Wednesday, February 16, 2011

How I Meal Plan

I thought I'd write a bit about how I go about menu planning, because my methods have had to undergo a pretty significant transition this past year, as three people moved out of the house and it became just Deanna and me - and later this year it will transition again as she heads to college and I move in with Michael.

For me, the people eating make a big difference in what will be chosen - like most cooks, I get no pleasure from my effort being regarded with indifference or, worse, as if it were poison and a personal punishment for the person having to eat it!  That said, a good chunk of my adult life involved feeding one really picky and critical (ex)husband and four girls of various ages, stages, and picky quirks of their own.  At a certain point, you give up trying to please everyone unless you're prone to tilt at windmills as a hobby and settle for trying to please everyone at least some of the time.

That's really how the menu planning started - as a way to make sure everyone got a turn at a meal they'd really like.  I plan (loosely with plenty of room for adjustments due to circumstances and whim) a month at a time.  I divide up the days of the month by the number of people living here,  and ask everyone for that number of meal choices.  (This is meant to be similar to a Santa Wish List - you can be sure you'll get some of what you ask for, but probably not all of it, and I pick what gets vetoed.)

So, last year, when there were four adult sized eaters here (the baby didn't get a vote),  30/4 gave me approximately 7 and everyone had an opportunity to request 7 meals that month.  By the way, I don't wait on them - I tell people I need their list by such and such a time, and if it doesn't get to me, oh well.

Now what generally happens is that there is some overlap in the lists, and everyone's got at least one thing on there that someone else really hates.  The popular stuff gets top billing, the stuff likely to make someone actually suffer gets vetoed if it can't be put to a day where the Hater can grab something else (that's what leftovers are for) or won't be there.

By the time all that is done, I've got about 20 meal ideas.  The remaining days are either Cook's Day Off days (again, grab leftovers or go cook something yourself!), or days I use to try new recipes - and I try to shuffle in at least 4 new recipes a month and usually more.

I then have a master list with a month's worth of menu ideas.  I try to sprinkle them through the month for variety (not chicken every night one week, and beef the next), and to make sure everyone's choices get a turn every week.

When all my girls were home, that meant everyone got a meal of their choice each week, with one day off from cooking - and the person whose choice it was was the cook's helper, so that everyone would learn how to prepare their own favorite meals.  And by planning it ahead like this, I was able to keep my grocery budget in check, and comfortably knowing I had what I needed to prepare a variety of meals.

This probably sounds more complicated than it is - it was critical when there were a lot of people to feed, and a lot less so now, but these days it's habit.  Deanna picks about a third of what we eat, and I divide the rest between my own favorites and new recipes.  Michael is a lot more adventurous than my kids in matters of food, and I expect we'll be experimenting a lot more once it's just the two of us.

But I think we'll still be meal planning because for me it's an old habit and it's fun - we may just be planning to filter in various things we want to try instead of trying to accomodate picky food preferences.

I have to give a shout out to the program I use to keep track of this (and so much more) - I have used The Journal for years now, watching it become more in depth and user friendly with each update.  It's the first program I install on a new computer.  It's seen me through college courses, creative and practical tracking and logging and, oh yes, makes a great journal.  I just can't recommend it enough.

(Shared with Tackle It Tuesday, Whatever Goes Wednesday, Show and Tell Wednesday, Getting Crafty on Hump Day, We Did It Wednesday, and Penny Pinching Party)

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