Saturday, December 13, 2008

Survey says...readers weigh in with their pantry and menu planning tips

JCK wanted to know how the other half lives. How do others organize their meal planning. Do they sit down every Sunday night and plan a week's worth of menus? Do they see what's on sale and in season and plan their meals around those foods? JCK wanted to know how they keep things varied and healthy when they serve their family dinner. Do they plan ahead? Do they use the crock pot? Do they have favorite web sites that they go to for easy, quick family friendly recipes? JCK wanted to know how they save money at the grocery store. Should she use coupons? And what about fun, creative lunches? Lunches that JCK can pack for her husband and children that will be delicious and do not have to be reheated.

JCK asked and here they reveal their secrets...

Memarie Lane said...
I do weekly meal planning, but I HATE it. I've been meaning to make a sort of regular schedule to help me. Something like this:

sunday- some kind of sandwich (tuna melts, blt's sloppy joes, etc.)
monday- something with pasta
tuesday- something asian
wednesday- something mexican

I also troll When I find a recipe I like, I email it to myself, and I put those in a folder. I've learned to menu plan for the week, draw up a list and go from there.

Lisa of Mama Milton reveals: I buy some staples from bulk to save cash, and shop 1x or 2x a week at Trader Joe's or Whole Foods to stock up on other things. Trader Joe's has tons of delicious, easy sauces that pair easily with, gulp, chicken or shrimp or pork chops. (They've been cheaper lately.) I keep those on hand for easy nights.

Also, check out BeanPlate, Beanpaste's new creation. She has fabulous new recipes to try on the cheap; I think I'll be grabbing from there.

And this time of year, I'm not afraid to roll out some casseroles or soups that I can make ahead of time.

I google Cooking Light and play from there.

Jennifer reveals: Well I plan a menu each week, but I don't know how healthy it is. I do know that 5 Dollar Dinners shares menus of healthy meals for $5 per meal for a family of 4.

The Philosopher Mom reveals: Oh, this is going to be tedious reading, I'm afraid. But you asked...

Menu-planning is an absolute must. (Note: this belongs in the "Do as I say, not as I do" department.) I've gotten a lot of mileage out of "Once a Month Cooking," either using it as the program suggests, or just doing certain recipes, which I then have on-hand in the freezer. They are not all casseroles, either! So you should definitely check that one out.

What I do is make a menu for 10 days at a time...I'll usually invite one or more kids to "consult" on the menu development, which gives them a sense of investment (and therefore less complaining). I write the menus on a grid that takes up the top 2/3 of a piece of printer paper lengthwise; the bottom third is for my grocery list, which I compile as I'm making up the menus. Now, when I go to the neighborhood grocery store, I shop the perimeter, taking advantage of all the specials. If there are some not on my menu, I replace what's currently on the menu with recipes from the specials. That's the money-saver part. Then I go to Sam's with the rest of the list and fill in.

I have found that if I know what I'm making -- and especially if I can start it ahead of time -- there are virtually no blahs. It's the thinking that brings on the blahs, for me.

PhD in Yogurtry: I do a lot of "rice and gravy" meals, creole chicken or sausage over steamed rice (my cajun heritage). Browned beef cuts with sauteed onions, bouillon, fresh parsley - gravy over rice. (This last dish was my tried and true "best way to a man's heart" recipe.. worked.every.time)

A lot of pasta with my homemade garlic, diced tomato and fresh parsley sauce.

Meals in a pinch: canned refried beans, shredded cheese, and homemade salsa on soft tacos or big round tostadas. Sometimes I make a quickie black bean dip: pour black beans into microwave bowl, add shredded cheese, chopped white onion, chopped jap peppers, etc. Serve with chips. Hearty and filling when you want to snack your way thru dinner (esp handy when drinking rita's beforehand)

I'm not big on brands, but Hunts diced tomatoes are a staple for both the creole, the pasta, and the texmex (salsa). Keeping shredded texmex cheese also important staple in my fridge. Fresh cilantro and parsley are two must haves from week to week.

Suzanne from A View from Table One reveals: I subscribe to email newsletters from Betty Crocker and Kraft Foods, both of which send recipes for easy, quick meals. I also get ideas for meals when I troll or happen to catch 5 minutes of one of their shows during lunch hour, etc.

