Saturday, February 23, 2008

Meal Planning

Planning meals ahead of time is a great idea, since there are many benefits that come along with it. Meal planning affects many different aspects of life, including your time as well as your financial situation. No matter what situation one may be in, planning your meals ahead of time is always a good idea. Meal planning makes it possible for almost any size family to eat healthy meals everyday of the week on a budget. It also gives you more time together as a family while spending less money.

Saves Time
Planning your meals ahead of time will save you a lot of time. When you visit your grocery store, take a list with you that shows everything you need for your weekly meals. This way there will be no return visits to the grocery store for something you forgot, and you won’t waste any time deciding what you are going to have for dinner that night. Forgetting a key ingredient or having to fight in long lines at the grocery store can be very frustrating, but meal planning can completely eliminate that.

Saves Money
Who doesn’t like to save money? And if you can reduce the amount you spend on grocery bills, you can save it up for something really fun – like a special night out or a family vacation. Meal planning saves anyone a significant amount of money, since meal planning is much cheaper than eating fast food. Also, since you will be bringing a shopping list with you to the grocery store, there will be no more impulse buys and wasted food. We’ve all fallen victim to foods that we suddenly have a craving for when we are shopping only to get home and realize that we need other ingredients to turn it into a meal. And having a shopping list will make it easier for you to clip coupons, since you know what you will be purchasing each week. This means even more savings to you and your family.

Meal planning allows you to create a calendar of what you will have for dinner each night. If you create a menu one month at a time, you can ensure that you aren’t having chicken nuggets five nights a week. Have an overall calendar of meals will allow you to shop for foods when they are on sale and buy in bulk whenever possible.

Planning out what you are going to cook for dinner will make it possible to ensure you are cooking a healthy meal every day of the week. While eating out is convenient in our ever busy world, eating fast food or at restaurants is not nearly as healthy as cooking it at home. This is largely due to the fact that you don’t have control over what goes in those meals. By preparing your own meals, you can choose healthy options, like baked chicken, and add any of your favorites for a side like a fresh green salad or steamed vegetables. Most boxed or frozen dinners contain a great amount of fat and sodium, but cooking the meal from scratch can eliminate them. You control the flavor and the fat. You can take steps to reduce the amount of fat by adding seasoning and spices to perk up the flavor.

Prevent Obesity
The rise of fast food chains in the world means that more people are becoming overweight and obese. Obesity can bring on many health issues, including heart or breathing problems. It is important to prevent a child from becoming overweight and teach them the importance of balanced meals. Cooking homemade healthy meals can do this. When you plan out what you are going to make, you can be certain that it will be healthy for the entire family. It allows you to have a better handle on the nutritional content of your meals. You can also tailor it to each family member’s needs. If there is someone who needs to watch their fat consumption, you can cook grill or broil instead of fry. If there is someone that is trying to get more servings of vegetables in their diet, you can help by offering two veggies for side dishes.

Spending More Time With Your Family
Because planning out your meals gives you more time during the day, you can spend it doing something that really matters. Spending time with family should be the first thing on anyone’s priority list, and being able to spend more time with them is a wonderful perk to meal planning. You can use this time to either play with your children outside, or maybe talk with your spouse about their day at work. With the time saved with meal planning, the family can enjoy a walk together after dinner, play yard games such as croquet or bocce ball, or compete in a board game night. No matter how you use the time, it is special and necessary to keep a family running. And when you kids are grown up and look back on their childhood, those will be the times they remember most fondly. Just think about all the home cooked meals that you look back on warmly. No one cooks it like mom does.

Teaching Essential Skills
By including children in the meal planning process, they can learn many skills that will carry with them into adulthood. They can help to plan the meals, and learn about the different nutrition groups. Learning how to assemble a balanced meal is a great skill to have. Measuring different ingredients in the meals teaches children about fractions. Younger kids can just play with the different kitchen utensils, which allows them to explore and learn about the huge world they have yet to explore and learn about. Spouses can get in on the fun, making it possible to bond with one another by cooking a meal for each other. Meals where each person can individually tailor food to their liking, such as making your own pizzas or a taco bar, allow a great opportunity for the whole family to cook and learn together.

