Planning Family Menus

A menu plan saves time, money and energy. It promotes a healthy diet and keeps you sane. Check out our tips for creating foolproof family menus for a week or more.

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Basic White Dishes with Colorful Kitchen Linens DK - House Works © 2010 Dorling Kindersley Limited

What are we having for dinner? It’s the question of the hour. Too often, we find ourselves looking for answers in the supermarket at 5 p.m. Harried and harassed by hungry children, we scan the aisles in desperation and rack our brains for a quick answer to the recurring dinnertime question.

Keeping the family fed can be daunting. Three meals a day. Seven dinners a week. From supermarket to pantry, refrigerator to table, sink to cupboard, the kitchen routine can get old, old, old. No wonder we hide our heads like ostriches from the plain and simple fact: into each day, one dinner must fall. What’s the answer? A menu plan.

A menu plan saves money, because it cuts out last-ditch trips to the supermarket. A menu plan saves you time. No dash to the neighbors next door for a missing ingredient, no frantic searches through the freezer for something to thaw for dinner.

Most important, a weekly (or monthly) menu plan conserves a home manager’s most valuable resource: energy. Follow these strategies to put the power of menu and meal planning to work for you.

Dare to Do It

Often, making a menu plan is something we intend to do when we get around to it. Instead of seeing menu planning as an activity that adds to our quality of life, we dread sitting down to decide next Thursday’s dinner. “I’ll do that next week, when I’m more organized.”

Wrong! Menu planning is the first line of defense in the fight against kitchen chaos. It’s better to do menu planning in a single, 10-minute weekly session than to do it nightly and in despair—standing in line at the market or peering into an open refrigerator. Internet menu planning services offer menu plans and shopping lists by e-mail, integrating current coupon offers for maximum savings at the supermarket.

Take the vow. “I [state your name], hereby promise not to visit the supermarket again until I’ve made a menu plan!”

Plan MealsEnlarge Photo+Shrink Photo-DK - House Works © 2010 Dorling Kindersley Limited

Start Small and Simple

Grandiose ideas of weekly new recipes and complex monthly schedules can scuttle the act of menu planning before it begins. Sure, it’s fun to think about indexing your recipe collection, entering the data in a relational database and crunching menus until the next decade, but resist the urge.

Instead, think, “next week.” Seven little dinners, one trip to the supermarket. Slow and steady builds menu-planning skills and shows you the benefits of the exercise. Elaborate and over-detailed menu plans become just another failed exercise: roadkill on the way to an organized kitchen.

The Power of Advertising

Where to begin to make menu plans? Start with what’s on sale! Scan food fliers from the local newspapers or visit supermarket websites to get a feel for the week’s sales and bargains. Build menus around loss leaders: items offered at below-market prices to attract traffic to the stores.
This week in my home town, for instance, two local chain supermarkets are offering whole fryers for a low, low price. To feed my family well and frugally, this is the week for Ginger Chicken and Fajitas, not a time to dream about Beef Stew and Grilled Pork Tenderloins. I’ll serve those when roasts are the loss leader at the market.

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Excerpted from Houseworks, by Cynthia Townley Ewer

Text Copyright © 2006, 2010, Cynthia Townley Ewer, extracts from Houseworks, reproduced with permission from Dorling Kindersley Limited

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