A YEAR'S WORTH OF MENUS

When I first announced that I wanted to plan out my menus for an entire year many thought me totally NUTS! My thought was you plan a menu every week, so why not collect all 52 menus and end up with your menus planned for the next year. The benefits of having a meal plan are numerous. These posts are about the menus I planned and how I did them.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

GETTING STARTED



I actually started this theme back the first of the year, but as things always go, life happened and I strayed from the path.  So the first few menus will be familiar to those of you that have been following my “See the USA the Mystery Shopping Way” blog posts. 

I plan on expounding on the menus, including more of the recipes, as well as more substitutions and variations to help you customize your own menus to suit your family needs.  Along the way I may mention various websites I have found helpful to me in my planning.  I have no association with these websites/companies, just a satisfied customer.   Occasionally I will, however, also refer to my other blogs and website and include the links. 

While planning for three healthy appetite adults works well for me if you have 7 children, as many of my friends do, you will have to adapt the recipes to suit your needs obviously. 

You may also need to take in consideration things like allergens and likes and dislikes.  My son prefers to not have onions in his food.  Not due to the taste, but due to the texture of them.  So any menu item I’m planning on a day he is home from work will most likely have onion powder in it instead of fresh or dried onions or onion juice.  He also has trouble with certain foods due to allergies, so I simply either don’t serve those foods on the days he is home for dinner, adapt the recipe to prevent allergy problems or I have a back-up menu item for him. My wonderful husband is what I call a selective eater, so he gets similar considerations.  On the nights he is working too late to dine with us, or is traveling for work my son and I will have foods my husband doesn't care for, but we like.

We also eat meatless a few days a week for financial  and health reasons—I’m a tightwad.  This often means you will see a meatless breakfast for dinner at our house 3-5 times a month. 

Your family may not care at all for any of the meals I list.  Substitute meals your family likes.  The entire idea is to plan out your menus to what YOUR family likes.  I’m merely trying to give you examples.

As I go along I will include recipes that contain substitutes and variations.  You will see a lot of what I call Master Mixes that can be used in numerous ways, I’ll periodically include the recipes for these as well. 

A word here about Master Mixes, these are substitutes for those pre-packaged mixes you find on your grocery shelves.  So any recipe you have on hand that you normally use one of those mixes for will work well using them.  The Master Mixes have numerous pluses to them:

A.    They are generally cheaper to make and use then the pre-made ones.  Of course if you are an extreme couponer, then that may not be so.  Always do a cost comparison to see what is more economical for you.

B.     They take only a few minutes to make up and generally keep for 6 months or longer if stored properly.

C.     YOU, not some corporation, controls what goes into them.  If you are cutting back on salt, you control the amount of salt that goes in.  If you can’t or won’t use refined sugar, then substitute out for them by all means.  Need gluten free? Adapt the recipe to fit your needs.  You are in control.

D.    You control the portion size you need.  If your family eats pancakes and waffles several times a week.  You make up huge batches and refrigerate or freeze the extras for future meals, but if they are a once a month item, then a small batch is all you need in your pantry. 

E.     You adapt for your family’s likes and dislikes.  Remember the no onion male in my family.  He loves salads and various salad dressings.  Many call for minced onion.  Only he doesn’t like it remember, so I use onion powder for a smoother dressing and no texture problems for him. My husband doesn’t care for round steak, so a Master Mix that calls for that will have another cut of meat put in it.  Yes, there are meat Master Mixes that will appear along the way.

Back to getting started.  This blog is the way I am doing it.  What works well for me may not work well for you, this is merely a guide to help you get started.  While I choose to do a “meat a week”, you may prefer to do it entirely different.  I will be using the “best buy” list from http://frugalliving.about.com/od/bargainshopping/tp/Best_Time_To_Buy_Everything.htm I originally started this idea back in January, but like I said life happened and things fell along the way side.  So here it is 6 months later and I’ll start again, using June 1 and the seasonal items with it from here on out. If you are starting with the menus at another time of year simply adapt where necessary to get your best buys.

