Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Feeding the Multitude

Sometimes getting healthy meals on the table is a real challenge.  It seems like we rush from school to athletic events to bed and back to school.  We really fell apart -- healthy eating wise -- the first two weeks of school.  Suffice it to say that at the end of that two weeks, "sandwich" was a dirty word in our house. 

So it was back to the menus.  Menu planning really works for me.  It saves money (because we are not grabbing fast food or convenience foods), it saves calories, and it saves time. When I make up a menu, I go do all the shopping for that menu at once, even if I go to two stores in order to take advantage of coupons.  Since every time I go into the store it takes 45 minutes to an hour (not including travel time), that saved time adds up quickly when I am not constantly going to the store.  I also save time because a little forethought means I can do prep work for more than one meal, slicing carrots for example.  Finally, not standing around thinking "what are we going to eat" somehow saves time.  No searching the pantry or fridge for answers.

My system may or may not work for you, but maybe it will spur your creativity and that's all that counts, right?  I have one picky eater and one two year old ('nuf said, right?), so I try to accommodate their tastes at least some of the time.  I plan for 5 servings of fruit and veg a day;  I get 3 and sometimes 4 of these into lunch.  I either use a handwritten form like this one from Just Bento, or I type them in excel.  This depends mostly on my whim.

I start my menu with weekday lunch because it now the main meal of our day.  Most days I plan bento boxes (see this post for details) because they are easy for Pepper and Dear Hubby to transport and we all love them.  What I love about the bento boxes is that even though we are in 3 different places, we are all eating the same meal, and it's almost like we are eating together.  It's a heart thing not a logic thing.  I usually send an extra piece of fruit because that's what we will be snacking on at home.   ( I have another post on bento boxes here.)

Next I fill in weekday suppers while consulting the calendar for games, meetings, etc.  That said, I do have a basic formula for the week:
  • Thursday is pasta night, so the pasta chosen depends largely on complexity and time.  If we have had a lunch that is new and unusual I will serve "regular" spaghetti or homemade mac and cheese to appease my two special cases.  I make both of these in large batches and freeze them so some forethought on Wednesday makes it simple.
  • Mondays are often meatless;  this is a night for 9 bean chili or a quiche or "breakfast for supper."  
  • Fridays I do try to serve some sort of fish.  The whole family loves all things fishy though I am not a fan myself.  
  • That really only leaves two weekdays to fill in with something easy.  We often have a very light meal at night; big salads, sandwiches, tacos, "snack plates" or leftovers. 
  • If we have ballgames, I switch the "light meals" for the other meals;  I cook very little on ballgame nights.
  • If I am in a hurry when I plan, I don't include veggies on my supper plans because my freezer and fridge are always stocked with veggies.
Now I fill in weekday breakfasts, and basically, I have a revolving list.  I just fill in from our list of  favorite breakfasts  based on what I feel is lacking from lunch.  Here are some of our favs (all served with milk):
  • Scrambled egg and toast
  • Yogurt, banana and "plain" cereal (like Cheerios)
  • Pancakes (I make the mix ahead of time so they are fast)
  • Boiled egg, dry cereal or toast, cheese
  • Baked oatmeal
  • Cold cereal with milk and fruit
  • Cheesy scrambled eggs and tortilla
  • Refried beans, egg "over" and corn tortilla
Finally, I fill in the weekends.  We have breakfast late and aim to have our big meal around 2:00.  This is when I try new recipes or make more complicated meals.  Also, if we are ever having waffles, it will be on the weekend.  The big girls and Dear Hubby know they will be fixing their own supper.  The little kids will be having a snack plate or leftovers.  

I keep all my menus and mark out anything that wasn't a show stopper.  If we didn't love it, we don't make it again.  I muse through these menus when doing my planning;   I sometimes just rerun an entire week from the past.  I take feedback from Dear Hubby and the Bigs about what they like and try to get a few favorites into every menu.

Last year I planned three weeks of menus for a friend.  It made me think through how I time-save so it has a lot of notes.  If you are crazy enough to want more detail, you can find it here.   These are clearly not bento lunches; more like lunches with a microwave available.

Now you have had a glance into my crazy mind, tell me how you keep from losing yours!


  1. As always, you are so motivational and inspirational. I'll throw out one other scheduling possibility. We use Google Calendar for school scheduling. I have separate calendars set up for each boy, one for family events that Lyman is linked to, and I recently added a separate one for menus. It's working pretty well. It also has its own built in accountability. If it says pancakes and I try to punt and put out cold cereal, the boys will have seen it on their school schedules and raise a hue and cry. I'm not always getting a full week ahead done, but I'm usually managing to get each weekday planned with what's on hand.

    On another note, I think I need to come by for a visit and a bento tutorial soon!

  2. WOW! Why didn't I think of that? I use my Google calendar for everything. It's the perfect menu planner -- plus I can just go in and change it to repeat in say, three weeks, if we loved it and eventually my menu planning will boil down to just looking at next week's menu already made up. This is dynamite! Thank you! (Now to come up with a color that is not already in use!!)

  3. I'm a big menu planner person. I guess with big families like ours, it's more important. You can't just throw something together for nine people.