Wednesday, May 18, 2011

How I Menu Plan ~or~ In Which I am Embarrassed and Everyone Feels Sorry for David

I've been outed.  Kind of.

I was smug enough to post a picture on Facebook of my menu boards finally hung in our new house.  Yeah, I just wanted to show everyone how awesome I think I am for menu planning.  Guilty, okay?

Then, this discussion happened.

What?  People want to see my actual menus?
Does that mean I have to admit how non-inventive, boring, and routine our menus are?  And maybe explain why I have no desire to change that?

Okay.  Well, here goes.

First, a disclaimer.  The overarching theme of all my cooking posts is how I hate, hate, HATE to potchke in the kitchen.  Well, I hate spending time standing and fussing over any aspect of home life, to be honest.  But if there's anything I know about myself from spending this last year as a full-time home manager, it's that I hate cooking.  Hate.  It.  So that will be reflected when I explain how I menu plan.

I like to menu plan for an entire month, using these white board calendars I picked up at Target.  They enable me to look at the whole month's meals to make sure that we don't have TOO much repetition, and also to balance the food budget over the course of the month.  More on that later.

When I have the blank menu board, the first thing I do is fill in every engagement I know we have for the month.  "Dad's birthday party" is one this month, and so is "BBQ at Kathryn's house."  This is so I don't plan a meal (and the groceries that go with it) for that night, because then I'd have extra ingredients and spend extra money.

Then, I write "Pizza" on every Thursday.  
Then, I write "Spaghetti" on every Wednesday.

Yes.  We have Pizza (homemade) and Spaghetti each and every week.  I can't plan seven unique, frugal, and and delicious meals for each week.  Just can't do it.  No way, no how.

Tuesday night is always crock pot night (a holdover from when I worked late on Tuesday nights.)  So, on each Tuesday, I write one of the following:
Black Bean Soup

Yes.  We have the same five crock pot meals over, and over, and OVER again.  

Monday night is in the "other" category.  On each Monday, I write one of the following:
Grilled Cheese
Tuna Melts
Stuffed Shells
Tuna Casserole

So now, Monday through Thursday are filled up.  So far, so boring.

Here's where I really get embarrassed.  I also have a standard rotation of Shabbat meals.

I know.

It all started when I figured out I could make schnitzel in gigantic batches and freeze it and stick it in the oven on Erev Shabbat and it would be almost as good as fresh.  Same thing with meatballs.  Now, we pretty much have schnitzel and Israeli salad every other week, and spaghetti and meatballs with green salad every other week.

Honestly, at this point in my life, stressing over original and delicious Shabbat dinners every week can reduce me to sweaty, exhausted tears.  David would rather have the same dinner every two weeks, I'm sure, than drag me into a psych ward on a Friday night because it's Shabbat, I'm smelly, the kitchen is still a mess, and I've botched a recipe that's neither inexpensive nor tried-and-true.

Shabbat lunch is always either cholent, tuna and egg salad, cold cut sandwiches, or some chicken breasts covered in jarred sauce and set on low in the morning (we're not shomer.)

On Saturday night, David is in charge.  Sometimes he comes up with something he potchkens over, because he doesn't mind doing that once in awhile.  It makes him feel like a kitchen star and he always cleans up the kitchen afterwards, so I don't mind.  Sometimes he runs out for Chipotle or Pad Thai and that's okay too.

Sundays are a disaster.  I have some huge mental block with Sundays, and I always stress about what to serve.  Usually we end up eating Shabbos leftovers or just plain pasta with sauce.  That is my one menu planning sticking point.  Any advice?

Anyway.  Now you know how I plan my boring, repetitive, menus.  It's not exciting, and we hardly ever try new things, but this keeps me out of the psych ward and our family within a $450 grocery budget every month.

Do you menu plan?  Are your meals more exciting than mine?  Any tips for an extra-frazzled Ima?


  1. I think my best non-Ima tip is that Shabbat is what you make it. I used to get all freaked out about Shabbat dinner, thinking it had to be meat + starch + veggie, a way that I never *ever* cook normally. I go completely blank when faced with a formula like that.

    After a complete disaster of bland homemade chicken fingers and gluey potatoes mixed with mushroom bits, I came to realize that the meal matters way less than the family time and ritual that comes with it.

    Which means that now, just sometimes, like *cough* last week, Shabbat dinner is ramen. Tasty tasty ramen. With candles.

  2. Hi Leigh Ann! How bout breakfast for dinner on Sunday nights? You could rotate pancakes, French toast , and eggs. We never have time to make these for breakfast (school all week and then shabbat and Hebrew school mean that we have no slow mornings) so breakfast for dinner is a treat and my kids love it.

  3. I menu plan, but it doesn't seem to help me spend any less money on groceries each week. We basically eat the same foods for breakfast and lunch each week (toast and fruit for breakfast - oatmeal in the winter, salad or leftovers for lunch...or sometimes Ari and I meet up with friends). I buy a LOT of fresh fruits and vegetables each week, generally the same ones, but in pretty large quantities. I also buy a lot of organic foods. I buy almost nothing processed, and we don't eat meat. Fish is reserved for when I'm hosting a meal, particularly Shabbat, though I've done other foods then too.

    I don't buy everything organic (generally just the "dirty dozen") and most of my meals are vegan (I only use dairy in 1 or 2 dinners each week). I do put some meals in rotation, but generally every 3rd week, not every other. I try to do one new meal each week, but mostly because I get bored (I think Ivor would be fine eating the same meals every two weeks).