Reduces Stress
Our world is hectic. We are being pulled in several different directions each day. Because we live in a fast paced world, it is important to do everything possible to reduce your stress load. We have enough stress with our every day lives without mealtime stressing us out. Planning meals can reduce your stress since you won’t have to worry about everything that goes into making a meal for your family. As long as you bring your list to the store and buy everything on the list, you will be all set. You can choose to either visit the store each week or twice a month, rather than a million times like before. The increased time you have will allow you to relax more often, and even feel great when interacting with your children. If you are enrolled in a food delivery service, having a handy list makes online shopping a breeze. Have it with you when you log in to order food and you won’t have to worry about a thing.

As you can see, there are many benefits to meal planning. From the ever crucial facts of saving money and eating healthier, to reducing stress and spending more time with your family. Meal planning only takes a little extra effort. And once you get the hang of it, it’ll become second nature and make you life so much easier. You’ll be wondering why you hadn’t started meal planning earlier. And will all the time and money you save you can spend on something that really matters – your family!

For more great meal ideas and a free menu planning report visit Menu Planning Central – Watch for a great meal planning offer after you sign up and let me – The Menu Mom – help you take care of dinner tonight
Slash Your Grocery Bills

Are you looking for a great way to save money on your groceries? A Menu Planning Service can come to the rescue. These ingenious services help you plan, save on grocery costs and manage your dinner meals simply and easily.

Menu Planning Services provide moms with a simple to follow dinner menu for each week. Not only do you get awesome dinner meal ideas including main dishes, side dishes and desserts that are satisfying, simple to prepare and healthy, but you also get a personalized grocery list to simply shop for the ingredients for the upcoming week. You can save loads of money, because when you know which meals you will be preparing and which ingredients you will need you won’t wastefully purchase ingredients and items that are not required.

Many people spend hundreds of dollars each year buying food ingredients that they don’t need. In many cases foods are wasted, because they sit around not being used in any meals you prepare. Once you find a meal idea for these ingredients, they are usually too old, spoiled or stale.

By utilizing a menu planning service you will also save on fast food and casual dining restaurant bills. Many families become frustrated when there is no food in their refrigerator. Instead of preparing a healthy and low cost meal at home, they opt for the ease of visiting fast food and casual dining restaurants that can easily cost $20, $50, $100 or more. If you are looking for a reason to keep you at home rather than at high priced restaurants, a meal planning service is an affordable and practical solution.

Another way you can reap the rewards from menu planning is with all the time you will save. Now that everything is planned out for you, you won’t have to spend time each day running back and forth to the grocery store to buy needed food items, you can have your whole week’s meals planned out and have a comfortable and relaxing time at home with your family.
Menus 4 Moms

If you have ever wished that someone would plan your meals for you, then Menus 4 Moms is for you! Each week a menu for 5 nights is planned for you including recipes and a grocery list. No more last minute trips through the drive-thru or ordering pizza because you didn't plan ahead for dinner. Menus 4 Moms is completely free! Sign up for Menus 4 Moms

Each menu is based on the Busy Cooks Pyramid, a wonderful time and money saving plan. Every menu contains notes explaining the meal and recipes to walk you through the preparation. Not only does Menus 4 Moms make meal planning a snap, but you will even end up stocking your freezer with extra meals on a regular basis.

Dinner menu for Dec. 31 - Jan. 4

Monday Meatloaf, Mashed Potatoes, Bacon Ranch Green Beans
Tuesday Roast Sticky Chicken, Wild Rice, Steamed Broccoli, Dinner Rolls
Wednesday Crockpot Enchiladas, Black Bean Salad
Thursday Meatloaf Sandwiches, Pasta Salad, Jello Parfait
Friday Chicken Barley Vegetable Soup, Crusty Bread, Salad.

Get the recipes and grocery list for this weekly dinner menu from Menus4Moms.comDinner Menu for January 7-11

Monday Oven Fried Chicken, Sauteed Asparagus, Steamed Cauliflower
Tuesday Crockpot Beef Casserole, Egg Noodles, Buttered Lima Beans, Dinner Rolls
Wednesday Tater Tot Casserole, Seasoned Green Beans, Five Cup Salad
Thursday Chicken Orecchiette, Salad, Crusty Bread with Olive Oil and Parmesan Cheese for Dipping
Friday Split Pea Soup, Leftover Salad, Apple Slices

Get the recipes and grocery list for this weekly dinner menu from

2008 Weekly Menu Archive
2007 Weekly Menu Archive
2006 Weekly Menu Archive
2005 Weekly Menu Archive
Holiday Meals
Menu Planning:

Save Time In The Kitchen

Posted November 4th, 2007 by Cynthia Townley Ewer

What's for dinner?

It's the question of the hour. Too many home managers look for answers in the supermarket at 5 p.m. Harried, harassed by by hungry children, they rack their brains for an answer to the dinner-hour question.

Three meals a day. Seven dinners a week. From supermarket to pantry, refrigerator to table, sink to cupboard, the kitchen routine can get old, old, old.

No wonder we hide our heads like ostriches from the plain and simple fact: into each day, one dinner must fall.

What's the answer? A menu plan.

Menu planning doesn't have be complicated. A small investment of time can reap great rewards:

A menu plan saves money. Reducing trips to the supermarket, a menu plan reduces impulse spending. Using leftovers efficiently cuts food waste, while planned buying in bulk makes it easy to stockpile freezer meals at reduced prices.

A menu plan saves time. No dash to the neighbors for a missing ingredient, no frantic searches through the freezer for something, anything to thaw for dinner.

A menu plan improves nutrition. Without the daily dash to the supermarket, there's time to prepare side dishes and salads to complement the main dish, increasing the family's consumption of fruits and vegetables.

Follow these tips to put the power of menu and meal planning to work for you:

Dare to Do It
For too many of us, making a menu plan is something we intend to do . . . when we get around to it. Instead of seeing menu planning as an activity that adds to our quality of life, we dread sitting down to decide next Thursday's dinner. "I'll do that next week, when I'm more organized.

"Wrong! Menu planning is the first line of defense in the fight to an organized kitchen, not the cherry on the icing on the cake.

Take the vow. "I, [state your name], hereby promise not to visit the supermarket again until I've made a menu plan!"

Start Small and Simple

Still muttering, "But I don't wanna ..."? Break into menu planning easily by starting small and simple.

Think, "next week." Seven little dinners, one trip to the supermarket. Sure, it's fun to think about indexing your recipe collection, entering the data in a relational database and crunching menus till the year 2010, but resist the urge. Slow and steady builds menu planning skills and shows you the benefits of the exercise. Elaborate hoo-rah becomes just another failed exercise in home management overkill.

Where to start? The food flyers from your local newspaper. Try to make your menu plan and shopping list the day the food ads appear.

You'll use the ads to get a feel for the week's sales and bargains. Use that feeling to guide your menu plan.

This week in Eastern Washington, for instance, two local chain supermarkets are offering whole fryers for the low, low price of 59 cents a pound. Clearly, this is the week for Ginger Chicken and Fajitas, not a time to dream about Beef Stew and Grilled Pork Tenderloins.

Menu Planning Basics

Okay, it's food ad day. Ready? Time to rough out a simple menu plan. The goal is two-fold: shop efficiently to obtain food required for seven dinner meals, while minimizing expenditure, cooking, shopping and cleaning time.

Here's the overview of the process:

Printable Planners
*Scan the food ads for specials and sales. Rough out a draft menu plan: seven dinner entrees that can be made from weekly specials, side dishes and salads.
*Wander to pantry and refrigerator to check for any of last week's purchases that are languishing beneath wilting lettuce or hardening tortillas. Check for draft recipe ingredients. Review your shopping list and note needed items.
*Ready, set, shop--but shop with an open mind. That 59-cent fryer won't look like such a bargain next to a marked-down mega-pack of boneless chicken breasts at 89 cents a pound. Be ready to substitute if you find a great deal.
*Return from shopping. As you put away groceries, flesh out the menu plan. Match it up with the family's calendar, saving the oven roast for a lazy Sunday afternoon, the quick-fix pizza for soccer night.
*Post the menu plan on the refrigerator door. Refer to it during the coming week as you prepare meals.That's it! The bare bones of menu planning. You've made a draft plan, shopped from a list, retained flexibility in the marketplace, firmed up your plan and held yourself accountable.

The devil, however, is in the details. Here are some points to ponder as you bring menu planning under control:

Build A Personal Shopping List
Planner companies, gift shops and generous desktop publishers all compete to produce cute little shopping lists for all persuasions and occasions.

Printable Shopping List
Bear-shaped shopping lists. Long skinny shopping lists. Shopping lists with winsome graphics. Shopping lists with colored borders. Cute little freebies with kittycats and teddy bears. Awwwwww. [We even offer one, too, in the printable planner pages library .]

Only one problem: why aren't you using them?

Because they don't work, that's why. Teenaged sons play stuff-the-hoop with the empty cereal box and the trash can, but have you ever known one to neatly write "Cheerios" on the list? Pre-printed lists, moreover, fit about as well as one-size-fits-all stockings from the convenience store.

