Saturday, February 23, 2008

The Master Plan

Since we are all talking about what we are feeding our families, I am wondering if anyone does a rotating meal plan. I've seen lots of versions on-line. Some moms use a 3 week rotating schedule, some a monthly schedule, some cook and freeze for weeks at a time with tired and true (and easy) recipes that take a lot of the guess work out of meal planning and grocery shopping.

At this stage in the game, we don't do anything of the sort. I generally meal plan the same day or, possibly, the night before. I have the flexibility to pull something out of the freezer in the morning and if I realize I am lacking an ingredient, run to the grocery store with my 1 and 2 year old. This may happen 3 days a week. Totally doable now, but as schedules fill up these fun and educational grocery outings (we talk about what we see, etc.) will be more of a struggle.

I bring this up in the spirit of Lent. I have been thinking of ways to simplify our lives to leave more time for just being. And, since unpacking the Last Box this afternoon, I am returning from a bit of survival mode to maintenance mode. I do, however, foresee more times of slight chaos, be it from moving or new babes, or sick kids, etc.

As stay-at-home mom beginning to homeschool my kids I find less time than I'd like for planning and thinking. About 18 months ago I started to feel very overwhelmed and inadequate, perhaps not too differently from the feelings articulated by this reader of Elizabeth Foss' Real Learning blog. I didn't know where to begin. So many cirriculums, educational philosophies, resources (ahem, my first baby was 1 at the time). I wanted to read everything. The impossibility of this project never crossed my mind. Until I became overwhelmed. So I started to think of what I really wanted our family life to be. Peaceful, uncomplicated and, most importantly, centered around the Liturgical Year. No need to figure out math manipulatives or a high school curriculum just yet. Just focus on the seasons of the Church.

To that end, I made a plan.

Year One: Read, gather ideas, pray.

Year Two: Begin compiling ideas and sketching out an annual calendar, pray. Pay attention to Feast Days special to our domestic church.

Hopefully, the fruit of this labor in the form of monthly and daily sketches will serve to simplify our lives in the years to come, especially during those busy baby times. I don't want this kind of planning to give me the illusion that I am in control. That is the last thing this control freak needs. Rather, I hope that it allows us to relish in the seasons of the church year by having some ideas and plans sketched out and in one location.

All this to say that, while we don't need a weekly meal plan now, it may be a good way to simplify things around here and establish a routine for the more hectic times. Does anyone plan weekly, monthly?


Eileen said...

I really love your approach to this. I started getting serious about homeschooling when my now 8yo was a baby, too (I still have curriculm outlines planned for Kindergarten when she was 1...but she surpassed most of what I had so meticulously planned, before she was 4. Go figure.)

I spent all my time focusing on curriculum (having been a teacher in my "past" life), and very little on what *atmosphere* I hoped to accomplish, or, beyond Bible reading, Mass and learning prayers, what the specifically *Catholic* nature of our homeschool would be.

I now see that I squandered that precious time, when everything was so easy and uncomplicated, and completely free of regulation by the state. I am so impressed that you are starting here! It's definitely the right way to go, in my opinion & experience.

As to meal planning, the post a few days ago on keeping track of what the kids are actually eating has been quite an inspiration to me, and I hope to be addressing that on my own site, too. I'm way behind all of you on this, though. Far from trying to eat only local and/or organic, I've been, for the last month or so, focusing more on just aiming for homecooked meals! I jot down mealplanning ideas, but if I don't have the ingredients when the day comes, I just wing it with what we have. One thing at a time for me, I guess! :)

I'm very much enjoying this site, and am so glad Mary Alice provided the link on her blog!

k said...

Great post, we are not planning on homeschooling but since I am a stay at home mom of a 2 year old, I believe that our time together is one of home learning right now. I think what you are focusing on seems to be the way to go...again we aren't catholic, but I really like the idea of approaching our home atmosphere simply and focusing on the rhythms and routines that nourish us as a family rather then getting blogged down in all the details.

As you said, that is why I requested this meal discussion, I am hoping to start to bring some realism and routine into that as well.

I think that I am often trying to do too much meal-wise, Eileen I am also just trying to move into a "home-cooked" meal zone, but then I am trying to heap on healthy, organic, planning ahead, etc. And it can get to be overwhelming.

So, no meal plan for me right now, but let's keep this conversation going because it is reassuring and inspiring at the same time!!

k said...

OH! and Alice gave me a great tip for meal-time with my little one.

We were having issues with him getting up from the table, saying he was done and then asking for his food a few minutes later. I would tell him "no, you said you were done, your food is gone". Which was making me feel super guilty because he is such a skinny tiny dude, and I don't like using food as a punishment which in this case it sort of was.

So Alice, suggested having him clear his plate when he was done (simple I know, but I never would have thought of it for such a little one--he's just 2). Because then HE is taking responsibility for being done with his meal.

This has worked great so far and he is taking it SO seriously. He walks soooo slowly, carefully carrying his plate and standing on his tiptoes to slide it on our counter. It is really adorable and so far he has stayed eating longer and hasn't asked for his food later!

B-Mama said...

Hey all! Great thoughts--I just love that we, mothers, can use the blogging world to share and relate.

As to the food planning/prep, I've been doing weekly meal plans for a few years and love them. Sunday afternoon I sit down with my old meal plans (written in my calendar) and a chosen cookbook and plan the meals for the next seven days. As I go through the recipes, I add food items to my grocery list in the order they appear at the grocery store. I then go to my cupboards and double check ingredients I already have to make sure I haven't forgotten anything.

Why so anal rententive? Confession: I HATE going grocery shopping! The less time I have to spend there, the fewer trips I have to make, the happier I am. I also love having the weekly meal plan on the fridge (and so does GG), to anticipate thawing meat, etc. and know which days are "Encore Nights" (aka Leftovers which means very little food prep!) Those days make for a happy mama!

I started this weekly plan after being inspired by a really organized friend, who used her meal planning to coupon clip and help save money. She is still an inspiration to me, being a full-time teacher, mother, and wife. She merely has no time to be making extra trips to the store.

Texas Mommy, I admire your zeal to take the kiddos along with... but if I can whip out a solo grocery run on Sunday night in an hour, I'm happy as a clam come Monday morning. I do think it really helps to simplify our day-to-day.

One drawback to our 1-a-week run is the lack of fresh produce by week's end. One could make up for this by hopping back in the produce aisle mid-week to stock up again. Also, I stock up on chicken breasts and ground beef when they're on sale and freeze them for later meals. Saves a bundle!!

Right Said Red said...

I do weekly meal-planning as I find it difficult to make more than one trip to the grocery store in a week. I occasionally pick up extra produce or something special for dinner mid-week, but more than one outing to the grocery store is too much for this busy mama. I try to make a list each week before I leave, then I attempt to buy everything I need for the week. In the summer I buy produce at the local farmer's market and meat the local butcher block, but in the winter the farmer's market is closed and it's a bit to chilly to walk to the butcher, so our outings there are less frequent. I try to write down a full list before I head to the store each week--and I add to the list during the week as we run out of different items.

Organization is the key for my family to have a successful day--and a successful week. I like B-Mama's idea of putting a list of the weeks meals on the fridge--this will help me to remember to thaw meat or do other prep necessary for out nightly meal. I tend to toss my list after the grocery store, which leaves me wondering--"what did I plan to make with this chicken?"

sixandthecity said...

I am going to comment on meals now, and on general planning, including homeschooling, another time.

I only grocery shop once a week. I have made a master list, things we need every week (3 gallons of milk, apples, etc), as well as a list of staples to check for.
We have been trying to stock up on all of our non-perishables, using Costco and even just buying alot at the grocery store, so most weeks I just shop the produce, meat and dairy aisles.

Costco is overwhelming, and we are often tempted by things that turn out to be a bad idea (why did I buy 30 d-batteries, was it really a discount, if I only needed 2? and now they fall on my head every time I open the linen closet! ). We have found it really helpful to have a list, so we made a list of things that we buy from Costco (detergent, paper towels, natural peanut butter, diapers, wipes, a few other things), and we check that list before we go.

Like B, I find myself low on produce by the end of the week.

