Friday, January 31, 2014

Our Weekly Menu System

I'm really trying to install some rhythm to our days, especially when it come to meal time.  I like cooking and baking but hate thinking of a meal idea on the spot or planning shopping lists.  (We're the "walk down the aisles at Trader Joe's grabbing what we typically buy and anything that interests us" types.)  I don't know how many times we've gone out for bar food because neither of us wanted to think of what to make or verify if we had all the right ingredients for something.  Since I work from home managing a small family child care, I'm making meals and snacks several times a day and I wanted to make it more automatic and easy.

Here's the system I put in place that seems to be working for us so far:

Basic Grocery " Healthy Shopping List"
Dry Erase "Weekly Menu Planner"
Homemade Family "Menu" with variation ideas
Stash of "Staple Recipes" in a DIY cookbook

I'll show you what mine look like and let you know how you can do variations on these to make it suit your family.  I'll include the blank printables so you can cater to your family.

We don't have a basic Grocery List on paper yet, we just cruise the aisles and grab things.  We've done our research so this is easy for us, but if you need a place to start, this Healthy Grocery Shopping List from Fit Body, Full Life will get you started.  Add you favorite items on the blank lines and save a copy.

Currently we use the paper system.  I have two magnetic shopping list notepads from the dollar store on the fridge.  One is a running shopping list that I add to whenever I use the last of something.  The other is a list of meals to make and other shopping such as Target.  When I see that I have the ingredients to make something, I jot it down on this list so I don't forget.  I use it for staple items like banana bread and applesauce as well as meals ides.

I used this Weekly Menu Panner template from Dancing with my Father to design a two week flexible menu for the family and child care kids.  In general, the dinner from the previous night is our lunch the next day.  I have toddlers so this is perfect portions for us.  I put in 3 eat out times that we can skip if we want to (Date night, Friends night out and weekend brunch.)  Each lunch or dinner has two similar options like Quiche or Brunch (both egg based) or Soup or Stew (both stovetop or crock-pot options).  This gives me the flexibility of choosing either or.  I try to rotate the choice between the two options each week but if on-hand ingredients don't allow, I don't sweat it.  Here is the blank template here.  And here is a copy with my meal idea prompts in each box.  This helps me when I look in the fridge and think " I should remember to use up 'that' this week.  I just throw it on the planner on the correct day.  Usually I just wing it though.

To add more variety, I made a Family Menu, a double sided and laminated piece of cardstock that I keep by my cookbook with all our favorite options for meal listed (like various kinds of pizzas, quiches or salads.)  We eat vegetarian so these ides are catered to us and often use tofu crumbles.  You can use the same ideas and easily add chicken or ground beef to any of these ideas if you wanna be more of a meat eater.

Note: I know the yellow Wednesday is hard to read but I wanted to use the Waldorf weekly rhythm colors.  It's just a reminder to me as we use a Montessori/Waldorf inspired curriculum, and it helps inspire my food and color choices that day.

My husband is vegetarian but the kids and I are not so sometimes I add sliced ham or chicken to our meals but most often I just get my dose of meat when we eat out.  I think that's a perfect amount of animal protein for me and I have been much slimmer and healthier (with the help of the gym as well) since we started eating like this.  Here is a copy of that menu with my meal ideas removed.  You can fill in the blanks with your own ideas.  It's a word document so you will have to play around with the format as you add things to it so the titles will end up where you want them.  Or just print a blank copy and fill it in with pencil.

Note: I got the images off of a google image search for crocheted food.  If this is you crochet work, please let me know and I will link to your website.  Thanks!

And last but not least, a big list of my favorite staple recipes!  I put them in alphabetical order for you here.  I'll link them if I can, but for now just find your favorite recipe online.  I'll add to this list if I think of new great ideas.  But I highly recommend The Starving Students' Cookbook and the Starving Students' Vegetarian Cookbook both by Dede Hall as well as the recipe index at 100 Days of Real Food which is where I found many of my recipes.

Banana Bread, whole wheat (modified from The Starving Students' Handbook)
Banana "Ice Cream"
Breakfast Cookies
Breakfast Burritos
Brownies, dark chocolate whole wheat
Eggs, hard boiled, scrambled, over easy,
French Toast
Fruit Crisp/Crumble
Gin Fizz
Granola, homemade
Chili, cheatin' (The Starving Student's Cookbook)
Chocolate, dark freezer chocolate
Chocolate Chip Cookies, whole wheat
Chocolate Mousse
Custard, vanilla (Pudding)
Hot Chocolate
Hot Toddy
Hummus (The Starving Students' Vegetarian Cookbook)
Iced Tea
Iced Mocha
Lemonade (The Starving Student's Cookbook)
Oatmeal, Homemade Instant Mix
Pancakes/Puffins, Homemade Mix
Pesto Sauce (The Starving Student's Cookbook)
Pizza Crust, whole wheat
Salad Dressing, homemade vinaigrette
Savory Cake
Quiche Base, Blender Version, no crust needed (The Starving Students' Cookbook)
Risotto Base, stove top version (Betty Crocker)
Savory Cake Base
Vegetable Couscous
White Sauce (The Starving Student's Cookbook)
Whisky Ginger
Yogurt Cake or Muffins
Yogurt, frozen

I have them printed or hand written on various recipe cards and taped into a DIY cookbook (a blank notebook with thick pages).  I keep this on a stand on the kitchen counter.  I don't have any other cookbooks out. If I find a great recipe in another cookbook, I  put a copy of it in here.  I DO have other cookbooks, but I don't keep them out.  Too much visual clutter.  I recommend doing this too.  If you have a lot of recipes, a recipe box might be easier.  You can file them alphabetically or by food type (pizza, stews and crock pots, salads...).  I think, now that my recipe collection has grown, that I would have preferred the alphabetical option.

Another great idea is a three ring binder and page protectors.  This idea is great if you print a lot of recipes from the internet.  You can move the pages around and use tab dividers to separate the sections.  I think this is the method I will go to next, divided alphabetically.  There's lots of cut binders out there now!  And it will keep my recipe cards clean while I'm cooking.  This can get a bit heavy though.  To save page space, you can print several recipes on a page or tape multiple recipe cards on the same sheet.

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