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I love menus. Restaurants make them look so easy to put together. The pictures of the food make the dishes look mouth watering and, when I read the description, the ingredients seem somewhat simple (okay, we’re talking Denny’s not the Russian Tea Room).

And then I think to myself: I bet I could do that. I know I’d save money if I had a plan of attack, so to speak, when payday comes around. All I need to do is sit down and write it out!

And then I get home and two seconds into the meal planning process I give it up as hopeless.

Meal planning can be tough! Who’d a thunk it, right?

So, for today, I’m going to talk to you (and hope that you listen) about the ins and outs of menu planning and how it can benefit you, the working parent.

For starters, knowing what you are going to eat for the next two weeks (more or less) really helps keep down the whining and pestering around 4 pm.

“Mom, what’s for dinner?”*

Those are words you may never have to hear again. All you have to do is point to the refrigerator where the menu is posted, which your child may or may not be able to read. If they can’t, direct them to their other parent or older sibling for translation services.

Then there is the money saving aspect. If you know what you are going to eat, when you take your weekly jaunt to the grocery store all you have to do is purchase those ingredients for your menu. This saves on money because you aren’t buying generalities (gosh,  I think I’ll need 5 dozen eggs as opposed to I know I need 2 dozen eggs).  Just as long as you aren’t buying esoteric items, you should keep your purchases down to a manageable level. If you use coupons and sale items for your menu, you’re ahead of the game! As a side note, I’ve learned that you have to add in your snacks, too, or they catch up with you at the check out line.

With a menu plan, you keep the trips to the grocery store down to a minimum. So, if I know what my ingredients are, I can purchase them at one time and not have to make a run to the store every few days for items that I “forgot.” The only exception to this is milk and fresh veggies. We go through both pretty quickly so I always keep a bit of cash on the side to make sure I can purchase these each week (we only shop every two weeks).

So, what are the down sides to menu planning? Well, you have to actually create a menu. And, as I mentioned previously, it’s not an easy task. At least it wasn’t for me. You see, I get tired of baked chicken and salad. Or spaghetti and salad. Or pork chops and salad.

Do you sense a theme here?

When I think of menus, I think of a restaurant menu that has a plethora of interesting choices that are not found in the typical kitchen. This is my downfall. However, when I pick myself up off the floor and return to reality, I realized that I don’t have to spend hours pouring over my recipe box or allrecipes.com to create the perfect menu. There are plenty of alternatives available from the library (gasp!) or on the Internet.

Let us speak first of my friend, the library. How I love her! She is generous with her possessions and stern yet gentle with her reprimands (25 cent late fees, anyone?). Go to your nearest library and look up the following books:

Not into reading cookbooks and copying out your own menus or grocery lists? Me neither. There are other options that will send to your email a list of weekly dinners and accompanying grocery list. Just be aware that these options cost money, typically, and are only for dinners. You’ll still have to plan out breakfast and lunches (the Yum-o! cookbook has many recipes for breakfast and lunch).

  • Menus4Moms Basic Weekly Menu (free for basic menu)
    • added bonus of Grocery Deals, a free way of finding the sales in the grocery stores nearest to you
  • e-Mealz ($1.50 a week, payable 3 months in advance which works out to about $15)
    • recommended by Dave Ramsey
  • Meals Matter (free resource to create your own menu plans from pre-existing recipes or add in your own; simple and easy to use!)

The other option is to use a menu building software that will print out a grocery list for you. There are several available ranging from free to quite expensive. This is a good option if you want ultimate control over what you eat, particularly if you are on a specific diet.

As a final note, these menus are for dinners only. You’ll have to come up with your own ideas for breakfasts and lunches. Ray’s Yum-o! has lots of kid friendly breakfast and lunch ideas that adults will enjoy too. My kids particularly like the breakfast cereal parfaits!

  • Back-To-School Breakfast Recipes
    • if you add the recipes into your meal planner (like Meals Matter), you can get the ingredients into your over-all grocery list; otherwise, just add them onto the list you already have for your dinners
    • scroll to the bottom of the recipe page to get the links
  • Creative Breakfast Ideas (pdf)
    • while I am not endorsing their website, I do find the two page recipe booklet to have some good recipes
  • School Lunch Recipe Tips
    • Okay, I do realize it is summertime. However, if you are working from home, chances are you are making lunch for the munchkins anyway.
    • Or you can go right to the Lunch Recipes, if you prefer.

Do you plan your menus? Is this information overwhelming or helpful? Let me know!

* I have yet to hear them ask their father this question and he’s in the next room!
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from writefromkaren Monday Morning Meme
What’s something your parents used to say to you as a child that you promised yourself you’d never say — but now you catch yourself saying all the time? Now tell us something that you say all the time that is uniquely you.

“Wait til your father gets home!”

“Maybe…”

“You’ll go blind!”

“Well, you could but then I’d have to chain you to the tree out front.”

and the list goes on. I never really thought I’d end up sounding like my mom and dad. However, I’m glad I did since they’re possibly two of the greatest parents that ever lived. And, let’s face it, as a child we promise never to act like our parents anyway but that usually doesn’t happen.* But that doesn’t mean that I am a carbon copy of my parents. I have come up with some new and catchy phrases, like:

“Fabulous!” (not something you’d ever catch my dad saying!)

“Write me a four page paper on it and I’ll consider buying you a ________.” (recently happened and my 9 year old son got to keep the tortoise that came with our brand spanking new house!)

“Where did your common sense go?!” (happens quite frequently with 3 boys in the house!)

“Where’s your little brother?” (Bit of an issue as the littlest one likes to climb. On anything.)

There are others but I’m only on my second cup of coffee at the moment. I hope that my kids remember these and use them within my hearing when they have kids of their own. I’ll just sit back with a big smug smile and nod. Been there, done that, sugaring up the grandkids and sending them home!

Just like my mom.

* This may not apply to those people with horrible upbringings. So, take that particular comment as a generality and with a grain of salt.

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