Twice this month, I have gone past the one week mark without shopping again, in a Lenten attempt to eat out of the pantry. I was surprised that I could pull quite a few meals out of what was just hanging around, it was also a good reminder that for a toddler, whole wheat crackers, cheddar cheese and apple slices is a perfectly fine dinner.

One thing that is really helping me is "five for the freezer" from These are meals that you prepare but do not cook. For example, if you bought a huge package of chicken on sale, you could seperate them with different marinades and freeze them, that way you just move it to the fridge the night before and you have a dinner ready to cook. I have been using these meals about once a week.

I also try to make one/freeze one with certain things like stew, spaghetti sauce, etc.

I am not that good about planning my sides -- we almost always have a salad and one other green vegetable, so I just buy a weeks worth of vegetables and grab them as I go along, green beans one night, broccoli the next. For starchy sides, it is usually brown rice or whole wheat couscous, unless we are having a pasta meal, which we do about once a week.

When my husband was in grad school, I figured out that my favorite default combination was chicken with peppers and onions. I used to serve this combo once a week, changing the flavoring (add soy sauce, curry, fajita seasoning or canned diced tomatoes, and the appropriate side dish, and this is a meal that can travel the globe!).

Bethany said...

My husband turned me on to your blog and so far I find it wonderful and refreshing. I am a 29 year-old SAHM of 3(6 1/2, 3, and 9mths) with a BA in English and, needless to say, looked upon by my friends and even family as if I have three heads for making this choice.

As far as meal planning goes- we as a family plan our meals weekly, on a dry erase board mounted to the wall. We have a container of recipes as well as readied meal ideas for when we get stuck. Then we make our grocery list based on what we need to complete those meals through the week. (Not counting the occasional fresh fish or need for fresh produce). Then we go to the store on Saturdays (usually) and get everything we need for the week.

My husband is a wonderful cook and he enjoys it too, so he ends up doing a lot of the cooking. And often does the grocery shopping himself.

We started planning our meals weekly more for the money saving than the organization(NOT my strong suit, which is why I don't home-school, kudos to those who are able to do it!)

I'm glad I found this. It makes me feel less anxious to know there are Moms like me out there. Thanks

sixandthecity said...

Bethany, I love your ideas! We can't hang anything on the walls of the home we are in right now, but when we move I hope to have several dry erase boards for planning -- it is great to have it right there in front of you. I also love the idea of a recipe box, maybe our grandmothers did know what they were doing! It would be easy to menu plan if I had a good file of meals that my family really eats, instead of the intimidating pile of cookbooks that I currently give space to, but don't use.

I think I need to work in a fish and produce towards the end of the week, we have been eating frozen fish and it is just not great.

One thing that is helping me in the produce department is that I am trying to buy my bananas in stages -- some yellow, some green, so that we will have ripe ones by the end of the week. We seem to be eating alot of bananas lately.

Anonymous said...

I try to make a list of meals for a week or so at a time, before my husband stops at the store on his way home from work. (He goes to the grocery store once a week or so, and the warehouse store at least twice as week as we can only get 4 gallons of milk at a time in the fridge. Both are on his shortest route home.)

I put the more complicated meals first and the less complicated ones at the end. That way, when life happens I have the ingredients for a less complicated meal on hand and I can swap days. I also try to keep a take-out alternative in the freezer (soemthing not as nutritious as a normal meal, but healthier than takeout from a restaurant and easy and fast for dh to fix).

Now that I'm approaching my third trimester, my oldest (9) is going to learn to make some simple dinners - lunch he can handle but dh isn't fond of PB&J and other lunchtime favorites.


Right Said Red said...

I love the dry erase board idea--with a menu for the week. I may have to invest in one soon...

Amy said...

My Husband and I were just reading a book about being over-committed etc... One of the great ideas for simplifying life has to do with meal planning. The book points out that for most of the world, a family usually eats the same thing for breakfast every morning. One or two different things for dinner and a big meal for lunch. The big meal is one of maybe 10 or 11 rotating recipes. My husband and I loved this idea, except we would move the main meal to the evening when the whole family is together. We are currently making our list of 10 favorite meals and plan to rotate them systematically. What a time saver for shopping and we all know it is quicker and easier to make a tried and true dinner meal when life is crazy.

