"Sit down and feed, and welcome to our table." -William Shakespeare

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Menus and Grocery Manifestos

Menus. They work.

Really. They do. We go months at a time without eating out, sometimes. And every time we do eat out, we wish we were eating at home- where the food is cheaper, better, and the atmosphere quieter and more child-friendly. OK, except if we're eating at Chester's Chophouse, because, yes, Chester's is better than me. 700% as expensive. But better. Or at 5 Guys, because every American sometimes just needs a hamburger. At least at 5 Guys you get your hamburger with minimal guilt- and a lot of free veggie toppings. And those free peanuts are nice, too.

Moving on. Some folks use a 2 week menu, a 6 week menu, a weekly menu. If it works, it works. I've tried all those menus and none was a really good fit for a somewhat lazy, spontaneous cook often dragging through the kitchen with a child attached to one leg. Or both legs.

You get the picture.

I finally came up with a Theme Menu. (What the heck is a Theme Menu? Well naturally I am going to tell you.) Every night has a theme, and into that theme fit about a dozen recipes. I get the structure of knowing what's more-or-less for dinner without straining my sometimes weak brain, but without feeling boxed in by a normal Menu.

Monday is Pasta Night,
Tuesday is Soup or Salad Night,
Wednesday is... what's Wednesday? O ya, Wednesday is Leftovers,
Thursday is Chicken and Rice Night,
Friday is Fish or Beans Night,
Saturday is Beans or Eggs Night,
Sunday is Meat and Potatoes Night.

And then I keep the basics of the theme stocked- pasta, chicken, and so on. Then on Monday I can change my mind 50 times about what I'm going to cook for dinner according to my available time, mood, level of laziness, and behavior of my children. Plain ol' Spaghetti with Meat-and-snuck-in-veggies Sauce? Pasta Primavera? Pasta e Fagiole? Plain noodles with olive oil and salt with some haphazard protein on the side?

Charlotte Mason said the effort of decision will often derail a smoothly flowing day. But I've never been able to make a decision a week or - horrors- 6 weeks in advance and stick to it. (Ahem. My husband knows this, right dear?) So my Theme Menu gives me just enough structure to prevent flailing and fumbling and ultimate dinner failure, but allows me the sponateity that I need to appease my rebellious nature. (O yeah, I'm supposed to make lentil-rice casserole with mixed veggies, biscuits, and fruit salad? O yeah? Well I'll show you who's boss around here Mrs. Menu! I'm gonna make scrambled eggs instead! Ooooooh, you mad about that, huh?) Yes, I really am that ridiculous.

When I sit down to make a grocery list, I assume I will be making x on Monday Night, x on Tuesday night, etc. By having the ingredients on hand, I'm more likely to make what I've planned specifically that night. But I keep a well-stocked pantry of basics in case of last-minute changes, such as an unscheduled 3 pm nature walk or one more chapter of a really good read-aloud. And since I keep a month or two's supply of oats on hand at any given time, oatmeal for dinner is always an option. An option for which my little people often beg, to no avail. They just really love oatmeal.

After I get dinners under control, I make 14 little circles on the side of my lists, for snacks. I check the fridge and pantry for snack-appropriate stuff and check off what I have already. If I'm planning on making granola or something like that, I'll check off more little circles. As I grocery shop, I check the rest of these little circles off when I put fruits or other snack-ish things like brown rice cakes on sale or the ever-so-occasional treat of store-bought granola or crackers. Thus assuring myself that I will not panic when my bottomless pits ask for yet more food on any given day. That is, every day.

Lunch and breakfast go the same way. Generally this is the most profitable 30 minutes I spend in a week. We've totally eliminated the 'need' for eating out. (Sure I still daydream of Chipotle on draggy days, but when dinner is written out on the fridge, it's so much easier *not* to give in to the craving- and the laziness.)

Every homemaker seems to have her own system for Menus and grocery lists and that's mine. It works. Really well. For me.

While I'm sure some of my dear readers have found this to be a real *yawn* of a post, it was a request, so do forgive me. I hope you all have a relaxing weekend.

"Wisdom is never on the menu, you have to own the restaurant."
~Carrie Latet

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