Thursday, October 21, 2010

Busy Mom's Journal: Menu Planning

In my house there are three adults and one toddler.  We have sort of a multi-generational arrangement that works quite well for us.  It's my parents, myself and my son.  I am in charge of the food.  Those of you who know me aren't surprised at all by that fact.  I do the grocery shopping, plan the meals, and cook.  It's one way that I can earn my keep and give back to my fantastically generous parents.  So, since I started back to work in August after having the summer off, it's been more and more important for me to have a menu plan for the week.  I'd like to show you what I do.  [Disclaimer: I am NOT a super organized person.  One peek at my bedroom is proof of this fact.  So if I can do this, so can you.]

The Menu
Menu planning is sort of my Friday night ritual.  I think about the week ahead, what we all have planned, and I write out a plan for the meals for the upcoming week.  Here's an example for last week:
  • Saturday: Bubble-up Casserole
  • Sunday: Leftovers
  • Monday: Crockpot Swiss Chicken
  • Tuesday: Leftovers
  • Wednesday:  Apricot Pork Loin
  • Thursday: Leftovers
  • Friday: Eat out or Order in
When I'm making my meal plan, I try to keep in mind what sorts of protein I have on hand in the freezer, so that I'm not buying things that I already have.  I also don't include side dishes in my menu plans, because...I guess that would feel a bit TOO planned for me.  But you can do whatever makes you happy.

The Shopping
That leads me to the inevitable grocery list.  Once I've figured out the menu for the upcoming week, I make a grocery list.  When you are trying to eat lots of fresh fruits and vegetables, it's really important to shop each week.  Fresh stuff just doesn't last as long.  I do my best to make a list of everything I need, and stick to the list.  The more impulse buys I make, the less healthy they are and the more expensive. 

I also try and stick to the outside aisles of the grocery store.  I learned in Weight Watchers that when you shop the perimeter of the store and stay away from the middle aisles, you are more likely to fill your cart with healthy food and less likely to fill it with processed junk.  Don't get me wrong, though.  I love me some Golden Grahams, Cocoa Krispies, and ice cream.  But my cart isn't full of these items.  They're just treats.     

The Sales
I check out the grocery circulars every week to see which store has the best sales on what I need and then go to the store with the best deals.  Something that I've learned in my quest to save money is that food goes on sale in cycles.  Things usually go on sale every 3 months or so.  Unfortunately, when it comes to meats, the healthier they are, the more expensive they are.  So, when pork loin was on a crazy sale for $1.49/lb a few weeks ago at my grocery store, I bought a bunch.  My hope was to buy enough so that I wouldn't need any more until the next time it goes on incredible sale.  The same goes with lean ground turkey and beef.  When they're on sale for $1.99/lb or less, I stock up.  This way I am able to feed my family healthy meats at a minimal price.  I don't stock up on a meat unless it's a great sale.  If I run out, I buy small amounts and wait until the next super sale.  

The Bottom Line
Does that sound like a lot of work? It really isn't.  I think it actually saves me time and money because I don't have to agonize each night over what to make for dinner, since it's already planned out.  I also don't make a lot of mid-week trips to the grocery store, since I made a careful list for the weekend shopping.  A few minutes of planning each week are one way that this busy mom is able to work, and still feed my family healthy meals. 

So, now that I've spilled the beans on my strategy for sanity, what's yours? Leave comments.  Discuss. 

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Sloppy Joes (with Attitude)

I've got a bone to pick with Lean Cuisine.  They have an add campaign going on right now, where they talk about food myths and then impress upon us the idea that Lean Cuisine breaks those myths.  That's great.  But one of their most recent food myths is this: "Chopping and peeling can be kind of relaxing at the end of a long day." And then the announcer says, "For who?"  I say: ME!!!! I love to come home after a long day at work, as long as my kid isn't screaming, and spend a few (I repeat, a FEW) minutes chopping and peeling.  It doesn't take thought.  Or skill.  Or much of anything.  Just a cutting board, a knife, and some veggies.  This recipe was created on one of those days where I just wanted to make something simple and do a little bit of chopping therapy.  Some women do "shopping therapy," I prefer "chopping therapy."  

As I was searching in the fridge for something else to jazz up the concoction, I stumbled upon steak sauce.  That's when the true inspiration hit.  Now, steak sauce and sloppy joes might sound like an odd pairing.  Let me explain.  I love to make Rachael Ray's Caution Flag Chili. It gets it's flavor base from steak sauce and it's a huuuge hit every time I make it.  So it only made sense to flavor the sloppy joes similarly. 

And like the chili that went before it, the sloppy joes were out of this world.  Savory.  Deep.  A hint of tang.  Perfect!  I've made the recipe two or three times since, and I make sure to follow my original recipe every time, so as to replicate the tastes exactly.  It's that good.  And if you know me, you know that I only reserve actual recipe following for those super dooper special recipes that are so amazing that I can't imagine doing it any other way.  This is one of those recipes.  

A quick note about veggies: The veggies in this recipe were ones that I had on hand in my fridge that day.  I have made this since with other veggies.  Don't make a special trip to the store for this recipe.  That defeats the purpose.  Just use what you have on hand.