Martha said...

Ok, I hope this does not scare you too much -- but when I had only 2 children, I planned each meal out for the week. Now that I have 3 (and 2 are in school), I have a menu for the month. The breakfast and lunches are the same each week (every Monday we have cereal & smoothies for breakfast, and so on) but the dinners are different every week. Then we get to the end and start over. I use each menu 3-4 months, then make a new one. I even have a master grocery list for each week... I tell you, 8 years ago, I'd have thought that was nuts. Now, it's a life saver. If you want, I'll mail you my blank sheets. :)

texas mommy said...

Wow, thanks for all the ideas and inspiration! Given how much I love to cook and how many recipes I have that I always want to try from cookbooks or Bon Appetit, I tried to take B-Mama'a approach this week. That said, I planned this week out in the car while Mr. Incredible drove the family to Costco for "Sample Saturday" as we call it.

We stocked up at Costco on Sat and Mr. Incredible did a grocery run today while I tried to nap. Even though we bought raspberries, blackberries, strawberries, and bananas at Costco and have clementines and apples, I know from experience that we'll run out of fruit sometime about Wednesday. So I may have to do a produce run.

Here's our pre-planned week's line-up:

Sat: ribs (from Costco), leftover mashed potatoes, sauteed spinach and garlic and broccoli

Sun: Procuitto, garlic and herb cheese stuffed chicken breasts with brown rice and broccoli with a Simnel Cake for Laetare Sunday (a risotto would be great, but I don't see the time to make it)

Mon: Stuffed trout, leftover brown rice, carrots

Tues: Rosemary crusted lamb chops, couscous, asparagus

Wed: Chicken with raisins and apricots, left over couscous, asparagus

Thurs: Pasta with pumpkin, sage and sausage

Fri: Fish Fry at Church

For accountability's sake, I'll let you know how we do in a week!!

texas mommy said...

I also love the idea of making more complicated meals first, thus, if life gets crazy, you can switch to something simpler. Since I have to go out on Tuesday, that will be a simple night, lamb chops.

Also, the idea of standby's is great...I love Mary Alice's same meal just changing the spices up! I plan on saving these weekly lists (with the cookbook and page # or recipie), so at the end of a few months I could have a very sweet rotation when necessary.

As an aside, I HATE stuff on my refrigerator, and, luckily, our new one doesn't allow anything magnetic to stick. So I keep our white board on our washing machine in the laundry room, which is right next to the kitchen.

Mary Alice said...

The idea of a simplified, regular meal plan for all three meals makes a lot of sense, I will have to talk this over with my husband, since he does breakfast. Redoing the plan after two months would work well for us. I could always have a free night once or twice a month for trying a new recipe.

Texas, I love your use of leftover side dishes, I assume this means that you cook enough extra to have it for two meals? I might try doing that and put it aside in advance, things like rice reheat well and getting the rice going is the hardest part of a "30 minute meal", so I could plan quick cook recipes on nights when we have leftover rice.

I put this up on the fish post, but I wanted to share again that my family really liked the "seeds of change" quinoa blend, I am going to buy that regularily from now on.

texas mommy said...

Our planned week went pretty well, with the glaring exception that I had forgotten to get more milk for Jack-Jack, so had to make a quick dash into the store 5 minutes away for whole milk. It was so nice to have it all planned out in advance, though it was disarming to have a nearly empty refrigerator by Friday since I am used to continually restocking. I had to give the boys leftover applesauce from when they were sick on Friday for a snack because I had run out of fruit. But, overall, I saved time and certainly wasted less food. It was also nice to see exactly how much food we consumed (2 gallons of milk, 5 lbs bananas, 2lbs strawberries, 5lbs clementines, 2 lbs cheese, 1 lb raspberries, 1+ lbs blackberries, 3 crowns broccoli, 2lbs carrots, asparagus, 1 1/2 lb turkey, 1 loaf rye bread, etc.)

The REAL reason I double up on rice and pasta, etc so I can use them for 2 days is so I don't have to clean pots every day. Scrubbing pots is just not my favorite thing to do. And waiting 45 minutes for the rice to cook is not something I want to do every day.