That being said, menu planning is the backbone of my sanity, yet I never got the hang of it until last year. And then Mike was retired so I had to start over; we can't afford our previous menus. It's been fun trying new recipes out & figuring how to reconfigure leftovers into something new. I seem to try something new at least once a week. The internet always helps me out in a pinch, though the point is to not get into a pinch. So I'd like to present the keeper of my sanity... The Calendar.
As you can see I have circles, arrows, scribbles, & that's because flexibility is key. Recipes, for whatever reason, only end up cooked on their designated day about 50% of the time. I put references on the bottom as well, if the recipe comes from one of my cook books, I write that book & page number on the bottom so I can find it easily the day I need it. Using this I can take my meat out the night before & thaw it in the fridge as opposed the counter (good for fish!)
I've gotten to the point where I can usually plan up to 2 weeks in advance. I saw a lady on Dr. Phil (Mike used to love Dr. Phil) & her menus were planned by the year. I cannot tell you how that discouraged me as I was starting out; it seemed insurmountable. But not doing anything about it wasn't making evenings any smoother either. What did we eat anyway? So that was my first step.
In the beginning I just used the wall calender in the kitchen & I would write down everything after we ate it; this is before I planned. If it was pizza I wrote that. If Mike took us out, I just wrote out. Don't get me wrong, I did cook, but I didn't know what I was making until around 1:00 or 2:00 when some kind of meat had to be thawed & I would search out a recipe to fit the ingredients on hand. Need I say what a daily time thief this was?
After about 2 months I looked back, saw what we ate, how often we ate it, how often we ate out & (this is important) I wrote what we liked to eat. If you try something new every week, there needs to be some kind of feedback & I've made my share of wretched & bland recipes. (Why can no one else like beans?)
The little calender I have now has a space for notes, I love it. Give the DAV, USO, NRA, National Wildlife Federation, Jerry's Kids, Walk for Life, whatever, some money & you get some kind of surprise gift, usually address labels, but once in a while a nice little calendar like this. Planning supper has helped me so much I've finally gotten around to doing it for breakfast. Mon. is oatmeal, Tues. toast & eggs, Wed. & Saturday are cold cereal days, Thurs. & Sun are something baked, muffins, pancakes, coffeecake, something good that I can prep the night before. Fri. is breakfast rice. I might get to lunch someday but those are not in the calendar.
That goes right next to my other handy friend...The Grocery List.
As I write down a recipe I mentally (or manually) check off the ingredients required & ascertain that they are all on hand. This is the bulk of my grocery list, but when cooking, if something runs out, of course I add it on then too.
The point is to stretch your dollar. Though Ham Week is beyond our budget at the present, we used to have a baked ham once a month. It became ham & cheese pie, sandwiches/omelette's, split pea soup & usually in that order. Ham Week is missed. But my baked & stuffed chicken from last week became chicken & cheese quesadillas (big hit w/ the children) & then chicken noodle soup. Not bad for $4.75. A meat loaf can be turned into spaghetti sauce or throw in a can of beans & spices for chili.
Side dishes are a vegetable for us no exception. I steam them plain so everyone can season to their own taste & if they don't get eat can be put into the compost. I start off the week spending about an hour prepping a giant salad. This one is not as pretty as usual. I usually cut the spinach for Mike & shred the carrots instead of diced (I just keep using the peeler for longer strips, it's easier to clean than the shredder) but he won't eat it if theres no tomatoes. Which I forgot to get this week.
But it's big enough for a salad every day, or maybe 6 adults at a party. I buy a bag of spinach & a bag of spring mix & throw them together w/ whatever (carrot, celery, cuke, onion etc.) I have on hand. I think this is the reason my iron levels are never below 14, when Miranda was born, my midwife said the lab was raving over the results of my blood work; there was practically no bleeding by the numbers. Last point; even if you leave your list in the car like I did this last week thus forgetting tomatoes, writing it down still helps you to remember, especially if you can build your menu over basic staples.