Could a family menu plan really be basic, simple, and easy?
Without alot of food waste, or complaints from the eaters, or numerous trips to the grocery store?
I believe it just might be possible to meet the requirements of health, taste, and variety for my family.
And in a minimalist sort of way.
In a bare bones, back to basics, this-is-actually-quite-easy kind of method.
Let’s get started, shall we?
1. First things first – take a look at the food you’ve already got in your house.
It’s not about What do we want to eat? It’s about What have we got in the house? Here’s an example of a list I made a while back – this gives a snapshot of what was in our freezer and pantry. I also had things like cheese, milk, eggs, bread, etc. in the fridge. And there was a bag of chicken bones as well.
|2 sm Zip cooked red beans
||1 sm bag ch. tomatoes
||1 jug maple syrup
||11 sm bags cooked squash
||10 – 500 ml applesauce
|1 Pork Chops
||3 sm bags kale
||2 spaghetti noodles
|17 – 1 lb. Ground Beef
||1 chopped leek
||rice, quinoa, potatoes
|7 – 4 Tilapia fillets
||5 sm bag cooked sw. pot.
||LOTS of granola bars
|1 Large bag Sausage
|3 Roast Beef
|2 Tenderloin Steak
|4 Inside Round Steak
||2 large onion
|4 Striploin Steak
||2 sm bags cooked pumpkin
||1 sm onion
|4 Sirloin Steak
||1 large bag blueberries
||1- 2lb bag sm carrots
|4 Prime Rib Steak
||7 large bag peaches
|1 Chicken Breast
||1 large bag rhubarb
||2 garlic bulbs
|1 Large Chicken Leg
||2 sm bag apples
|1 lb. Ground Turkey
||6 large bag strawberries
|1 Meat Pie
||2 bags apples
Just by looking at this list, I can see that I’ve got AT LEAST 47 meals worth of meat products if I use the roast for 2-3 meals (one as a crock pot dinner, then shredded beef sandwiches for leftovers, or soup, or spooned over baked potatoes, etc).
The frozen fruit can mainly be used for smoothies in the mornings or fruit-based desserts.
And I’ve got a bunch of small Ziploc bags of pureed squash, sweet potato, and pumpkin that I can add to muffins, soups, stews, or mashed potatoes.
I have rice, quinoa, and pasta to use as well.
So much food to eat up in our house.
I need a plan for eating our way through our stockpile of food.
2. Think of possible uses for the food already in the house.
I know I will use most of the frozen fruit in smoothies and/or desserts, the frozen veggies as sides for dinners, or in soups & stews, or the pureed veggies will be great in baking recipes if not used as a side.
If I switch up rice, quinoa, pasta, bread, and potatoes throughout a typical week, that’s a great variety for my family.
3. Start committing the food to a plan.
Start with the meat portions. Don’t be afraid to delegate specific foods for specific days of the week.
For example – our menu will look something like this for the near future:
Monday – Soup & Biscuits (use any chicken bones I have in the freezer to make broth – use about 1-2 cups broth for soup, portion and freeze the rest in small Ziplocs, lay flat in piles in freezer – make sure they are sealed WELL!)
Tuesday – Beef
Wednesday – Chicken
Thursday – Fish or Pork or Meatless
Friday – “Pub” food – burgers, wings, chicken strips, etc. (The Oldest got a deep fryer for Christmas, and he’s making up some delicious eats with it – we got one with spin technology that helps decrease the grease)
Saturday – Pizza and movie night (we do one pepperoni and one BBQ chicken/red onion – the leftovers become one school lunch and one quick meal on Sunday – either a grab lunch after church or relaxed dinner with other leftovers)
Sunday – Potluck or crock pot or leftovers (depends what our social plans are for that day)
4. Add in veggies and starches to your plan.
I’m pretty relaxed with this, and lately I’ve enjoyed a little more freedom from a plan when it comes to the side dishes. As long as I’ve got the main dish, or main meat idea on the plan, I like to look up which of my on-hand veggies I could use with it. I’ve been just typing ingredients into a search engine, and seeing which recipes come up. This has done wonders for getting me back into the kitchen with energy and enthusiasm after a long period of not even wanting to set foot in that room of my house! Do you ever get burned out or bored like that with your kitchen?
5. Follow the plan (to an extent).
Now it’s time to put the plan into action. Even if you’ve only got a dinner plan. Even if you feel overwhelmed by looking at all those meals you have to make. Recruit family members to help – get them washing the lettuce, or peeling the carrots, or chopping the veggies (if they’re older), or turning on the oven, or setting the table – ANYTHING that can lighten the load even a little and create this amazing flow to your family life. Helping in the kitchen is much better than TV and video games – guaranteed! It’s way more fun to hang out and chat and laugh and spill things and clean messes and make mistakes – TOGETHER. Plus, the more everyone else pitches in making meals, the less you’ll have to cook in the long run – you’ll be training younger chefs in your home without even knowing it – just by inviting them into the kitchen, into the plan, and into your space.
6. Let go of the plan (when life happens).
Plans are amazing – I love mapping things out, making lists, checking things off – this is joy for me. But life definitely has a way of changing everything up in a moment’s notice. When this happens, it’s time to let go of the plan. Maybe you will need a simpler meal that night, or even a meal out of the house – and it’s OK. If you find that cooking dinner EVERY night is exhausting, try making double batches and freezing the second portion for later. This has worked wonders for our family through the years. I’ve never mastered once-a-month cooking, but I hear that works great too.
Yes, a menu can be quite simple, easy, quick, and minimal. You can serve the same sort of meat on the same night, week after week after week. Changing up the veggies would help, or cycling through a few different “chicken” or “beef” or “fish” recipes is a wonderful idea too. If you can find just 2 recipes of each type of meat (or other protein) that your family enjoys, and cycle through those every other week, you are on your way to a very simple menu plan. There are many people out there who literally eat through the same menu plan every week, and they are perfectly fine with that, no problems. Now THAT’S minimalist. My family is not quite there yet.
I’m quickly realizing that variety is not necessarily key, that I don’t need to try every new superfood out there, that many people in the world live absolutely happy lives by eating whatever is available to them locally, and that feeding my family doesn’t have to be so hard.
I love to cook and bake, but I often get overwhelmed by all the choices out there when it comes to food. Sometimes I envy those around the world who live with a few simple recipes made from whatever grows in their village or town. This would be so easy and so affordable.
So, what’s on the menu for your family today?
*Image courtesy of Stuart Miles at FreeDigitalPhotos.net*