Tuesday, September 28, 2010

simplifying meal planning

Lately, I've been thinking about (and have started using) a simple and old fashioned approach to meal planning--having a designated meal for each night of the week. I've resisted that in the past because it sounds so dreary (meatloaf on Monday, casserole on Tuesday. . . ) but in reality it's close to what we do anyway, so why not formalize it and make meal planning really easy on myself?

Actually, what really made me decide to take this approach is something I read in Simplicity Parenting (which I checked out from the library a month or so ago). The author advocates simplifying everything in family life--from getting rid of most of the toys and paring down to just a few books, to cutting back on kids' activities, to simplifying meals. The meal thing really stuck in my mind. The author said, why is it that we feel like each family member is somehow entitled to eat his favorite food or meal preference pretty much every night? Why does every meal have to be exciting? I do well with rhythm and routines and his points made sense to me, so I decided to try the system.
Here is what I came up with at first:
Sunday--"Sunday Dinner" (such as steak or a roast)

After reading this post on monthly meal planning I decided to add in a bit more variety. I think this will work better:
Monday--beans/or pasta
Saturday--chicken/or casserole
Sunday--"Sunday Dinner"

The thing I like about this is that there's a lot of flexibility within the categories and yet when I do sit down to make a weekly menu and grocery list I can do so pretty quickly and without a lot of "what do I feel like making" kind of pondering. Another thing I've been thinking about quite a bit lately is eating simply--with an emphasis on healthful foods and not trying a bunch of new recipes all the time that call for a bunch of different ingredients that I might not ever use again. I'm also more into using produce from the garden than I used to be in years past.

I would love to hear your experiences with using a weekly meal plan. Is it a comforting rhythm or does it turn into drudgery? Does the family complain? I've been doing this a few weeks now and so far no one has noticed or said anything. The big challenge for me (still) is finding things to make that everyone will eat--little ones included.

(By the way, my kitchen counters are something I do not love, but I am tickled every time that Faith says "I love our kitchen counters!" She's a true independent thinker--I love that about her).


nicole said...

I am with faith on your counters. I often toy with the idea of scheduled (ish) weekly meals. I have a good friend who has done this for years and we always know when we are invited over on Thursdays we will get burritos. Keep blogging about it so we can learn too.

Chris said...

I love your counters, too. I have a feeling that our kitchen looked similar to yours before the previous owner (a failed flipping) did a poor job of attempting to make a fancy kitchen. (Now ours looks nice on first glance until you realize all the mistakes and short-cuts.) We tend to eat a lot of the same things in rotation (not necessarily on the same night every week - although we do that for breakfast. Hmmm.) and vary with the ingredients from the CSA box, which sometimes make the planning a bit tougher.

Alison said...

I used to work with a fixed 4 week plan that would just come back time and time again. It worked really well, especially as I just had to click my fixed grocery lists and have it all delivered to the door. I love cooking though, and I love trying new things, so it was me that got bored in the end! Now I have a weekly schedule like you do, and a list of all our favourites in each category, for when I'm really, really out of inspiration!
We have traditional Dutch cooking on Mondays, Stir-fry on Tuesdays, then Italian, Grill, Late 'n Lazy nights on friday where we have soemthing fast and easy like pizza, falafel, soup etc. Saturdays are always unplanned and my partner cooks on the weekends. Sundays used to be roasts/casseroles but since we no longer have an oven that's become unplanned too. Those two unplanned days work well for us though, they give space for eating out etc. Also, with the increased flexibility come the opportunity to use more stuff that's on offer!

Holly C. said...

I love your counters too!

Kristi said...

i try my best to keep things simple when it comes to meals. i plan it out every sunday night. i cook our favorite meals like baked chicken and veggies, stir-fry, pizza, soup (which changes)on a weekly basis. then i add in one changing meal every week for varitey. wednesday is always sandwich night, to give me an afternoon without food prep.

ps. that book sounds interesting. thank you.

Nicole said...

We do scheduled meals via Simplicity Parenting as well. LOVE IT. It has made both grocery shopping and cooking so much easier. Once you start you'll never go back!

