This idea came to me while in the shower. It may be my best idea yet.
About a year ago, I set to work planning a year's worth of meal plans and shopping lists after seeing this pin. I re-designed the cover to fit my style and printed out all the calendars and shopping lists I needed. I even filled out a few months and figured out the shopping lists. And I was overwhelmed. There was no freedom! I don't KNOW what my family wants to eat on a wednesday night in May. I don't KNOW if that day will be rainy or sunny or if we'll have a baseball game we want to go to. I don't KNOW if there will be a family we need to take dinner to. I don't know. I felt stifled. What if I want to try a new recipe? Do I have to schedule that MONTHS in advance? For real? Who plans like that?! And it wasn't reasonable.
So, I went to the other extreme. Which was back to my pick the meals, make the list, do the shopping, etc. And it made me crazy because I was putting SO much brain power into creative menus each and every time. I was re-doing things that didn't need to be re-done.
And then that beautiful day in a hot shower came. And I was at my mother's house. And I was stealing my little sister's awesome Bath and Body Works body wash because heaven knows we can't afford that fancy stuff. And I was thinking about how awesome Photoshop actions are. What a genius idea to RECORD THE PROCESSES WE DO OVER AND OVER AGAIN TO MAKE THEM HAPPEN SO FAST, WITH JUST THE CLICK OF A MOUSE. Did you catch that?
And I have no idea how, but it clicked. I am going to make my kitchen management into a set of Photoshop actions, so to speak. And so I did.
I started by making lists of ten dinners and side dishes. I ended up with 8 sets of ten. I decided on ten instead of fourteen, because without fail, we have leftovers once a week and then we either go on a date or meet up with friends or have breakfast for dinner, or whatever for the others. When I plan fourteen meals, we always end up wasting food. When making them, I kept to a loose guideline of 4 chicken meals, 3 ground beef, 3 other. It made for variety and it's what my family eats. It also ensures that each meal plan costs about the same in groceries. Also, mentally, when making the menus I would try to keep a good balance of time-intensive meals, quick meals and crock pot meals. I didn't stress out about this. Looking at the menu, you can pretty much tell [whoa, that's a lot. That can't go on the same menu. Or, well...those are all pretty easy, so I'm sure we'll want a fancy meal in there somewhere...etc.]
And then I made the menu pages cute. Because my next big problem AFTER going shopping was I had my dinner plans and my grocery list on the same piece of paper and I would take it to the store and then shove it in a grocery sack and it would get mixed up with all the other clutter in my car and then I would have no idea what dinners I even had stuff for. Now that it's cute, once I go shopping, I put it up on my fridge. The shopping list is still on the same page, but I swear, the cuteness keeps me from losing it in the clutter. I've done 4 menus so far and haven't lost a single one. Magic.
And then, the doozy. I made the shopping list. WITH the intention of using it again. That's a big deal. Before I was RECORDING MY ACTIONS, I would go through each recipe and only write down the ingredients I needed. Mentally I would check off "well, I have that, and that, and that, so all I need for this recipe is tilapia!" And it made for a shorter list, but that list was useless to me later on. I would never be able to use the information I spent so much time gathering again. So, I made each shopping list for ten meals as if I needed to buy every, single, little, thing in every, single recipe. This means my lists include cornstarch, measurements of milk, butter, eggs, spices, etc. [The side dishes are noted with an item x1 or x3 depending on how many times we'll be eating that side dish during the next 14 days.] And so, when I'm needing to go grocery shopping, I pick a list and shop from my cupboards first, crossing off anything we have already. And then I head to the store. So much faster. And less time pouring over recipes. More time for more fun things!
And then I made them cute.
I have eight menu plans. Four of them have shopping lists done. We have eaten our way through menu plans 1, 3, 6 & 7. Some menus lend themselves to summer months. Others have more hearty meals for winter months. All of them are delicious. And just flipping through the menus I can easily see what sounds good for that time of year without stressing about it. I can also ask Cam what sounds good and pick the meal plan that includes. It's the best thing. And it has helped me so SO much, so how could I not share?
Here is meal plan #1.
I realize these are for OUR family. These are meals that we love and I have made before. I could never use someone else's meal plan because our favorites would get lost. Which is why I went into so much detail about how I came up with each of our menus. Also, we are humans. We eat relatively healthy. And quite frankly, if you are eating home cooked food instead of fast food, you're already two steps up in my book. However, we are not vegan. We are not uber granola people. We are humans. So we like pizza. And burgers. And breaded chicken. And [heaven forbid] a cream of something soup sometimes. [Though my mom turned me on to a DIY cream of something soup. And it doesn't have any MSG in it, so I'm pretty pumped to try it. PLUS, it's cheaper. So yeah, I might be swapping that out.]
If you click on the image above, you can print out the menu and shopping list. And the recipes are linked below. But I would highly recommend sitting down and making lists of ten. Plan the sides too, so you don't end up with a bunch of extra salad that goes bad. It is effort in the beginning, but it is so worth it. Seriously. I print 3 pages front and back, and end up with six copies of each meal plan in my binder. I am halfway done making my shopping lists and once I finish that, I can have a huge variety of meals for 2 years before having to think about it again! And if I want to try a new recipe? Well, I only have 10 recipes each time, so I can go right ahead! And if I find a keeper? All I have to do is make a new meal plan, or swap it out for a recipe we don't like as much from one of the existing meal plans. There is so much flexibility, it just makes my heart sing.
I am happy to make your menus cute if you so desire. I will even lay them out with your shopping lists on the back. I charge $5 to customize any of my printables [text changes only].
Menus for Humans. I like that. I'll post the other menus if you're interested? Comment and let me know! [No, commenting on FB doesn't count. :)]
Anyhow, the other part of my kitchen section is the freezer tally.
(Click picture to download printable.)
With everything that I make and freeze, I [used] to forget about a lot of stuff in there and then when the time came to clean it out, I had wasted so much food that I was putting away for later. Now, I keep one of these sheets on the door of our freezer and jot down stuff as it goes in and cross stuff off when it comes out. So great! Like the night I didn't want to cook and had made a double batch of pizza rolls? yep, we ate so good that night! And the other night when we had inside-out springroll salad and I didn't know if Cam would like the dressing, but I knew he LOVED my mom's wonton sauce? It was in the freezer, and I had actually forgotten about it until I was halfway through making dinner. A quick defrost, and now I HAVE to share that recipe with you. Because it was a total cheap veggie meal that Cam actually requested a huge bowl of in his lunch the next day. ["Just give me a huge bowl of this. That's all I want tomorrow."<--those words actually came out of his mouth. Nuts.]
Anyhow, this seriously is the best thing in my little organizational world right now. I love the kitchen section! And it helps to have extra copies, because when I'm filling out my daily docket, I know exactly what's on the menu plan. It's all right there in my binder. I love it.
Here are Menu Plan #1's recipes:
OMG Chicken with green beans
Olive Garden Alfredo with tomatoes + salad
Honey Sesame Chicken with best broccoli
Bacon Cheeseburger Chicken with mashed potatoes + salad
Italian Meatloaf with butterhorns + salad
Taco Burros + salad [a favorite from Cam's childhood. Taco meat, refried beans, tortillas, cheese, salsa]
Sunday Meal + salad [another favorite from Cam's childhood. I'll have to post the recipe!]
Tortellini Spinach Bake with watermelon + corn
Pizza Rolls + salad
Garlicky Baked Shrimp with green beans