After 5+ years taking a couple hours of time at the end of every month, sometimes over a couple days in 15-30 minute stretches, creating the next months menu has been a lifesaver. The menu solves the "What's for dinner? question that inevitably arises in the late afternoon after work when time has flown. The menu solves the "What needs to go on the grocery list?" question. Without a list shopping would be wasteful and costly. Meal-making would be frustrating and cumbersome. A monthly menu plan works!
The Color-coded key and how I prepare a monthly menu:
I've changed the colors over the years for aesthetic reasons but currently I have Date Night, Sunday Dessert, Special, NEW Recipe, Dinner, Elevate Breakfast, and NEW State Recipes:
Date Nights are just that, Jeff and I are on a date and Joan, John, and Jarrod fend for themselves. Date nights are imperative for our relational health. I put it on the 'menu' because, in the beginning when we first began date nights they were only once a month and it was the best way to put them in to our schedule. The boys have been pro-supporters of our date nights as it usually means for them frozen pizzas and binge television.
Sunday Dessert. Jeff and I host a small group at our home and I've been making Sunday dessert to share with our small group. If someone offers to bring a dessert I just ditch that Sunday's dessert, or make it the next week. I pull ideas from my wealth of dessert recipes, scour Pinterest for new dessert ideas, or consult recipe books as I have quite a few. While I have 'scheduled' Sunday dessert this month (April 2016) I am going to offer our group a sign-up sheet for bringing a snack or dessert. After reading Mark Ingmire's book, Small Groups that Work I realized I was doing our group a disservice by not 'allowing' them to participate in this.
Special. I probably should just call it what it is. Out to eat. Over the last couple months and beyond, we have been going out to eat after church on Sunday's. Here's why. Sometimes we get up early to fix breakfast for children's ministry volunteers, we attend church service, then we service with children's ministry the next service. Add to that we host a small group on Sunday. Then there is my pain levels which are sometimes non-existent, sometimes 1-4 pain level, and sometimes 5-8. I just don't know what I'm going to be facing. While I'm working full time, the cost sacrifice has been worth it. So we go out to eat if possible. If we aren't having small group that day for some reason or we're having a small group dinner then, of course, we don't go out to eat.
NEW Recipe. This is the fun part. I scour the internet, mostly Pinterest, which takes me to food bloggers who've created tons of fabulous recipes. Some of these new recipes have been "keepers" as my family calls them, and I incorporate them into our monthly, bi-monthly, or tri-monthly rotations. This month, an Angel Hair pasta with Shrimp recipe is sure to be a winner. I am looking forward to this Stir-Fry Chicken in a Chinese Garlic Sauce. Sometimes it is only one new recipe over the course of a month of great meals but other months it is one new recipe a week. After all, variety is spice...as they say.
Dinner. With year's worth of planning menu's, and a created recipe book that I continue to add to regularly, I fill each day with a dinner recipe. Favorites that we rotate each month, breakfasts for dinner, obscure meals we haven't had in months, sometimes years, our Family pizza night, our Homemade Taco night. Soups, pasta dishes, grill meats, crockpot meals, it's all up for grabs.
Elevate Breakfast. As I indicated above, Jeff and I prepare, twice a month breakfast for our church's children's ministry volunteers. Because everyone loves the food, and because some volunteers serve all morning at church, the children's ministry has recruited volunteers to cook for their - volunteers. Because we are also volunteers we reap the rewards of our service, too. I have found quite a few favorites and just rotate them the 2nd and 4th Sunday morning of each month unless we're out of town.
NEW State Recipes. The month of April 2016 begins a new blog series, 50 States 50 Recipes. I am researching those iconic recipes by state, those foods that states are known for: Key Lime Pie (Florida), Gumbo (Louisiana) and will incorporate those foods into our dinner recipes and dessert recipes over the course of the next year or so. I begin with Pennsylvania and Alabama.
How I prepare a monthly menu:
These are some of the questions I ask myself when planning a monthly menu: What activities are on the schedule that will impact dinners? Some of these might include Boy Scout campouts, Weekend getaways, appointments that will require the boys to cook dinner, etc. Knowing what's in the next months schedule is imperative for preparing the menu.
What recipes go on each month? Or, what recipes haven't we eaten in a long time? As I mentioned previously there are a few recipes we repeat each month, such as homemade pizza for Family Pizza night, homemade Tacos (with Jalapeno Poppers and without), breakfast for dinner (such as Omelets and Hashbrowns, or Biscuits and Gravy with Scrambled Eggs, or Pancakes/Waffles with Sausage). I might pull a smoked Boston Butt out of the freezer (we normally have a couple stashed from the bi-annual Boy Scout Troop 7 Boston Butt cooks) every couple of months which provides us with three very different meals plus lunches. Then, I scour previous menus, my recipe book, and begin filling in days. Basic plug and chugging.
I don't duplicate recipes over the course of the month. I used to. When we were eating tacos once a week I would fill in tacos every Tuesday, but that was a long time ago. Now, it's a different recipe every day of the month.
It is from this monthly menu plan that I prepare my weekly grocery shopping list...