Meal Planning III: Using Your Master Plan
Weekly meals and grocery lists:
Now you have a menu plan in hand and are ready to roll! I keep the master plan in a sheet protector in my chief recipe binder. Each week I sit down with my master plan, the weekly grocery store ads in print or online, and an index card. I divide the note card into six divisions, one for each day of the week with Saturday and Sunday sharing a space.Then I look at my master plan and transfer the dinner entrées to my note card, making any adjustments that might be necessary to reflect the particular week's activities. My card also serves as a reminder to me of other key events I need to remember, so it is not just a menu planning card.
At the same time, I make two grocery lists for the two stores I regularly shop (Kroger and Aldi) and go through the flyers noting the sale items I want to buy. Finally, I peruse the pantry and freezer to add the staples we need. I post the note card on my fridge where it is accessible for a quick glance. This weekly planning time takes about 15 minutes. In a pinch, sometimes I've sat in the parking lot of the grocery store after dropping a child off for music lessons and made the week's plan and shopping list in just a few minutes.
Flexibility - adapting as life happens and including seasonal foods:
My master menu plan is a guide, but I don’t have to follow it rigidly. When I am pressed for time and energy I may simply go with the master plan exactly as it is written. On the other hand, if I have a new recipe I want to try, I can put it on that week’s plan. If our garden is overflowing with tomatoes, I might rearrange and ascertain that I have several meals that will incorporate these gems. And I always want to make sure to plan for coming weekly activities. Is there a church potluck? Do we have a doctor’s appointment or field trip one day? I need to plan an appropriate dinner. You get the idea – tweak the plan to maximize it for your life!
Keep customizing your plan to make it work for you:
Use your master plan for a while and see how it goes. When you try a new recipe that your family really enjoys, find a place on your planner where the new dish fits, usually in a spot of one with the same meat or preparation method. I often keep a running list on my master planner of new recipes to try. As you add to your master plan, the variation increases, and no week has to be just like the one four weeks previous. As you work with it you can make adjustments to maximize the plan. You can even develop seasonal master plans, one for summer with plenty of dinner salads and dishes with fresh produce, and another for winter with soups and warm, hearty meals.
But What about Hospitality?
I Peter 4:9 tells us that we are to “be hospitable to one another without complaint.” Peter wouldn’t tell us not to complain if there was not some reason to naturally complain about hospitality! Stressing about what to serve to our guests is one of the things that adds to our anxiety. Hospitality is much more about opening our homes and lives to others than it is about impressing them with our culinary skills or impeccably decorated (and cleaned) homes. Your master menu plan can serve you here! If you know you going to be having guests in the coming week, look at the dinner that is scheduled for that night. Sometimes I just go with what is on the menu as it is written. Other times I decide that the listed meal might not be best for that particular group or family, but rather than come up with something entirely new, I look at the other meals for that week and see if there is something I can swap for that night to make it work better.
And the most important tip of all: Always think one meal ahead!
As I make breakfast, I give a few seconds thought to lunch. Is there anything I can do now to make it come together more efficiently? During lunch, I often take meat for dinner out of the freezer and perhaps even throw something in the crockpot. I often try to assemble the dry ingredients the night before baking muffins for breakfast, and every Wednesday I prepare granola while cooking dinner. Often, though, I don't do any extra prep for the next meal, but simply thinking about it for a brief time gives me a leg up when it does come time to cook.
In the next, and final, menu planning post, I'll give some ideas for breakfasts and lunches.