Saturday, February 15, 2014

our monthly menu

a lot of people have asked me recently and in the past how we plan our menus.
monthly? weekly? fly by the seat of our pants?
and grocery shopping?  how does that fit in?
are you on a budget?
all very good questions that i thought i'd address!

we plan a monthly menu and shop every week.
yes, we are on a budget.
this budget includes date nights and "emergency" nights.  i.e. mommy is too tired too cook.
but our budget is somewhat flexible right now so if something looks especially tasty at the farmer's market, i don't hesitate.
that being said, as you'll see below, we do not eat steak and lobster every night.

anyway, back to the planning.
i don't like repeating recipes so at the end of every month, i sit down and think out new recipes/ideas to change old recipes and fill in the days on a blank calendar.  i fill in when mike is going to be late (maybe a meat-free meal for the boys and i) or when we have a church function, date, or etc.
then, i bug mike until he tells me what he'd like to see on the menu for the month and fill in the remaining holes.

but you know what? life happens, people!
as you can see by the above calendar from this past summer *can you see it? iphone pic...sorry*, sometimes you just aren't feeling what you've got down.
or you aren't feeling it that night so you switch it up for a different meal during that same week.
or your hubby works late and it's grilled cheeses for me and the kids!
or his work schedules an expected (mandatory) spouse's meeting.
but, if you move it around and substitute a few things, your groceries don't need to change (too much) and you can still have whatever you happen to be craving that night.
make sense?

in general, we do have a pattern:
i do some sort of chicken dish every week.  and i make a lot.
this could be braised chicken, roast chicken, or grilled chicken.
then, that night after dinner, i divide the leftover chicken into lunches for mike the next day and shred some of the chicken into bite size pieces to use in another dish that week.  (he usually gets the dark meat and i use the white meat for round 2 meals...)
i take all the chicken off the bones and save the bones in the fridge for homemade stock for soup that will inevitably be simmering later in the week.

later in the week, i plan for a dish that involves said leftover chicken.  this could be a chicken salad, chicken enchiladas, or a pizza featuring chicken.
it also could be included in a third meal, like in that week's soup, if i have enough, like tortilla soup or chicken noodle soup.
we try to include a soup every week.  so healthy and cheap!!  and really, soups only take about a handful of shredded chicken!  if you have more chicken, make double the soup and freeze it for a night that you don't feel like cooking!  soup freezes beautifully.

so, that brings us up to 3/7 meals for the week.
not bad from one package of chicken!

we almost always try to have a salad per week.
it could be a "normal" lettuce salad, like my favorite, or it could be a salad that includes a healthy grain, like black bean quinoa salad.

and then we try to have a(nother) meat-free meal, like fried rice, for balance.
and it's a money-saver!

so, that brings us up to 5/7.

on Sundays, i try to cook a nicer meal.  Sundays are my favorite day of the week so shouldn't they be special? :)
this could be a roast, my hubby's fav.
or a really nice piece of fish.
with leftover roast, minus what i keep aside for his lunches, you can make roast beef sammies or carnitas.
really, the possibilities for leftovers are endless!  i am the queen of turning leftover meat/veggies into something brand new!
probably because i really can't stand traditional leftovers.  luckily, mike doesn't mind, for lunches!

and i haven't even gotten into casseroles!  they are a goldmine for leftover meats and veggies!
and they freeze so beautifully!

let me let you in on a little secret.
this is exactly what i'll be doing in july.
making double the soups and stews and casseroles and freezing the second one for when the new baby comes!
i do this every time and we usually don't have to cook, just add a salad and some cornbread, for a couple months!  it's great!

this type of planning also really helps with your budget.
without going into specifics, having your menu planned out in advance lets you plan your grocery lists in advance too.
that way, you aren't running around without a "plan" and buying things that you are craving instead of things you need.
you can even get very specific and actually just buy the amount you need as well.
but, what i try to do is get a lot of something that is really on sale and the amount i need of something that isn't.
does that make sense?
and i always include a "buffer" in my weekly budget for when we run out of things like toilet paper, olive oil, lightbulbs, or etc.

our budget also includes our date nights.
we have a wonderful system worked out with a close family of ours, of switching date nights so that we alternate when we watch each other's kids.
saves on babysitting costs!
and this way, we get at least 2 date nights a month, with free babysitting!
but, foodies are we are, those 2+ date nights have a hefty budget, since we like to try the newest and greatest restaurants in dc and surrounding.
but, you can totally save money but just heading to your local diner and enjoying time with your hubby.
that's the most important part of all, right?
we adore our kids but we both think it's vital for a marriage to spend some time away and adore each other too.

anyway, i hope this post was helpful to someone out there.
it's our system and it really works!


  1. Katie, I love this! Your cooking mantra and mine are very much in sync (re: transforming leftovers, making stocks and soups, etc.), but I am inspired by your month-ahead planning! Can't wait to try this out. March 1... here we come!

  2. Good luck! It's a great way to organize :)


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