I'm also terrible about coupons, but I do look at the supermarket's own newspaper insert when I enter the store to look over what they have on sale, that can inspire a meal if something is a particularly good buy.

I also love my crockpot...pot roast, chili, stew, are super quick and easy to do: load the ingredients in the morning, turn it on low, and by dinner time you have a tasty meal that has cooked itself!

Ms. Maxwell from Welcome to Schaereville reveals: Favorite recipes (currently about 50) are printed out on letter-sized paper, placed in plastic sheet protectors and then in a 3-ring binder. They are organized by ethnicity (Mr. O has lived all over the world so there's quite a variety). I'm known to grab that magic binder on my way out the door in the morning when I realize it's my turn to shop on the way home that evening.

Jenn at Juggling Life reveals: Sometimes I plan weekly and sometimes I don't. You can figure out which works better.

I have a friend who keeps a list of last-minute dinners for which she always has the ingredients in her pantry taped to the inside door of the pantry. It's genius--I don't know why I don't do it.

What really worked for me when my kids were little was that I completely prepped dinner in the morning, including making a salad and sometimes even getting the dishes out so it was quick to set the table. I had so much more time at 10 a.m. than I did at 5 p.m.

The Rambler reveals: I just found Gourmet Mom on the go. I put her banner on my page. She had interesting recipes. Some looked very easy and doable...

She's Just another Manic Mommy reveals: I don't plan meals. I have tried periodically and it goes much more smoothly. Also, my husband and 1 son are VERY picky eaters, so variety is not my friend. Every week goes something like this:

Sunday Dinner - something big and time consuming.

Monday - Chicken and Rice

Tuesday - Sunday Left-overs

Wednesday - Easy Pasta

Thursday - More Chicken or maybe a meatloaf or tacos (try ground turkey!)

Friday - Pizza Night!

Saturday - Skip lunch. Convince Andy to take the kids to a 'family dining restaurant.'

Calicobebop reveals: I know I'm most likely far too structured, but my daughter is four and it's just the two of us. I have the same menu every week. Ok, maybe we'll switch it up a little on the weekend, but Sun-Thurs it's the same menu. I always choose the "protein" part and my daughter gets to pick the "veggie" part. Works for us!

Susanne from Creative Mother Thinking reveals: Two things you should put into a google search: "Leanne Ely", and her book "saving dinner". That has been really, really helpful.

But then, I can't really say anything about it because I just buy the same things every week, and then my husband makes delicious interesting meals out of them. It's like magic. All I got to do is grocery shop and wash the dishes. (And no, you can't have him, sorry.)

Janet from Adventures in the 32-Aker Wood: I rarely do the cooking. I did make a lovely potato soup the other night (my mother's recipe). I did a lot of the cooking in my first marriage, but he was not a vegetarian. I know how to make all kinds of lovely MEAT dishes. The Mountain Man is a vegetarian, so almost all my recipes are useless. Plus I hate cooking (possibly part of the problem with the first marriage, but a small part).

We use the Moosewood cookbooks a lot. I don't use coupons either, because like you, they're either for stuff I don't buy, or for brand names that are more expensive even with the coupon than the store brand is.

We do a lot of burritos, spinach lasagna, spaghetti with a variety of sauces, simple stuff really, because DeBoy eats almost nothing except chicken nuggets and cereal. The Queen is slightly better but not by much.

However, do you know about Tater Tot casserole? It may have too many preservatives. I don't look at the label on tater tots and it calls for cream of mushroom soup, ground beef, and cheddar. VERY Southern!

Jessica reveals: I had some friends talking about this site. The same friends also have signed up for some sort of farmshare thing....where you get fresh seasonal fruits and veggies from a local farm once a week or so, and it helps save the environment. Just a couple of thoughts. I personally buy a lot of stuff from Trader Joes...some frozen and some fresh, and just shoot from the hip. The evil empire of Martha Stewart also has that daily food...little magazine thing, and it is mostly healthy stuff and quick and easy, and that magazine comes with a grocery list in the back of the magazine.

