Monthly menu planning

I mentioned monthly menu planning one post ago — here’s the low-down on the new system. It’s for dinners only, I’m still working out lunches. {LUNCH. Wow, I’m bad at lunch. I never think of anything till 5 minutes before, and 8 out of 10 times, it’s leftovers.}

KEY: As with any organizational idea, remember that YOU are the ruler of your home and your meal-cooking, woman! Not your monthly calendar..Ā  If you look at it and don’t feel like cooking whatever is written, say “to heck with it” and make peanut butter and jelly.Ā  Just FYI.

::: Each day has a category. Sundays and Wednesdays are “scrounge” or left-over days. (I picked these because they are the busiest days for us and its nice to not think about cooking.) Monday is chicken, Tuesday is fish, Thursday is pasta, and I rotate between three dishes each Friday: for summertime, it’s homemade pizza, grilled burgers, and BBQ something (kabobs, chicken, other Japanese BBQ dishes — yakiniku, yakitori, etc). It will probably change with the seasons, but I’m guessing pizza will always be on the list. I do chicken, fish, and pasta because we like them and I feel good about them, but you can add pork, Thai food, Mexican, Chinese, etc. I haven’t decided what to do about Saturday yet. We plan to eat out for dinner twice a month, so on the Saturdays we stay home, I’ve been pulling another recipe out of somewhere — usually a breakfast for dinner type thing. Still working out the kinks, people.

::: Before the month ends, I print out a calendar from google, and sit down for 20 minutes (THAT’S IT!) with my favorite cookbooks: Better Homes, How to Cook Everything, Simply in Season, and the Zion Church Cookbook. Since I’ve only been cooking for two years, I haven’t gone much beyond these yet — looking forward to it someday, but I’m enjoying cooking the heck out of all the things I can find in just these first. I find FOUR chicken dishes, FOUR fish dishes, FOUR pasta dishes, and maybe two or three more recipes I wouldn’t mind trying (usually at least one Mexican dish). All of them are different from the past month — EXCEPT if we had something particularly tasty, I’ll put it on the menu again. I write up only the main dishes on the menu calendar and put it on my fridge.

::: Sunday night or Monday morning, I take down my calendar and look at the week’s recipes. I write out my grocery list and add anything extra we might need for breakfasts — yogurt, fruit, granola, etc. I put the list in my wallet and will usually take a trip to the local grocery later that day to purchase about half of the list. I’m at the grocery store 3 or 4 times a week now, which is typical for life here. Packages are smaller and produce is fresher, so you need to buy more often. We also get a lot of our produce from neighborhood veggie stands — GREAT, homegrown (probably organic) picks for only 100 yen each! ($1)

::: So.. when Monday rolls around, I don’t have to worry about the main dish, so I try to think of a side I could make, and sometimes I will attempt to start slicing, preparing, baking anything I can during naptime. There are also days that I don’t think about it at all and wish we had fresh bread rolls when I sit down with my plate — alas, that’s life! So then the only “to do” for that day is thinking of a side dish — sometimes I’ll run to a veggie stand or to the super to see what they have, sometimes I pull something out of the freezer. At any rate, this has made my side-dish cooking a lot more creative and fun. We used to have only a rice/bread thing and then a steamed/sauted veggie or salad — now I can make the veggies tasty: green beans with carmelized onions and bacon bits, cucumbers and tomatoes with penne and mayo, pan-fried tofu with some greens, etc. The possibilities are endless!

.. I think that’s all I have for now. If I think of anything else, I’ll post again. But really, I can’t tell you how much this has changed my life, to not have to think of main dishes for a whole MONTH! And also to have categories when I’m planning (chicken, pasta) to guide my cookbook perusing.. made it much easier.

Go forth and use, change, enjoy, create, COOK! (..or don’t cook, as the ‘key’ suggests.)

6 thoughts on “Monthly menu planning

  1. Thanks so much for sharing the details! I am looking forward to using this in the winter! The mission we work at provides all our meals so when our school year ends in Nov this will come in really handy!

  2. If you haven’t used before, you should check it out. I find almost all my new recipes from there. You can search by ingredients or by ratings. The possibilities are endless. I do weekly menus, but never thought about monthly! That’s ambicious.

  3. i’ve always done weekly menus but got tired of sitting down so often to pick recipes. this has been great for me! šŸ™‚

  4. thanks for filling me in, now i’ll know which evenings i should drop by šŸ˜‰ … too bad i teach on tuesday nights! ha, ha! just kidding!

  5. My mom always made a monthly dinner calendar, so it was only natural for me to do the same. To streamline the process, though (I hate sitting down and looking through the cookbooks again and again), I’ve made a spreadsheet with ALL of the dishes I make. I categorize them “chicken, beef, fish, and other,” and have a column for the name of the dish, where it’s located in the cookbook (and what cookbook), the meat, produce needed, dairy needed, and “other.” This is how I categorize my shopping list, so when it comes time to make the list, I just read straight down the column of the foods that I chose. We shop once a month, so it makes that task a ton easier.

    Anyway, maybe this may streamline it for you too! For me, I really don’t know how people DON’T make a menu. It would drive me CRAZY not to know what to buy at the store and then wanting to cook something but not having the ingredients!

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