Friday, August 15, 2014

Jumpstart Your Homeschool Batteries: Menu Planning Ideas

As I write this post, The Studly Muffin is making an emergency run to grab some Chinese Take Out.

“The Best Laid Plans of Mice and Men…”

Have I mentioned that I’m sick this week? Even my son (who thinks his mama is still beautiful) looked at me today and said, “Umm. You don’t look too good, Mom.” 

Bless him. 

I think my boys got tired of eating ramen and ham sandwiches. I told my husband that if he wanted any real food he was going to have to cook it himself. 

I am that wife.

Sometimes you got to do what you got to do. 

It’s ironic that this is day I write about Frugal Menu Planning. 

Here is the whole ball of wax. These people in my house want to eat. They want to eat every day. 

Several times a day.

Feeding a family on a very tight budget is a constant juggling act. And then you have all of the noise about what to feed them. You need to eat organic. Eat gluten free. Don’t eat gluten free. There is always some kind of food fad that the adherents of this particular food fad swear by. “If you don’t eat this way you are going to turn purple!” Or some such nonsense. 

 All the noise makes my head hurt. It could be that I also have the plague. But anyhoo.

I decided a long time ago that I could only do what I could do. My goal was to feed my family real, nutritious food. I have always had somewhat of a beef against processed food so this wasn’t difficult. I have also lost 4 dresses sizes over the past 2 years. I know I need to make food that is oing to help me continue my weight loss journey and get back to my “pre-fluffy me” weight.

Or thereabouts.
So here they are my 5 tips on Frugal Meal Planning. Take what you can use. I will say that I omitted some of the obvious ones. You need to cook. And when I say cook…I mean cook from scratch. The best way to save money is to cook real food yourself. And cook it good.

I know what I'm talking about. Not only have I been responsible for my own family's food, but for a time I cooked for a Daycare/preschool. I realize that I might have been a bit over qualified (my boss used to tell me I was the most qualified teacher there and I was in the kitchen!), but I loved my job and I absolutely loved my boss. I had to feed between 40-50 every day. It worried that these mamas had to send their babies off every day. The least I could do was make sure they ate good, nutritious food. I cooked real food. It can be done for a big crowd. And it certainly can be done for the small crowd.

Here are some of my thoughts. 

1.       I do my meal planning once a week. Because our budget is so tight, I base our menus on what I already have first and then I add in what I would like to fix. We live paycheck to paycheck.  There is seldom anything in my pantry that doesn’t eventually get used for something. I am a big fan of the Use What You Already Have method. If you don’t know what to do with something you have or someone has given you Google it.

These are "cabbage" rolls. Except I used swiss chard from the garden...not cabbage. My mama said it could be done. They were scrumptious. 

2.      When I first started my weight loss journey I read a good piece of advice. The book told me that I could eat the same thing for my daytime meals everyday if I needed to.  If you have read many weight loss plan books (and I have!) you will notice that many of the menu plans give you different options for every day and every meal. I would look at that plan and freak out! How in the world can we afford that much food? Variety is expected for an evening meal, but breakfasts and lunches don’t have to be so varied. It is more economical to pick a few things during the week to eat for those meals. So every week I plan out just a few choices for breakfasts. I usually always have oatmeal and I will fix my family bacon and eggs or pancakes on the weekends. Eggs can go a long way and it provides an important protein for Josiah’s brain early in the morning. For lunches, we either do sandwiches and chopped veggies or leftovers. I like to make up bento boxes. I can use little bits of leftovers and whatever else I have that I need to use up.
These "bento" boxes are my favorite way to fix lunch for our Cousin Camp (and at home for Josiah!). I can take a few odds and ends and make a fun lunch. Yes. That's a choo-choo shaped sandwich. This picture was a few years ago. I wouldn't even dare now. Josiah is too cool. 

3.      I make a pot of beans every single week. Beans are a healthy and economical protein choice. I always make a big enough pot that I can use the leftovers for other things. Let’s just say that I make a pot of pinto beans for Monday night supper. I serve them with my favorite lemon cilantro rice and chimichurri sauce. On Wednesday night I add a cup or two to a pot of chili. On Thursday I put the last cup or two in a batch of quick quesadillas for lunch. You don’t have to just limit this trick to beans. I use do the same with chicken or a pork roast. I like those Stretchy Meals. 

Nothing beats a big pot of chili in the fall. This chili made another appearance later on in the week. 

We do what we can!  A little cheese makes the world go around.

4.      Our families all have favorite meals. I also like to try new recipes. I have a list of my family’s favorite things to eat. Now. I might not make those things exactly the same way every time. Take, for example, spaghetti. Josiah loves spaghetti. I have my tried and true recipe. It never fails me. But sometimes I need to use something I already have and need to switch it up a bit. Last week I had some beef roast left in the fridge. I used it in my spaghetti sauce. It wound up being wonderful. Consider trying Variations on a Theme. This week I have some Geneoa Salami that needs to be used up. I am going to try to make Spaghetti Carbonara with it.  You can fix your family’s favorites by using what you already have.

I adore Asian food. It is my favorite. Ever. Once a week, I try and make some kind of stirfry or Asian inspired dish. My husband is not as crazy about Asian food as I am. So I need to mix it up. This is Kung Pao chicken (and homemade egg roll). I can do this one week and Thai Peanut noodles the next and he will never complain. Mix up those favorites! 

5.      I have told this story before. I knew an older lady who talked about that when she and her husband were first married they were so poor that they ate a lot of soup. Been there? Everytime she served soup, however, she served it in the prettiest bowls she had. It felt as if they ate as kings. I try and make our mealtimes together special. Our meal might be beans and ham, cornbread and greens. But, I make sure I put on my checkered table cloth. I serve chopped onions with the beans. I dish out a little homemade apple butter in my favorite old berry bowl. Just those little touches makes this meal (of which costs under $5) feel like we’ve spent a fortune.

even a little bit of watermelon seems special in a pretty bowl. 

These might be dollar store cookies, but the lemonade is freshly squeezed and everything looks pretty....perfect for a summer tea party. That tea cup is one of my favorites. I think I need go fix me a cup right now! 

I also want to share with you some cute printables I made. They are Menus. At least this is a view of this week's menu. I need to admit that most of this didn't happen. My menu is another victim of my nasty cold. This picture is another. Could it be any blurrier?

 The menus will help you in your efforts to make your mealtimes special. I printed mine out at Staples. I got a frame from The Thrift Store and used my dry erase marker to add my meals. This way I can change my mind. And I have somethiing pretty to display. Make sure you click on this link to catch them up. I made a separate post so I can easily find them again. I only have a few up right now. I have made a bunch, but I need to figure out how to make them all into an ebook so they are easier to download.

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  1. I have gotten lazy in my menu planning this summer and need to get back to it! Love the idea of the pot of beans each week- now if I could just three of the kids in the house to like beans!! Keeping our breakfasts and lunches simple here too!

  2. I do ok with the menu planning, but I really don't like cooking! It's really hard to be creative, but I can't just "wing it" because there are too many mouths to feed. :)


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