    So being a vegetarian is supposed to be cheaper than not, right?? WRONG. I do all this - plan meals, shop in rotation at 3 different stores for the best prices, buy everything fresh and in bulk when possible...and my grocery bill averages $200 A WEEK. FOR just 2.5 PEOPLE. It's crazy, and pretty frustrating, but I can't see a way around it for us. Maybe it's poor planning, maybe being a vegetarian means a bigger grocery bill...either way, the best I've ever been able to do for a week is around $125 and that was only because we ate out a few times. Oy! You're doing a great job, Mameleh. Keep up the good work <3

  4. Sundays could be veggie burger night; one slow cooker pot worth of beans or lentils can make a month's worth of pre-portioned veggie burgers that you whip out of the freezer a couple hours before dinner on Sunday and stick in the oven then serve picnic-style with lots of pickles (that's a vegetable, right?) and messy condiments.

    Basic recipe; tweak at will:
    Several cups of cooked beans or lentils

    A couple tablespoons of vinegar (cider or rice)

    Sauteed diced mushrooms, carrot and celery (diced veggies are also something you can do once and freeze, as you know)

    Chopped greens or herbs if your kids will eat them--cooked in with the other vegetables.

    Bread crumbs or plain oats (Frugal breadcrumbs--buy a cheap day old loaf and let it sit out for a couple days, then whiz it in the food processor. Or put it in double plastic bags and let the kids go to town.)

    Eggs, salt, pepper

    Still in the slow cooker insert, pour the vinegar on the beans/lentils and mash with the cooked vegetables until everything is mushy and creamy. (excellent kid job).

    Add beaten eggs, salt, pepper and breadcrumbs/oats--2 eggs and one full cup of breadcrumbs/oats for each 2 cups of cooked beans. If they're still too mushy, add more breadcrumbs/oats.

    Let sit for 15 minutes to soak in. Shape into burgers, wrap and freeze.

    To cook, semi-defrost the patties (it's actually easier to work with them slightly hard still) then lay them on a sheet pan in a little oil spray, then cook at 400 degrees, about 15 minutes on each side.

  5. Hi Leigh Ann!

    My tip for you is to roast a chicken (or two) every once in a while and use the leftovers. Two smallish roast chickens will feed a family of five for about three meals. First meal is the roast chicken (good for Shabbat, of course, but also Sunday nights). Second is the leftover meat, shredded and put into pasta or tacos or pot pie, if you want to get fancy. Third is the soup made by simmering the carcass in the crock pot with veggies, removing the bones, adding noodles or rice. It works great!

    Here are my directions for the original chicken:

    We miss you at Beth Shalom preschool!

    Joyce (Eli's mom)

  6. like Amy, we have breakfast for dinner every Sunday...


  7. First, I totally affirm you in having a menu plan that WORKS! It's great to have all these I'm-going-to-introduce-the-family-to-Eutruscan-food ideas, but if they don't work for you, they're for someone else. So, plan your menus with pride! Pride in your knowledge of yourself, your family, and what really matters.

    Second, breakfast for dinner on Sundays sounds like a great idea!

  8. It is hard for me doing now at school, but my parents always cooked two or three meals on Sunday, and grilled all the meat for the week Saturday or Sunday as well, and we would eat that for the week. Grilled chicken breasts one night, turned into Chicken tetrizini the next, and so on!

  9. Wow! You ladies are all so incredible! Thanks for your comments.

    @Kate - Thank you thank you thank you. I think I read too many blogs where people have two main dishes, two sides, and four salads for Shabbos and then I feel bad when I only have one of each. I am going to hold your story about Ramen in my heart forever. Serious.

    @Amy - Yes, yes, yes. Except David doesn't like sweet and I can't eat eggs and I feel like it's a lot of Maybe.

    @Hal - Hm. I am stressed for you. Are you eating beans for protein sometimes? Are you eating all the produce you bring in? My "rule" is no more than $1 a pound for produce, which keeps us pretty firmly in season. But I'm sure you've already thought of all that.

    @Steph - YES. Doing that next weekend.Thank you.

    @Joyce - You are a genius. I've never had luck roasting a chicken in the oven, but I am doing it in the crock pot for Shabbos this week and then we're having chicken and noodles Sunday. YAY!!! Miss you too.

    @Benk - THANK YOU.

    @Hilary - Hi! I've heard of people doing that...problem is we dont' really eat meat during the week. I do pre-cook beans and chop a lot of veggies though on the weekend....

  10. I don't think you should be embarrassed at all, I have about 10 weekly menus that I rotate through depending on what I want to cook and what my family has been clamoring for. I also have a couple of menus for holiday weeks, like Pesach and Sukkot, now for Shabbat I am always rotating meals and it wouldn't be odd to have some form of chicken three Shabbats in a row, but it is what works for my family and I don't have to stress what's for dinner...and I have the SAME PROBLEM with Sundays! Go figure?!?

  11. My goodness - food must be much cheaper in the US! Even with the better exchange rate, I'm spending pretty close to your monthly food budget in a week! There are 9 of us and we have v "traditional" Shabbos food, with guests most weeks, so that bumps it up quite a lot, but $1 a pound for produce would mean a very restricted diet here.


Thanks for your comments! They make my day.

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