Anyone can glean from this as they wish, but I am mostly doing this for my friend who has asked. Also if you have a simplified way of doing something or just want to throw me a tip, PLEASE SHARE!!!!!!
Today (I'm actually late), I am going to sit down and begin the preparation for my menus for the next 4 weeks "hopefully".
First note that I am a collector. I collect recipes. I used to have a ton of cookbooks, not because I used them a heck of whole lot, but because I LOVE collecting recipes. After I try a recipe a time or two, I usually have it committed to memory and no longer need the book. I usually then begin to alter it however I like.
So months ago I went through this phase of wanting to do away with all those books collecting dust. I did the unthinkable...I began to rip out whole pages of recipes I knew my family loved and put them in a binder in sheet protectors. I'm trying to get a system down and instead of having ONE HUGE binder, have several smaller ones. One specifically for breads, one for sweets, one for vegan, one for....I think you get the idea. I'm still working on it...Nevertheless, I need to cull many more of my recipes. (That may NEVER happen, better just do what I do with what I have). So I now have 5 binders with specific titles. I have culled all the unhealthy recipes or found alternates....like whole wheat chocolate chip cookies or whole wheat oatmeal raisin cookies. YUMMY...these are delish...Oh sorry, I did it again. Ok, focus..........LOL
OK, so here is how I begin. My printer is out of ink so I can't print blank calenders. I use my dry erase board calendar or I have a notebook and I will list the next few weeks on it beginning with Monday, because that is when I will be going shopping. Otherwise, I would have started with Sunday. Anyhoooooo, I am now surrounded by recipes and my laptop. The seasons are gradually changing so I know I will be having more soups, stews, and baked goods....anything to help keep the house warm and us too! ;-) For this next week I will check out the forecast so I don't cook meals that are really too warm for warm weather. However, we are in Texas and we are known to have ALL 4 seasons in one day. HA HA I just checked and it's gonna be hotter than a bear all week once again. UGHHHHHHHHH at least for the next week. OK, I digress. So now I know I will NOT be doing any soups. I am sooo very ready for soups.
I plan out simple breakfasts and they normally don't change much unless we oversleep and then it's just a smoothie. It helps to keep the costs down. Oatmeal, Malt-O-Meal, Cream of Wheat, Grits, Green Smoothies, rotate those and have one day for a big breakfast like pancakes, eggs, & sausage or grits, eggs, & sausage. It's usually pancakes, eggs, and sausage and I make a triple batch and freeze all but 10 and that's our breakfast.
Lunch will always be leftovers. This REALLY helps keep costs down and when I was working it ensured I had a meal for lunch....no eating out means lower budget. The only time lunch is NOT leftovers is if we are out and about or someone else buys us lunch and then leftovers become dinner. :-D Works for me!!!! We only eat out if it is a special occasion. Gives my children something to look forward to and doesn't get them thinking that fast food is the way to go. While my mom was in the hospital, we ate fast food for a month and when I started cooking again, they were all elated!
Based on my days and what name I have given them, I go through my recipes and find things that are appealing to me and my budget. On a separate sheet I may write down 10 Meatless meals and then go back to my calendar and assign them to various Mondays. Sometimes I ask the kids what they would like from the list and assign from there. I'll do this again with the remaining days of the weeks until I have the next four weeks filled. Then I look at my calendar and look up the recipes and write down EVERY ingredient I will need for EACH MEAL....yes, that is a lot, but it's how my brain functions. If I have milk on my list and 5 recipes call for milk, then I put 5 tally marks outside of milk. We drink a lot of milk anyway, so I'd get 5 gallons of milk. If I need tuna for 3 recipes and they each take 2 cans, then I'll put the number 6 next to tuna.
If 8 recipes call for shredded cheese, I put 8 tally marks, but then think about how big the bags of cheese are and mentally process how many bags I need. I write down the number 2 and regardless to what my tally marks say, I know I'm going to buy 2 large bags of shredded cheese. Then I take that sheet of paper with all the ingredients, tally marks, and numbers, and go to my kitchen and look at what I have that's on the list. If I have plenty of a particular something, I cross it off my list. If I have about half of something or less than half, I leave it on the list. I then rewrite my list according to what I need along with the number and sometimes I arrange it to the isles in the store, most times I do not. I have 3 children so when we get in the store I send one to get all the dairy items, one all the baking items and one all the meats....or something like that.
I know some of my friends after they get their menu, if they wake up that day and don't "feel" like cooking that particular item on the calendar or have a taste for something else, they cook something else. This drives me bonkers, it makes my whole process pointless and a waste of my time. So I NEVER and yes I said NEVER alter my menu once I have it written on the calendar. I have made it known to myself that it is now set in stone and only God can change it. ;-D
My favorite things to cook are crock pot meals, casseroles, and one pot meals. We also only have dessert on Sundays. We have junk on Fat Fridays, but an actual dessert after dinner is ONLY on Sundays. Otherwise, we get carried away with sweets here and with cutting out sugar, that doesn't help us.
Also note that I have changed a bit of what we eat for healthier alternatives. Stevia or honey for our sweetners, whole wheat flour instead of white, brown or wild rice instead of white, I incorporate more veggies, so instead of lettuce on tacos, we have finely shredded cabbage, in meatloaf I'll add shredded carrots (don't tell my kids...heeheehee). We have eliminated about 98% of processed foods in exchange for real foods. This includes making our own bread, pie crusts, crackers, etc. I also mix a lot of my own mixes and store in jars. For instance, taco seasoning, chili seasoning, sausage seasoning (it's cheaper to buy ground turkey or beef and then season with sausage seasoning and you can buy bulk seasonings for dirt cheap at a Amish bakery in Kemp Tx. Heritage Market & Bakery), pancake/waffle mix, bisquick. I'm branching off into making our salad dressings. Next up is ketchup, spaghetti seasoning, and salsa. I want to master bbq sauce. I don't see myself making mayonnaise, so we just opt to buy ours from the health food store and get the vegan kind.
I think this became a lot more than I planned, but if you have ANY questions, tips, ideas, or you're near and want to make a date for going to the Amish store...I'm game!!!!