals at a time? 

Organized Home-Weekly Planner

Noel’s Kitchen Tips-Monthly Planner

Money Saving Mom-Variety of Menu Planners

For long-range planning, I use an online calendar. If I have an hour or two one day, I’ll spend some time on this. Scheduling meals for a month or so; using themes, such as Soup Night, Chicken Night, Breakfast for Dinner, Leftovers or Ethnic Meal (Mexican, Italian, Ethiopian, Indian, etc.) 

For my weekly menu planning, I spend about an hour on Sunday evenings. I use printed forms, posted on my refrigerator. This allows me to make sure I have the necessary ingredients. Also, I find it quiet handy to post the menu plan onto my blog, linking the recipes, which allows me to have everything in one place. Although I have a collection of recipe books, most of the recipes I use are available online. 

Now, you have some basic tools, in order to begin meal planning. Next month, I want to share some insights on stocking a pantry, which will enable you to have a variety of “on the fly” meals to prepare at a moment’s notice, saving time and money. 

If you have specific questions, please let me know. Stop by my blog Food.Fun.Family ( or email me at foodfunfamily {at} wordpress {dot} com. 

No comments: