Turns out, when you have a new baby, getting dinner on the table can be a challenge. We remember this from when the others were babies, but back then, we went ahead and got pizza or Chinese food once or twice a week. That’s just not going to work now. A few weeks ago, we started menu planning in earnest. The first week, I relied on things that we usually make that we also had most of the ingredients for. The second week, I added in a few new recipes; third week, all new recipes (but I had to dial that back). This is the fifth week (I think) and there are some new recipes and some old recipes in the mix.
- We’re using our cookbooks to get new ideas. This means trying lots of new things. For instance, spaghetti squash with a tomato onion ricotta sauce. Roasted chick peas. Pumpkin pilaf. Empanadas! Occasionally, I plan something and dial it back. We were supposed to have fried quinoa cakes with an eggplant, tomato, smoked mozzarella sauce. I eliminated the frying step and just served the sauce over the quinoa. But still, so different than noodles eight ways, which is what we had been eating.
- We’re using the slow cooker for more than beans. I usually try to pick one slow cooker recipe a week, and aim for a day when we have a slow morning and a hectic evening. For us, this means Monday or Wednesday. I’ve done an Indian Cauliflower and Kidney Bean stew and a Slow Cooker Pot Pie. Both delicious. Neither would the boys touch.
- It saves a lot of money. When I go to the grocery, I only buy what’s on the list. Plus some fruit. I make the list while I make the menu plan. Then I can check for ingredients that we might need. Patrick also reminds me to add things like coffee filters, cooking oil, flour, or other things we might need to replenish.
- We’re more organized. When we know what’s for dinner, it eliminates a good 15 minutes of rummaging around trying to think of something to make. I used to ask Patrick, What’s it for? if he came home with something. Now, we know what everything is for.
- More salads and veggies. When I have a plan, it gives me a better idea about balancing the meal. We’ve also had more variety of grains–potatoes, rice, quinoa, couscous, and some pasta, but it’s not the main attraction.
- The boys are exposed to lots of new things. They don’t eat them, but that’s not the point. To be fair, Seamus did like the potato soup, and he said that he didn’t like the risotto, but when I served it to them for lunch the next day (in their lunch boxes), he ate it.
- Bread and stock. With some space cleared up in our heads, we’re making more bread. Patrick also made 8 quarts of stock. Nice to have on hand.
- Less processed food. If it’s not on the list, I don’t buy it. It’s easy to not plan to eat processed food, but then to buy it and not have anything else to eat, so to snack.
- A clean refrigerator and less waste. We can see what’s in our fridge. I know, so simple, yet so novel! We’ve thrown away much less food since beginning to menu plan.
- I have all the ingredients for a recipe when I start. I hadn’t realized how frustrating it is as well as mental energy consuming to try to substitute things in recipe.
- Seamus and Gilbert would prefer pasta every night. However, we have let them help with the planning and that seems to go better. Gilbert requested Pesto noodles, and they made an appearance.
- Sometimes the plan is too ambitious, so I have to dial it back. If I planned to make two new things, I have to go to just one. I’m working on a balance of old and new.
- It means planning. Sitting down to think, making a list, and then going out to get it. This means that grocery shopping isn’t fun–looking at all then products, selecting, etc. It’s a business. Get in, get it, and get out. However, it has reduced the number of places we need to shop in a given week.
- Planning a week out can be difficult. Saturday and Sunday dinners need to contain ingredients that will keep all week until we get to them. We plan on Sunday and shop on Monday to avoid the crowds.
I hope we can keep it up. It’s made us much more pleasant.