Rain said...

I think your counters are adorable! I love yellow in a kitchen.
I'm trying to get back to meal planning too as meals are becoming much too complicated. One thing I used to do when I was planning regularly was designate one night a week to try a new recipe, this helped to keep it interesting.

Mary Beth said...

You guys are sweet. But the counters are in really bad shape, which is why I don't like them (and I'm really not a big fan of the yellow and rust combination, either). But thanks for the kind words!

Sara said...

I love your vintage kitchen-counters and all. So happy to see others experiences with meal planning as it is something we need to do with four kids. My husband is very European in his approach, as he likes to get the freshest food for the days meal and plan accordingly. I love this idea but now that our family is so big I think a plan is at least in order.

So happy to see how this works for you. Have a great week.

melissa s. said...

I plan and shop for one meal out of each category (similar to your categories) and then decide what I want to make from that list each night. This gives me a little flexibility depending on my energy level at the end of the day and also what may be available from the garden. I also plan one "husband-made" dinner each week ;-)

And I agree with Faith, your counters are beautiful!

Alicia said...

I had good luck with this type of meal plan. There is enough flexibility within each category for it not to get boring. And I'm totally with you on not wanting to keep buying specialty spices, etc. for random one-off meals.

I just tried out e-mealz to get my meals planned & grocery list made for me but am so disappointed w/ the amount of processed food that I am going to switch back to this method.

Seriously, shake & bake chicken should not count as a "recipe" yet that was one of the e-mealz last week. Sigh.

Beth said...

I love this. I definitely do better with a meal plan but I always have trouble filling in the slots and being inspired. And then once I do fill it all up I feel kind of like a trick pony, trotting out all kinds of new dishes. I definitely crave a simple, repetitive but delicious and comforting routine

as for getting everyone to eat a meal, I read something somewhere recently where a poster said she made a simple base meal (i.e. baked potatoes or rice and beans, or pasta and sauce) and always had several embellishments on the table for people to add as they wish - sliced chicken or hard boiled eggs, chili sauce, green onions, grated cheese, grated carrots, etc

Love your blog!

jen at paintcutpaste.com said...

hee hee. our counters are similar to yours, and i find the cracks hard to keep clean, personally... but we live in a rental and there's not much i can do about it here. i have to say that your kitchen looks so fun, fresh, clean, and enviable!

i want to thank you for this post. my daughter and i grocery shop every tuesday morning for a week of meals... and i DREAD the meal planning bonanza on tuesday mornings. it takes me a good hour to sit down and figure out what i feel like making, then check the fridge and cabinets to see if we have the ingredients, etc... AND you're right - i end up with the same 5-7 categories each week anyway, just mixed around in different orders. why don't i go easy on myself and just assign a category to a night like you did?! i think i'll begin that with next week's shopping. also gonna add that book to my amazon wishlist. i have a feeling i could pair down a lot over here!

with much gratitude (for this and your entire blog! i love it!)

Its_Lily said...

I worked with a monthly meal plan when the 'kids' were growing up and it worked great. One thing I did as well was to assign each of my sons a meal each month. They had to make it as well. They had total freedom as to what to make so some nights it was PBJ or cereal when they were young, but they became quite creative as they grew and there are now a few family favorites that came from them.

kate said...

i read Simplicity Parenting last winter and loved it. i got so many good little nourishing tidbits on parenting!

i've never done a true weekly meal plan as i have had the same concerns about it as you. mainly, boredom. not just my kids' but my own. i like to cook, so i couldn't see doing the same thing week to week. that being said, we have come up with a kinda-sorta meal plan. it just sort of evolved on its own...mostly out of a need for rhythm. i ended up making food prep a part of our weekly rhythm.

so, wednesday is applesauce day. applesauce becomes a component of dinner.

thursday is soup day, but i like that because we can vary it.

saturday is pizza day.

i'm interested to see how you like what you've set out here! it's inspiring.

Beth- the mama bee said...

