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The dreaded menu plan

Planning my week is a chore as it is - and you're telling me I should plan my MEALS for every day on top of the appointments, work schedules, play dates, bill paying, errand running, family events, and everything else on the agenda that I know I'm forgetting??? I have a 16 month old at home - there are days I barely know my own name.

However, as I'm researching this idea of "frugal living", meal planning rings through every blog, article and website like a mantra. And it makes sense - if I plan ahead of time, I minimize waste (one of my goals), maximize the food items I have on hand, and spend less money on convenience foods or take out. But it seems like such a daunting task, especially in my household. I am working a couple of nights a week at the local hospital, so I would have to plan ahead while taking into account that DH is responsible for a couple of dinners on his own. Did I mention he's got a taste for random, experimental cooking without much regard for plans or budgets?

There are certainly a ton of resources available on the 'net. As I see it, the best meal plan is the one that offers some variety, makes good use of leftovers, uses recipes that require little in the way of "special" ingredients (spices not otherwise on the rack, expensive ingredients that won't get used for anything else), and in the interest of frugality, includes at least one vegetarian and one pasta dinner a week. But I don't need yet ANOTHER chore added to the list, so if I am going to have any level of success with meal planning, it can't be a hugely time consuming process. If it's an activity I approach with dread, I'm more likely to count rice grains for fun than get it done.

So let's see what I'm up against....
Breakfast is easy in our house - weekdays see oatmeal, muffins, and toaster waffles with fruit while we splurge on the weekends with eggs, pancakes, or more involved breakfasts. Lunch is generally thrown together - either sandwiches, macaroni and cheese, or soup. I suppose that makes lunch and dinner my problem areas, in terms of actually planning meals and executing said plan. Two meals a day, that's 14 meals a week. Perhaps I should just start with dinner. Seven is a lucky number, right?

I found some good tips on meal planning at Hillbilly Housewife.com, including suggestions for last minute planning and how to make the most of sale items. It's a bit of a long read but there is definitely valuable info in there. Hillbilly Housewife also posts a very basic meal planning template to help keep things organized while working out the menu for the week. I'm a more visual person, and need tangible examples to get me on track. Those I found at Organizing Junkie's Menu Plan Monday. As her opening paragraph states, "Each week over 200 ladies share what’s on their menus for the week...It’s a wonderful opportunity to keep your menu planning efforts on track week after week not to mention the many great ideas and recipes that come from reading the menus of the many other participants." I have read through a few of the posts, and they live up to their mission. The OrgJunkie author posts her menu, and through the magic of Mr Linkey, other mom bloggers post links to their own Menu plans for quick reference. The drawback is that there's no easy system in place to quick reference certain recipes or menu plans, but I am OK with making use of that "favorites" button on my toolbar.

There are some meal planning software options out there, but OrgJunkie also lists a ton of menu planning resources and recipe sites that seems infinitely more useful....and free. I plan on doing a lot of reading over the next week in preparation of giving this planning thing a try....depending on how the holiday weekend goes, I may start adding my own Menu Planning Monday to the roll call!


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