Here is my second guest post from reader Travis. Those of you who actually read the comments on my menu plans may remember that he and I got into a discussion a few weeks back about different menu planning methodology. The result is this post!
The Menu Plan
I started my adventure on Twitter in early December of 2010 looking for other people that are trying to rid themselves of debt or dedicated to living in a more reasonable fashion. I have made some connections, and have found many inspirational websites. One of the bloggers I follow closely is Jenn Fowler here at frugalupstate.com. I really look forward to the weekly posting of her meal plan for her family.
I am the grocery shopper and cook of my household, and I also create a meal plan each week. I was happy to find that I am not the only one that does this sort of thing. However, I have found that I do my planning a little differently than most people.
I don’t plan a meal for a specific day. Instead, I create a dinner “menu” of all the meals that are currently available to be prepared. I place it on the refrigerator door, allowing my family to “order” dinner each night.
I get mixed reactions when our friends come over, and see the menu on the fridge. Some think it is the most ingenious thing they’ve ever seen, others just stare at it quizzically asking, “You actually plan what you’re going to make for meals for the whole week?”
This blows my mind.
Granted, I like to schedule and plan pretty much everything – but how can you function as a family if you don’t do any planning at all? Can you really just come home from a long day of work, open the fridge and cupboards and hope you’ve got the ingredients to make something? I suppose an option would be to go out to eat if you didn’t have anything to prepare at home. This is what we used to do back in our “which credit card still has room on it” days.
Since we joined a debt management plan 19 months ago, and closed all our lines of credit, my wife and I have been learning how to live within our means for the first time in our adult lives.
Going from eating out whenever we felt like it to almost never was quite a shock. So how can you maintain that restaurant atmosphere, while still sticking to your budget?
The answer I came up with is this – options.
When I’m preparing for a grocery shopping trip, I start by writing a list of dinner options on the upper right hand corner of a sheet of paper. Then, on the left side of the paper, I write down the items I need to purchase in order to make those items.
I need to plan for seven dinners, but I normally try to have the ability to create at least ten unique meals by pairing together items that use common ingredients. A good example is sloppy joes, and grilled hamburgers. Both of these use buns, hamburger and French fries. So, I could make either one by purchasing one additional item (sloppy joe mix), but I can put two options on the menu plan. I also try to plan one or two meals that will result in leftovers for either take to work lunches or for another “left over night” menu option.
Once the groceries are purchased and put away, the “menu” is placed on the refrigerator door courtesy of a magnetized clip. When every member of the family is home from work or school, we decide what to make for dinner. My wife, myself, and our two kids take turns picking the evening meal.
Here’s an example of one of my recent meal menus:
Sloppy Joes / French Fries
Grilled Hamburgers / French Fries
Spaghetti / Garlic Bread
Chicken Alfredo / Garlic Bread
Club Sandwiches / Chips
Take and Bake Pizza
Beef Roast / Mashed Potatoes / Corn
Grilled Fish / Rice / Green Beans
Smoked Chicken drumsticks / Baked potatoes / mixed vegetables
In the above menu, Sloppy Joes and Grilled Hamburgers use almost identical ingredients, as do Spaghetti and Chicken Alfredo. While we would typically only choose one from each pair in a given week, it gives the family more initial options to choose from.
From a leftover perspective, Turkey Chilli, and Beef Roast will have almost guaranteed leftovers that can be used for bring to work lunches the next day. Although not obvious, so will the smoked chicken meal. When I make smoked chicken drumsticks, I ensure I make enough to have leftovers. Pulled smoked chicken sandwiches the next day are an absolutely fantastic lunch.
When it’s time to start the process all over again, the unused menu items from the previous week, go back on the menu for the next week.
By providing options, and by taking turns letting family members “order” dinner, mealtime at my home is a fun, family experience. The kids look forward to their turn to “order,” and rarely complain about what we’re having. Finally, when we do go out to a restaurant to eat it is viewed as special – just the way it should be.
Travis (@DebtChronicles) is a contributing writer for the My Journey Out of Debt blog at www.careonecredit.com. Travis shares his personal journey to pay off his debt and the tips he’s learned along the way. As a father and husband he provides a unique perspective on balancing debt, finances, and family.
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