I love to cook and try new things too much to stick to a rotation plan like that. I have typed up our like 45 favorite (ish) meals and when I plan our menu, I look at the list and see what sounds good and what we haven't had in awhile. I also never know what's coming in out meat CSA box for the month.

I wouldn't like the tile counters either. I like yellow, but how do you role out bread on tiles?

Family of 4.... said...

This is great, I need something like this because I constantly feel like I am struggling to decide what to eat, when. I like the idea of making a meal plan and sticking to it. I also am looking for a way to keep all my recipes together. I have so many printed sheets and really don't know how to organize them. What have you come up with to organize your recipes?


Megan said...

Thank you for this post, I love it! I have been menu planning for years now. Every Sunday afternoon I sit down with a cookbook and a piece of paper. Over the years, I've continually simplified my plans. It use to seem that I never cooked the same thing twice...which was fun, kind of. But, now, we've pared it down to almost the same schedule as yours. The kids love it that way. They always know that something is coming that they like. Monday is pasta night. My daughter lives for Monday night. My son loves out night out at Chipotle. They both love the routine. They really find comfort in knowing what's coming. It also helps them organize their days/weeks. Sometimes it gets a tad boring for my husband and I, but for the kids it's magical.....so it's completely worth it.

Lynn said...

I use a two week menu that works perfectly for us. I also try to make something new (on the weekends only) at least twice a month. A few of those new meals are now in our permanent rotation.

Sunshine Alternative Mama said...

I've done this type of meal planning since my boys were very little and it works really well for us. I actually plan out a month or more at a time; Sunday I planned the basic meals through the rest of the year and now I just need to plug in the variation. Some of the weekly meals, such as tacos, don't really change (it's one of their favorite meals), but others, like soup night, do offer flexibility. I generally change up the weekly offerings every season, so now that it is autumn soup night and bean night have rotated back in.

As for it's impact on children in terms of simplicity, I think it is amazing! They learn the rhythm of the week based on the meals, favorite meals are anticipated, and less-liked meals are never a surprise. For example, my 10YO doesn't love soup night, but he finds comfort in knowing that it will always be Friday vs. having it sprung on him.

Sometimes boredom does set in for the adults; I usually address this by switching up side dishes or trying a new recipe on a specific night (such as chicken night).

Ours is like this:

Monday: beans/greens/cornbread or homemade tortillas
Tuesday: hamburger patties, potato or grain, green vegetable
Wednesday: beef/bean tacos
Thursday: chicken, potato or grain, green vegetable
Friday: soup and bread night (unless the soup has noodles)
Saturday: slow cooker day, usually pot roast or beef stew, but sometimes pulled pork or a whole chicken
Sunday: Sunday Supper, usually steak or oven-roasted beef

We're eating more beef in fall and winter in part because we just purchased a side of grassfed beef.

Denise C. said...

Great post! I really fell off the wagon with meal planning, & intend to get back on track in October. My husband & I eat the same kinds of foods. My kids are a whole different story.

I will not make them something different than us, which is why I've had trouble with steady meal planning before. I like simple.

I love the idea of everyone knowing when Friday rolls around it's pizza night. I like the idea of you adding some flexibility to the meals planned out.

One other note- I adore your open shelving. It's very clean & simple. :) I also love the white bowls you have!

Keep us posted on how you do with your meal planning! :)

Julie said...

Thank you for sharing this. I really need to work on meal planning. We have had way too many nights of not knowing what to make. I love your open shelving in your kitchen. I haven't quite convinced my husband we should remove a few cabinet doors and try it.

Andrea said...

Meal planning/scheduling is something I've been wanting to try ever since I read that book last spring but I just can't seem to get started! I don't know what my block is (partly, my husband and I share the cooking, but it varies who cooks which day depending on whether he works at home, who gets home earliest, etc. Maybe that's the first thing we should shedule: cooking duties. I definitely am all about simple food (I used to love making really complicated recipes with lots of ingredients, but no more), and cooking based on what's fresh from the garden or farmer's market. Your counters are lovely! (how do you keep the grout clean?)

Ronnie said...

