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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Build a Family Shopping List

Look in any gift store or browse mail-order catalogs and you’ll find cute little shopping lists for all persuasions and occasions. Bear-shaped shopping lists. Long skinny shopping lists. Shopping lists with winsome graphics. Shopping lists with colored borders. Cute, colorful freebies with pictures of kitty cats and teddy bears. Most homes have two or three pads of lists or a dozen.

Only one problem: why aren’t you using them?

Because they don’t work, that’s why! Teenaged sons play stuff-the-trash can with the empty cereal box, but have you ever known one to write “Cheerios” neatly on a shopping list? Pre-printed lists, moreover, fit about as well as one-size-fits-all stockings from the convenience store.
Solution? Build a family shopping list, noting all the foods and sundries your family consumes. Check your receipts. Computerized store receipts can help jog memories for items to include on the list. Include a few blank lines for new foods or unexpected ingredients.

When building your family shopping list, grab a handout supermarket map next time you visit the store. Organize your personal shopping list according to the departments where you shop in the store. Once you’ve made your family list, use a printer or copier to print 52 copies: a year’s worth of shopping lists for the household.

Each week, post a fresh list on the refrigerator door or in the Family Information Center. When today’s breakfast empties the carton of orange juice, circle that item on the list. Boys who don’t circle “Sugar Gaggers” on the list when they empty the box will soon learn the principle of cause-and-effect—not making a note means that they’ll be eating hot cereal for the rest of the week.
On shopping day, grab the list and take it to the supermarket. You’ll know at a glance that you need to buy more juice, cereal and bread.

Court the Calm of a Routine

Yes, there are some well-organized souls among us who don’t make formal meal plans. But look closer and you’ll discover that there’s an underlying strategy behind this seemingly relaxed approach—the household meal service dances to a routine.

Sunday’s a big dinner, and Tuesday gets the leftovers. Monday is burger night, and Wednesday sees spaghetti, year in and year out. Thursday’s the day for a casserole, and Dad grills on Friday. Saturday night, it’s take-out or pizza.

Create a routine around your menu planning. Sure, you can try new recipes, just don’t let your enthusiasm for the glossy pages of the cookbook con you into doing so more than twice a month. Cooking tried-and-true speeds dinner preparation and streamlines menu planning.

To do it, look for cues in the family schedule. At-home days with more free time can handle a fancy meal or can signal soup, sandwiches, and Cook’s Night Off. Running the evening kid carpool is a great time to plan for pick-up burgers. Make the routine yours, and it will serve you well.

Stay Flexible

Menu plans aren’t written in stone. So you’re fighting fatigue on the “big” cooking day? Swap it with Pizza Night and go to bed early with a cup of herb tea. Family members will forgive you, as long as they get their postponed favorite a day or two later. Building flexibility into your plan can also serve the aims of thrift with Cook’s Choice Night. Traditionally held the night before grocery shopping, you can slide a neglected dinner into Cook’s Choice, or chop up the contents of the refrigerator for a clean-it-out stir fry. Either way, you’ll feel smug at your frugality and good planning.

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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