Solution? Build a family shopping list on the computer, listing all the foods and sundries your family consumes. Print 52 copies each year. Post them on the refrigerator. Boys who don't circle "Sugar Gaggers" on the list when they empty the box eat hot cereal for the rest of the week.

Making a personal shopping list can be interesting--and revealing. When my children were hungry teenagers, cereal, milk and cookies headed the list, along with the entry "nuclear waste"--family slang for thecheap, luridly-colored punch beverage sold in the dairy case.

Sigh. The good old days.

Now that we're back-to-two (and those two are both a touch too round) "broccoli" and "salmon" head the list.

Cheat Alert: next shopping trip, grab a hand-out supermarket map as you leave. Construct your personal shopping list according to the order you shop the store. You'll speed your way out the door in record time!

Coast in the Calm of a Routine
Printable Monthly Menu FormYes, there are some well-organized souls among us who don't make formal meal plans. Look close, and you'll discover that household meal service dances to a routine.

Sunday's a big dinner, and Tuesday gets the leftovers. Monday is burger night, and Wednesday sees spaghetti, year in and year out. Thursday's the day for a casserole, and Dad grills on Friday. Saturday night, it's take-out or pizza.

Create a routine around your menu planning. Sure, you can try new recipes--just don't let your enthusiasm for the glossy pages of the cookbook con you into doing so more than twice a month. Cooking tried-and-true speeds dinner preparation and streamlines menu planning.

To do it, look for cues in the family schedule. At-home days with more free time can handle a fancy meal--or can signal soup, sandwiches and Cook's Night Off. Running the evening kid carpool is a great time to plan for pick-up sandwiches. Make the routine yours, and it will serve you well.

Stay Flexible
Menu plans aren't written in stone. So you're dodging cramps on the "big" cooking day? Swap it out with Pizza Night and go to bed early with a cup of herb tea.

A posted menu plan promotes accountability, but family members will forgive you, as long as they get their postponed favorite a day or two later.

Build flexibility into your plan and serve the aims of thrift with Cook's Choice Night. Traditionally held the night before grocery shopping, you can slide a neglected dinner into Cook's Choice, or chop up the contents of the refrigerator for a clean-out stir-fry. Either way, you'll feel smug at your frugality and good planning.

Make It A Habit
Simple or not, a menu plan won't help you if you don't make one. Weekly menu planning is a good candidate for the Habit Patrol. Get into the habit of planning before you shop, and you'll get hooked--one addiction of great value.

Recycle Menu Plans
After you've made menu plans for a few weeks, the beauty of the activity shines through: recycle them! Your family won't mind, and you'll save even more time and energy.

Instead of an ambitious plan for 30-day menus, tuck completed menu plans in a file folder or envelope. Next time fryers are 59 cents a pound at the market, pull out the plan you made this week. Done!
Portion Size
How much do you know about portion size? Unfortunately as a whole,our society has a somewhat distorted view of what an appropriateportion of food is these days. Many of us think that a serving ofpasta or meat is a lot larger than it actually is.

How did this happen? In part the restaurant industry is to blame.To satisfy their customers, they've created larger and largerportions and over time we have come to believe that we should beeating this much at every meal. This lack of portion control, andloading our plates up with our favorite foods is part of the reasonwhy we struggle with obesity.

It is time to reeducate ourselves on what portion size and portioncontrol.

Let us help you cook nutritious and healthy meals for your familywith weekly menu plans at

Christine Steendahl,
The Menu MomThanks for reading!

Level I - Cooking for the Freezer
Cooking for the freezer is the biggest time-saving technique for Busy Cooks, so it is the base of the pyramid. Experienced cooks know that dinner in the freezer is like money in the bank. Some cookbooks even refer to this technique as "investment cooking".

Here's what I do to make investment cooking easy and painless. Once a week, usually during the weekend, I find the time to make a triple amount of a recipe that freezes well. It doesn't take that much longer to make a double or triple amount of a dish, than a single amount. Two of the three are frozen for the future, and the third I refrigerate for weekday enjoyment. This weekend cooking doesn't take much time. It may be as little as 15 minutes (for something like Pork Barbecue made in the crockpot) or as much as 1 hour and 15 minutes (for Lasagna), for 3 main dish meals. I add two main dish meals to my freezer each week, so I can pull two different, previously made main dish meals from my freezer each week. For this one bout of cooking, I get three different ready weekday meals! That's a great return on the investment! Each weekend I focus on a different major ingredient, rotating through poultry, beef, meatless, seafood, etc. This gives me a nice selection of ready made meals in my freezer at all times.