I have been trying a new (to me) system for the last few months and I really find it has made my life so much easier. I wrote a 6 week menu that had some scheduled meals - wednesday = soup etc - I had one leftover night and no plans night (saturday our 'busiest' day as a family) to allow my hubby to cook / takeaway / super easy meal / try something new etc depending how the day went. I have this stuck to the inside of my pantry door and so the night before I do the weekly shopping with two of my little ones I can easily write my list according to what meals i am planning to make. We ended up repeating this 6 week menu three time befor I felt bored and drew up a new 6 week cycle!

I must say I am not a big fan of tiled counter tops - to hard to keep clean but they are hardwearing and heat proof which I do like

Ronnie said...

I have been trying a new (to me) system for the last few months and I really find it has made my life so much easier. I wrote a 6 week menu that had some scheduled meals - wednesday = soup etc - I had one leftover night and no plans night (saturday our 'busiest' day as a family) to allow my hubby to cook / takeaway / super easy meal / try something new etc depending how the day went. I have this stuck to the inside of my pantry door and so the night before I do the weekly shopping with two of my little ones I can easily write my list according to what meals i am planning to make. We ended up repeating this 6 week menu three time befor I felt bored and drew up a new 6 week cycle!

I must say I am not a big fan of tiled counter tops - to hard to keep clean but they are hardwearing and heat proof which I do like

Grace said...

I've done a monthly meal plan for about 4.5 years (actually, just over that), and I am a huge advocate of it!

I just write about it here.

Kelly Lange said...

Love your open cabinets, Mary Beth! Just the other day, my 9-year-old daughter made me a weekly meal plan for her lunchbox. Mon: PB&H, Tues: soup, Wed: yogurt, Thurs: beans, Fri: tamale from Trader Joe's. It's funny you just blogged about menu planning because I did too. And today I made some progress on my Good Folks throw - thanks for the inspiration! I'm at

debbie said...

Great idea. I have had meal planning issues my entire adult life :)

Adrie said...

I've been using a system like this for almost six months now and I love it! Like you, I was worried it might be boring, but it saves me so much confused pondering. (I wrote about this here: http://www.localgrain.org/fieldsandfire/2010/09/07/monday-night-menu-2/ ) Enjoy yours!

lisarenata said...

I've done both the meal plan and just go-with-the-flow kind of thing...I like the planning a lot better, it makes life (for me) much, much easier.

Our meal plan looks something like this:
Monday- Italian Day
Tuesday- Chicken Fajita day (yea my hubby love the ones I make- so he made sure we had a day designated just for Fajitas.)
Wednesday- Soup Day
Thursday- Mexican Day (everything else, but fajitas).
Friday- Left over day.
Saturday- Pizza or eat out.
Sunday- Surprise me!

But lately, I've slacked off a bit and have not been consistent on my planning. Bad, bad, Lisarenata. lol

christine ~ ourdayourjourney said...

i tried a weekly meal plan back last summer but i was not organized (newborn and sleep deprivation)
monday- sandwich / left-over night
tue- slow cocker / casserole
wed- mexican night
thur- grill night
fri- pasta night
sat- soup night
sun- pizza night

my 6 year old loved announcing what night it was throughout the day. i have just started getting sleep and planning meals for the week. I hope to get a monthly meal plan together for autumn.
love your kitchen by the way.

Anonymous said...

I love your kitchen! It is so charming and inviting. I would be thrilled to have those counters!! They have so much more charm than the typical granite (that I admit I hate) in most kitchens now.


heather said...

you are so cute with your rhythms and thoughts. i would do well, so well, if i adopted a rhythm like that. why don't i? why why why? maybe i will. i cooked a lot the last few days, and i felt stronger for it. but that is a rare thing for me to cook and bake two days in a row. very odd that i resist it when it makes me feel better. i am so complex i don't even understand myself.

you, on the other hand, seem to be able to do all this. and your way of describing the cleaning rhythm in the newest post. i get it exactly. discipline sister! discipline will take us way further than no discipline. i personally feel you are onto something. mostly knowing yourself and what YOU need. how you need your house. delegating could be another component. as kids grow.