Thursday, July 3, 2008

Meal planning

There are many benefits to planning your meals ahead of time. You don't have to come up with what to fix for dinner at the last minute when everyone is hungry and you are tired. You will be reminded to pull the meat for the next day's meal out of the freezer the night before because you already know what you will be cooking. There is less of a temptation to just go out to eat, which is less healthy, more expensive, and doesn't really save any time. You may reduce your prep time by working on the meal here and there throughout the day when you have a few spare minutes (i.e. grate cheese, chop vegetables, bake some bread on the side, etc.). You will be going to the grocery store with a shopping list, which makes the trip faster and reduces impulse buying of items that will then rot in the back of the fridge because you have too much food, or because you are lacking ingredients to complete a meal.

The downside is the planning it takes. As busy Moms, we tend to have "tired brains" and having to plan yet another aspect of our lives can seem overwhelming.

There are many resources available online and in books that offer ready menus, complete with shopping lists and all. Some are free, while others are not. Although these help reduce the planning required on your part, it is inevitable that your family will not like all the meals on these ready menus. Some are not healthy enough and use too many ready products, while other are so healthy that they serve salad for a full meal one night a week and a meat-free dish another night (my husband would not put up with either). Also, you don't want to stop cooking your family's favorite dishes completely.

After having tried many different of these ready plans, I have to say my favorite is a book called "Going bananas at mealtime". I found my copy at the thrift store but just found out that the publisher of this book is a Mormon company. It really has no bearing on the recipes, other than maybe proving that it is suitable for busy moms of many kids (Mormons don't believe in birth control). There certainly is no religious reference whatsoever in the book.

I like this book because it offers ready menu plans for breakfast and dinner for all 12 months of the year. I find that the recipes strike just the right balance between being healthy and tasteful, and almost all of them are enjoyed by us all. On the occasional nights that a meal we don't like is suggested, I can fall back one of of my own staple recipes. There are also ideas every week for snacks/desserts and special meals corresponding to the holidays that month. The ingredients for these items are not included in the shopping list, but can be added easily if you want to cook any of these suggested items. The back of the book also has a blank monthly menu form and a master shopping list that can be copied if you want to make your own menus. The breakfast suggestions are all easy and fast so you don't have to serve cold cereal every morning and can offer some variety instead.

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