It will initially take you 4 - 6 weeks of this weekly cooking to stock your freezer with a good variety of meals. Then, as long as you continue to make one tripled recipe a week for freezing, you will always have a supply of ready-made main dishes on hand. I always have 30 - 40 in my freezer at any one time. And all it takes is about an hour a week!

Busy Cooks' Pyramid

Level II - Planned Leftovers
Level One of the Busy Cooks Pyramid (Cooking For The Freezer) takes care of three weekday meals with just a small weekly investment of time. Level Two, Planned Leftovers, will provide one weekend dinner plus one or more weekday meals.

Cook a big meal one day and use the leftovers as the basis for one or two additional meals later in the week. Ham on Sunday and ham casserole on Tuesday. A roast turkey on one day results in Turkey Tetrazzini and Turkey Salad on other days.

Level III - Quick & Easy Dishes
Level One of the Busy Cooks Pyramid (Cooking For The Freezer) takes care of three weekday meals with just a small weekly investment of time. Level Two, (Planned Leftovers), provides one weekend dinner plus one or more weekday meals. Levels III, IV, and V will help you fill in any remaining meals.

The mainstay of every busy cook's repertoire is a collection of recipes for quick dishes that practically make themselves. The trick behind these recipes is that they do more than just provide fast food. They take advantage of easily prepared, quick-cooking ingredients and minimum equipment so you are in and out of the kitchen fast. Keep a list of the easiest dishes that are family favorites. Always having the ingredients on hand for these dishes is an effective way to prevent eating out when you are running late or have an especially busy afternoon.

Level IV - Fast Ingredients
There are certain ingredients that are the busy cook's best friends and should always be on hand in your cupboard, freezer or refrigerator for quick meals. These staples have several advantages in common. They are basic, but very versatile, so they can be dressed up or down. They are popular with young and old alike. As a bonus, they generally tend to be inexpensive. Most important, they are quick and easy to prepare. Make sure that your pantry is stocked with these items at all times. For me, they include chicken broth, rice, pasta, canned or frozen meat and vegetables, cheese, and cream of chicken or mushroom soup. With items like these on hand I can put together a pot of soup or a casserole that will go from preparation to table in 20-30 minutes.

Level V - Tools & Techniques
Kitchen appliances and cooking techniques have come a long way since our mothers' days. All these hi-tech gadgets and cooking methods can save you lots time in the kitchen. Here are some tools and techniques that the busy cook shouldn't be without! Without planning the use of these tools and techniques into your day, they will sit useless on the counter. An article I read pointed out that while we do not have servants like the Proverbs 31 woman, these tools are the modern day equivalent to the "servants" mentioned in Proverbs 31. By giving your "servants" their instructions for the day, you allow them to serve you while you attend to other matters. This was an enlightening revelation to me and has motivated me to make more consistent use of these electronic "servants".

Microwave - my favorite tool for defrosting all those prepared ingredients and meals from the freezer

Crockpot - used weekly and almost always on ballet day when we are gone from 3:30pm until 7:30pm

Bread Machine - I prefer to make large batches of bread by hand, but this can come in handy for those who prefer one loaf at a time and is great for getting pizza dough ready just in time for lunch.

Recipe Software - there are many available for purchase or free to download online (just google "recipe software"). Review for Recipe Software.

Shopping list software - I love this because once I have prices at my local stores programmed into it I can drag and drop my list from a selection of items and it will not only print it by category (saving me time running back to an aisle where I forgot something) but it gives me a total price for the trip right on the list.

Grill - good tool for quick meals but also for preparing ingredients for the freezer like grilled chicken or vegetables.

Pressure Cooker - although this isn't one of my personal favorites it is useful and some cooks couldn't live without the convenience of a pressure cooker.

Making consistent use of the five levels of the Busy Cooks' Pyramid will free up valuable time and ease the pressure on your at mealtime. Knowing that there are extra meals in the freezer, that your "servants" are at work for you, or that you have fast ingredients on hand cuts down on trips through the drive-thru or take-out. Having few last minute preparations to put a nice quick and well-balanced meal on the table also allows your children or spouse to easily help out when you cannot be home at meal preparation time. Enjoy the freedom that the Busy Cooks' Pyramid can bring to your life!

Lynn Nelson is the former guide for's Busy Cooks where she developed the Secrets of a Busy Cook and the Busy Cooks' Pyramid.
Meal Planner

Plan your meals with this easy Meal Planner.