Barbra of Not Just Barbra reveals: I like to serve fish at least once a week, and we do chicken one or twice. The Hubby likes to grill some beef from time to time. We make sure we have 1-2 vegetables or a veggie and a starch, and some kind of fruit. We are simple eaters. The Hubby wishes it was more exciting, but he knew what he was getting into when he married me!

Minnesota Matron: Once a week, I make a HUGE amount of salad mix -- lettuces with carrots, onions, cauliflowers and red peppers. Then I cut tomatoes and cucumbers and put them in their own containers. Any point, John and I have instant salad with or for dinner, all week long. There is NEVER NO salad in the house, period. Our children adore (sorry) chicken satays with a peanut sauce. We eat Connie's frozen pizza. Sometimes, we have popcorn with parm for dinner while watching a movie. Kids sometimes eat nachos (just plain chips and cheese) for dinner. Cheesoritos - tortilla with cheese, baked or microwaved, are a hit. Omlettes for dinner. Chicken noodle soup. Spaghetti.

Lunch ideas: little yogurts, sliced apple with lemon sprinkled on to keep from browning, sliced lemons, cheese/crackers, chips & salsa, turkey rolled and pinned with a toothpick (they love that one), cheesoritos, fruit snacks, grapes, mac & cheese in a thermos, pretzels & cheese as a main course. . . . we shuffle through those! and yogurt :-)

Mama B from My Little Soapbox reveals: I'm a meal planner though most of the time its just in my head. We start with the basic framework of 7 meals. I pull things from the pantry and freezer then flesh out the missing things at the store.

My staples are all raw: flour, potatoes, buttermilk, carrots etc. That way I know that worst case scenario I'll pull a beef roast from the freezer and make it into something with carrots, potatoes and biscuits.

I tend to make food that reheats well. We also like quick meals of Indian inspired curry - they are my go to for meals under 40 minutes.

A big beef roast will roll into beef & vegetable stew for a second meal. Cooking one night with a bit of prep after dinner gains me a "free" night.

I love my crockpot and a simple dinner is to throw in a pork roast cover it with BBQ *we have a no HFC one we LOVE* several hours we shred it into bbq sandwiches.

Stephanie from Adventures in the Pacific Northwest reveals: We plan the menu on Sunday.We go through the fridge and pantry, make a list of what meals we can make out of the food we have on hand and assign those meals to a day of the week. Then, we determine what else we need from the store to create the remaining meals required. We pack our lunches every day, so most of the grocery items are for lunch, snacks and staples like milk and eggs.

Our menu is boring and usually unvaried as we usually have the same items and we buy things in bulk and on sale to save money.

Sunday it begins again, and often we have cheese slices, summer sausage and sliced bread or popcorn for dinner, because it's easy.

Jason, from The Jason Show reveals: In defense of coupons: One must only choose the coupons for things that one would ordinarily feed one's family--that is key. True, there are many coupons for a lot of junk food, but if you look out for them you will find coupons for milk, cheese, meat, cereal, bread, and produce. Plus there are great coupons for shampoo, deodorant, etc., and if you match sales to coupons you can get them for much cheaper than you would elsewhere, like Target.

Also--watch the ads for special deals, like buy a certain quantity of something, and get a dollar amount of your order. For example, Ralph's had the big cans of coffee that I buy on sale--50% off, and if I bought four I got $5.00 off my grocery order. Big savings! When something non-perishable or freezable is on sale, buy lots of it. And buy generic brands, too!

Happy Geek reveals: I do a weekly menu. I find it works for me because I do all the prep I can in the morning when my kids are fresher and not quite as wild. i.e., chop veggies, make the casserole, prep the salad, marinate the meat etc etc. Then when cooking comes there is less to do and less chance of me flinging my knife at one of my kids.

One other way I save money, is when I make a casserole I always make two and freeze one. That way, there is something in the freezer for days from hell and we are less likely to eat out. Canada has very few coupons so I don't coupon much at all. I am a HUGE believer in Costco. We know what is cheaper there, and what's cheaper at the grocery store and shop accordingly, but their produce is consistently good quality and we try to buy non-perishable staples when they are on sale and stock up.

