Simplifying dinner time

I recently spoke to a group of young women gathered in a friend's home for a weekly bible study. The topic was simplifying. I covered three areas: clothing (capsule wardrobe), routines and finances. One of the most flexible and easy ways to gain control in the area of finances is to make a menu plan. A menu plan is your road map to a less stressful dinnertime and week.

Here's what a menu plan can do for you:

- reduces stress at dinnertime
- makes shopping easier
- reduces food waste
- saves money

There are any number of printable templates floating around on the Internet so I won't bother posting some here. Or you can just keep it really non-fancy like I do, and just take a pad and pencil and just draw your own columns for the days of the week and three main meals.

I think it's important to plan out breakfast, lunch and dinner plus a special snack or dessert. It certainly would be a downer to get up in the morning, start making waffles only to realize that you didn't have enough eggs. That's why it's important to include breakfast too. Each meal takes ingredients. I realize this is not new information, however I think people have forgotten how important this tool is in their domestic tool belt.

Here are my steps to making a menu:

1. I start first with my calendar. Are there any meals that are already provided in the upcoming week, say a church potluck or date night at a restaurant? Then I schedule those meals first in the meal plan.

2. Cook once, eat twice. I always try to pick recipes where there are enough leftovers for lunch or dinner the next day.

3. Once meals and snacks are planned out, I go block by block of my menu plan adding the ingredients for each dish to the backside of my menu plan so nothing is forgotten.  I like to shop with mine in case I'm in the store wondering why I'm buying a can of adobo chilies.

4. I keep a menu plan started in my junk drawer so as the week goes by and we run out of a staple (for us, that's raisins, oatmeal, honey, etc.), either Steve or I can add it to the list because we both know where it is.

5. Post my plan on the fridge where everyone can see it. Not only does this help to clarify any confusion about what people are eating, what times and what days, but it helps the other spouse to know what they need to do in regards to starting dinner prep one night if necessary. For example, if my plan says spaghetti and I'm working late afternoon and stuck in traffic, then my husband knows to go to the freezer and pull out a jar of spaghetti sauce and start boiling the noodles.

Planning a menu can generally take around 30 minutes but it's so worth it in the end. Happy planning!