The Winter Menu

I was just making my my menu for the week and looked back over it and saw I had written down all soups, and most of them had something in them my husband didn’t like (squash, lemon, sweet potatoes etc.)… this was going to be a failure of a week in the food department! So how can I plan a successful week’s meals with minimum work that everyone (well most everyone) will somewhat enjoy?

the-winter-menu

I keep a list of all the recipes my family enjoys (my rotating menu- one for winter and one for summer). When we try something new I write a note on that recipe how we felt about it and if it passes the test I add it to the menu. Once or twice a year I go through our recipes and update my Summer Menu and my Winter Menu. When I make a menu I usually pull out this list and pick a week and boom, the meals are planned, I just have to create my grocery list for the week. I often alter the menu to accomodate for leftovers we have in the fridge or to try a new recipe.

Here is our current winter menu, this hasn’t been updated since this last summer, so I have new recipes to add to the list, but it gives you a good view of how I organize my menu that I pull my weekly meal plan from.

wintermenu

For more in depth details about how I create my meal plan and rotating menu look at this article: Creating a Menu

Favorite Cook Books

If you are looking for a great Christmas gift you will use all year here are my favorite cookbooks. These books will also jump start your healthy eating choices for the next year.

I began running very regularly August 2015. Along with my running I began to research training regimens and nutrition for a runner. During this time I came across the runner’s world cookbooks. This was the first of these 3 books I purchased.

Meals on the Run is full of AMAZING recipes. From breakfast to sides to main dishes you can find healthy choices full of flavor. I love that every recipe in this book takes 30 minutes or less to make, perfect for a busy night. I also love that the ingredients are *mostly* normal. I don’t have to google the ingredient to find out what it even looks like, they are mostly normal ingredients I can find at my local store.

After I fell in love with Meals on the Run  I went ahead and purchased the other Runner’s World cookbook.

This book added more healthy recipes to my collection. These recipes may take longer than 30 minutes, but they are still simple and easy. Like my other cookbook, the recipes are full of normal healthy ingredients. The Runner’s World Cookbook also includes some delicious, but not terribly unhealthy desserts.

The Runner’s World cookbooks are definitely my favorite. This next book is new to me and has many recipes so far that I have loved. They also do a great job of taking traditional favorites and making them a little more healthy while still providing amazing flavor. My favorite thing about the So Easy cookbook is that it groups recipes together so you have a whole meal ready to go, which can sometimes be the hardest part of meal planning.

Feeding the Freezer

It is 4:30, everyone is up from nap time, you are exhausted and your husband will be home soon… starving, and you have no plan for dinner. Do you:

  1. Call him and ask him to pick up some take out
  2. Slap some PB & J together and call it good
  3. give the kids some play dough and whip up a quick 30 minute meal
  4. Take a meal out of the freezer and make a side to go with it

Every answer is the right choice, that is assuming your family is enjoying meal time, remaining healthy, and you are staying in budget. If you are struggling to get dinner on the table, or your budget is tight, or your health is suffering etc. freezer meals may be one step in the right direction. freezer meals

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Kids in the Kitchen

Since we are a team and life is a classroom you will often find my little ones helping me in the kitchen. Working together also makes cooking fun, well usually. While I would also like to say it improves the eating habits of my children, I am not so sure. I have 2 very picky eaters–they only eat bread and dessert. Maybe their eating preferences would be even worse if they were not helping me and experiencing all this culinary excitement, maybe they would cut out the bread and just go to straight desserts?? Who knows.

cooking in the kitchen
My daughter rolling out dough at age 4

Either way, they love helping and I think it is great experience for them and quality time for us (plus if they are with me helping, they aren’t making a mess while I work). My children usually joined me in the kitchen around 18 months. They would get a tall step stool and help me dump ingredients into a mixing bowl, occasionally I would let them stir, but that didn’t usually work out too well until they were almost 2 or older.

using the stepstool
My 18 month old on his step stool, ready to help

Whenever I am in the kitchen cooking I will hear stools and chairs being pushed up next to where I am. There is joy found in the kitchen when we work together. Start small and progress from there; as your children show maturity you can increase their responsibilities. Here is a summary of what my children help with when we cook:

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Keep the Pantry Stocked

I was making cookies the other day and I ran out of vanilla, so I walked over to my pantry expecting to find my extra bottle there when I was disappointed to find I was completely out. My system had FAILED! Let’s just blame someone else in my family… they must have forgotten to mark vanilla on the shopping list!!!! The goal of a stocked pantry is to never run out of what you need.

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It is frustrating to need vanilla, sugar, flour, oatmeal, baking powder, or any other ingredient and be out. When I add a new favorite recipe to our list (like my favorite Granola), I make sure I have a 2 of everything. My granola recipe uses Real Maple Syrup, so when I started making it I bought 2, 1 to use and 1 for the pantry. When the 1 I’m using runs out I get the one out of the pantry and then I MARK MY SHOPPING LIST! This is where my vanilla shortage problem was. If you use the vanilla from the pantry and never mark the list you will eventually run out, completely out!

So the next time you need a spice, onion soup mix, brown sugar, vinegar, or other item you use regularly, buy 2- 1 to use and 1 to replace it. Every time you grab your back up from the pantry, mark your grocery list. If you do this you will never be missing an ingredient again… well hopefully not.

If you find a sale on these items, buy more than 1, maybe even stock up if it is a great sale! Just remember, when you start to run low, or grab that last bottle/bag, mark your list!

Working the Sales

Part of my job is staying within our grocery budget, while that isn’t always easy there are a few things I use to assist me.

  1. Have a Meal Plan
  2. Create a Shopping List
  3. Cook in bulk and use the freezer
  4. Work the sales (can relate directly to #3)

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There are groceries that every family uses often. For example, my husband loves a particular kind of whole grain loaves of bread, we also used canned tomatoes in a lot of recipes. We watch these items and when they go on sale, on a GREAT sale, we stock up. You should be watching the prices regularly to know what a great sale is. For example a $1 off a loaf of the bread we get is okay, but 50% off is great. When this happens we typically buy 5-10 loaves. When Cheerios get down to a certain price we buy everything on the shelf.

How do I know what a good price is?

If you do the grocery shopping regularly, start looking at the prices and keep a mental note. If you want to get really good at tracking prices you could write them down, but that would really be a time investment, and time is money. As long as you know how much they generally go on sale that should be enough. When you see the prices drop lower than that, stock up.

What items should I look for?

I would recommend only doing this for items you use regularly and items you know how to store long term. For example, we use Tahini for making hummus, but I sure don’t use it regularly enough to buy 10 bottles when it goes on sale. Here are items we commonly buy in bulk when on sale:

  • Bread (freeze)
  • Shredded Cheese (freeze)
  • Fresh Fruit (Chop and freeze for smoothies)
  • Meats (cook and freeze or freeze individually raw)
  • Any shelf stable item that you use regularly (i.e. chopped tomatoes, stewed tomatoes, beans, cheerios, pastas, rice, flour, grains etc.)

How often should I do this?

We leave enough margin in our budget that I can get what is on my list and stock up on anything on sale. The number one way to save money is to make a budget and STAY ON BUDGET, so if you haven’t put any margin in your budget, either up your budget OR cut back on other items so you can stock up when items go on sale. The goal is to never pay full price for items that regularly or occasionally go on sale.  Continue reading