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.


Anonymous said…
Hi Anne,

I'm loving these posts, as always. Would you perhaps post one or two of your favorite crockpot recipes? This is one area that has such great potential but I still find I only have 5-6 recipes that we really like. I'd love to have some recipes that can be scaled down as far as servings as we have found that not producing any leftovers actually works best for us.

Thanks! Lydia Carter
Anne said…
Thank you, Lydia! At my house, I have the opposite problem with leftovers - they become the choice lunch foods for my teens. I'm wondering if you could try freezing part of a larger recipe before you cook it for an easy to assemble second meal. Often, frozen cooked meals have that left-over texture/taste, but if you you freeze the mixture uncooked, it should be OK, assuming all the ingredients would freeze well. This might work best for some soups, which are one of my favorite winter meals.

I use the crockpot for these soups: tortilla chicken, chili - regular and white, taco soup, corn chowder, stew, onion, etc.

Here's a very easy recipe for chicken tacos we had this Friday:
Chicken breasts, cubed (I used about 1 1/2 # for 8 people)
taco seasoning (from packet, or your own combination; 1 package is more than enough for above chicken)
Might want extra cumin and/or cilantro, to taste at end
1 can diced tomatoes, drained
black beans (I probably used 2 c.)

Cook on low for 7-9 hours until chicken can be shredded. Serve on tortillas with usual taco accompaniments.

Crock-pot Chicken Jambalaya (From Saving Dinner)

boneless, skinless chicken pieces, cubed
1/2 pound kielbasa, sliced
1 can tomatoes, undrained
1/2 - 1 bell pepper, chopped
1/2 c. chicken broth
1 t. oregano
1 t. cajun seasoning (I don't have, and it turns our fine)
1/4 (+/-) t. cayenne pepper
1 chopped onion
1 stalk celery, chopped

Put all in CP and cook on low for 7 hours. (I usually saute the vegetables first in skillet before adding to CP.)

One more:

Indonesian Chicken (Also from Saving Dinner)

2 T. soy sauce
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 t. fresh gingerroot (can buy in jar)
1 1/2 t. sesame oil (or other oil)
1/4 t. (+/-) cayenne pepper
chicken breasts of thighs, boneless
1/3 c. peanut butter

Mix first 5 ingred. in small bowl. Place chicken in CP and pour sauce on top. Cook 6 1/2 -7 hours on low until chicken is tender and fully cooked. Remove chicken and stir peanut butter into sauce. Spoon sauce over chicken to serve. Serve with rice.

OK - just one more:

Parmesan Chicken
This one is a kid pleaser. Usually I make this on the stove-top, but I sometimes do it in the CP instead. This is the quantity I usually make:

1/2 sleeve w. wheat crackers (or other saltines)
1-2 t. Italian seasoning or combination of basil and oregano
1 1/2 # boneless chicken breast
few cloves minced garlic
1-2 cans tomato soup
water - 1 can?

Crush saltines in gallon zip-lock bag. Add seasonings and then chicken cubes. Shake to distribute. Pour chicken cubes into CP which has been sprayed with oil. Pour tomato soup and water over chicken. Cook on low 7-9 hours or high for maybe 4 hours. Serve with pasta.

Hope these are helpful!
Grace Halsey said…
Thank you so much for doing this series, Anne! I had been putting off this detailed approach for the sake of trying new things or not being "tied down" to the same stuff, but I have realized that planning the meals weekly has become a dreaded task that takes way too much time. It doesn't make sense to keep that up, especially when I am the only one in my house that likes trying new things! :) Your ideas really help me and I'm planning to put in one long session this week to avoid the added time & stress I'd been putting in weekly. Thanks also for the crockpot ideas! I was going to second Lydia's request anyway.
Anonymous said…
Thank you Anne! I look forward to trying these. I do divide a meatloaf recipe in two and freeze half before cooking so I will have to try that with some other recipes too.

Hi Grace!

SarahD said…
Hmmm...I tried leaving a comment yesterday, but I see that it didn't show up. So I'll try again. Just wanted to say thank you for taking the time to post all of this! I've used a similar method for several years now, but it's good to get inspired and get a fresh perspective by looking at all of your yummy-sounding recipes. Don't be surprised if I come back and request a few more detailed recipes from you. :)

Oh, and one more thing: Hi Grace and Lydia!

Sarah Dionne
Anne said…
This if from Sarah D. For some reason it showed up in my email in-box, but it didn't appear here. Not sure what's going on!

Hmmm...I tried leaving a comment yesterday, but I see that it didn't show up. So I'll try again. Just wanted to say thank you for taking the time to post all of this! I've used a similar method for several years now, but it's good to get inspired and get a fresh perspective by looking at all of your yummy-sounding recipes. Don't be surprised if I come back and request a few more detailed recipes from you. :)

Oh, and one more thing: Hi Grace and Lydia!

Sarah Dionne
Anne said…
Thanks so much for the feedback, ladies! Since I tend to post about what's rambling around in my head or the things my family has been up to, I'm usually not sure if it is useful to anyone or not.

And Sarah - I'm happy to put up more recipes if you see something that strikes your fancy. Please feel free to pass on some of your family's favorites, too!

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