For lunches - i pack my hubby lots of finger food type stuff. Pea pods, cherry tomatoes, carrot sticks, beef jerky, (eww) homemade muffins, banana bread, and pepperoni sticks. I make him lots of tortilla roll-ups, clubhouse sandwiches, etc. He also loves yogurt and lots of fruit. He's practically a vegetarian (except for the beef jerky which I cannot figure out) so his lunches are pretty fruit and veggie orientated.

San Diego Momma reveals: for lunch, I sometimes pack whole wheat tortilla wraps with diced veggies.

Tootsie Farklepants reveals: Meal planning? Well, since there are only about 6 things that the entire family will eat so that I don't have to make multiple meals, my planning is easy. And I grocery shop for about four days worth because inevitably I'll have to go back for something midweek.

For savings: I use my Vons club card and try to buy whatever brand is at a discount. I've gotten really good at that. Plus the club card also applies to produce and meats.

If I really need to save money one week I'll make a giant pot of spaghetti sauce and have that a couple of nights and then make a lasagna with whatever is left over. You can get about 4 nights of dinners out of one pot of sauce.

Must have in the pantry: cereal.

I always keep the fixins for BLT's in the fridge. It's my back up emergency dinner.

Ellyn from a Little Piece of Heaven reveals: I sort of plan meals. I go shopping and buy all the things for certain meals. Then I know at some point during the week I will have meals A B C. I also keep things on hand for meals on the fly. Beans, pastas, tortilla shells and varied meats. That way in a pinch I can put together something quick and easy.

At the grocery store, I shop sales and stock up. I am not a coupon clipper either. We have a big freezer in the basement. If chicken is on sale I will buy a couple months worth. I also buy bulk at Sams Club and repackage all of our purchases when we get home into family sized portions. It saves us a lot of money.

For lunches, my family loves wraps. For some reason all the same ingredients in a tortilla is better than on bread. They are weird like that.

You didn't ask for it, but my favorite thing to do with chicken is chicken parmesan. It is quick and easy to put together. And my family loves it.

I'm Mrs. Brightside reveals: You have inspired me to take on these topics every Monday! I am an experienced mom of 3 with good planning in my genes - I hope my posts will be helpful!

JCK thanks all of the people who left these helpful tips!

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  1. This is a lot of advice!

    I'm gratified to see that someone else discovered the secret of making dinner in the a.m. It really works!

  2. I'm trying to relearn how to cook for one. I tend to make big recipes and end up wasting some (unless it's chicken and rice soup, which I can share with the pups).

  3. Hi JCK! This was so fun to read--I'm always looking for ways to simplify and organize the dailies. I have really gotten into the blog simplemom and have started planning (but not cooking for) meals once a month. I do a weekly schedule that has a general theme for the day: Monday Mexican, Tuesday Stir Fry, Wednesday Pasta, Thursday Crockpot, Friday homemade pizza, Saturday experiment, Sunday Soup. Obviously there are many weeks when leftovers go further or we have weekend plans, but it has mostly worked and cut way back on my grocery shopping. I am still trying to perfect this system as I get out of sync with my plan when I don't sit down and review it enough. While I go to Costco about once or twice a month, I grocery shop for the week. Whew. still complicated I suppose! XOXO to you and your rowdies!

  4. Ahh, this is a great entry! I work retail and help my husband in his small business so although I absolutely love to cook, I don't have inifinite amounts of time or money to devote to it. Menu planning really bails us out.

    We buy fairly large quantities of sale items that we eat, enough to last until the next sale. On weekends, I make a menu for the coming week. We don't always stick to it as it's just me and the man person and we enjoy the flexibility of being able to go out to eat or not eat if we're not hungry.

    Two days ago I slow cooked almost 4 lbs of chuck roast and that and some chicken I made last week will make up most of the coming week's meals.

    I'm a firm believer in slow cooking, pressure cooking and planned overs as those allow me to prepare great meals without a lot of hovering over the stove/oven.

    One of our favorite meals in a hurry on a busy night is Cheese Steak Wraps. I use Carne Picada which can be ready in about 30 minutes, from freezer to table, and is less expensive than other beef.

  5. Great ideas--I would be lost if I did not menu plan all my meals!

  6. I'm trying to adjust to cooking for two instead of for a family with a hungry teenager.


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