In my day to day cooking I use a lot of food storage items.  I am not a prepper, nor am I LDS, I am simply a woman who likes having foods on hand for any emergency.  While I may never have a huge abundance of food at my beck and call, I will always have enough for dinner. 

A word singing the praises of food storage for “not the end of the world” scenarios.  Years ago my father-in-law was losing his battle to heart disease.  Family came in from all around to be with him in his last days.  Because I had an abundance of sleeping space and a camper we often had as many as 30 people at meal times at my home for over a three week period.  I easily fed all 30 people good basic meals with few trips to the grocery for perishables. 

Right now my food storage is not that extensive due to being like so much of the nation and having had both the men in my home unemployed for 18+ months. Luckily both are back to work now and the garden is thriving, so I will slowly build my food storage back up as I work my way through the year’s worth of menus.  

How and if you build a basic food storage system up is your own personal choice.  I will always have the basics on hand for at least surviving a winter storm or something similar.  I recommend you do too.

I personally love the convenience of dried foods.  I’ve done many a calculation on how using dried foods saves my family money, not to mention time in the long run.  Here is a prime example of my calculations on the subject from a post I recently did on a yahoogroup:

“This is how I calculate the costs.  Let’s take celery, my favorite to have on hand at all times dried food. 

1.     Celery is one of those things that fluctuate in cost constantly and it seems I never need it when it is cheap.

2.     Most recipes call for 1 -2 stalks of celery, but you can’t purchase it that way, so you have to purchase a whole bunch.  But unless you are eating a lot of celery that week/month the rest dies a horrible death in your fridge.  So now you have wasted most of your purchase and you have a blob to throw out and no one wants to touch that thing!

3.     Much of a bunch of celery in inedible by the time you trim off the bitter parts, so there is a lot of waste there as well even if you use the whole bunch.

4.     Convenience it takes only a little hot/boiling water and about 5-10 minutes to rehydrate the dried celery and unless it is a meal where I need to saut√© the celery in butter/fat I don’t even do that I just throw it in the soup, dressing whatever and let it rehydrate as it cooks with the other foods.  Compared to fresh celery which you must clean, trim, string, and slice/dice.  Not to mention the extra dishes you dirty up while doing that.

5.     Dry is easier to calculate on increasing decreasing amounts in recipes—who wants a ½ or ¼ stalk of celery in their fridge? So less waste there too.

6.     Need celery powder or celery salt for a recipe?  You can pulverize the dried celery easily to make your own, you can’t do that with fresh celery.

7.     Less storage space needed, and it doesn’t have to be refrigerated!  Great when the power dies.

Now based on those seven items do a cost comparison. Celery  in this area usually runs over $1 a bunch, sometimes close to $2.  Generally I only need it for 1-4 recipes  (say roughly 40 ¼ cup servings per year) for the month so I end up spending roughly $12-$24 a year on fresh celery and wasting a lot of it.  At Honeyville Grains the everyday price for a #10 can of celery is  $15.39 and contains roughly 40 ¼ c servings.  So right up front it is cheaper to use and that is before their very common 10% off sales or purchasing case lots(6 cans) for $82.99.  The only drawback is the shipping, which is always  $4.49 no matter what you order or how much (unless they are running a free shipping sale).  But then I never order just one can at a time, so the shipping gets pretty miniscule per can when I order. Other places like Emergency Essentials, Shelf Reliance and such also have great deals on shelf stable items and all run sales.  Also check out amazon.com they have a LOT of dehydrated foods.  I am slowly filling in the Ishopare ap on my ipod that is a price book that helps me see when a sale is truly a sale on the things I want/need for my pantries and other household items. 
I will say that I find I am using more celery than I use to now because I always have it on hand now, where previously I didn’t and didn’t want to drive the 16 miles to get some.  But is that a bad thing? My family is getting more fiber and nutrients as a result.  I’m also cutting down the amount of meat we eat when I up the veggies in a meal, so I save even more money there.  My next purchase will be dried meats and I’ll let you know how my family likes those once I get them and we start incorporating them into our weekly meal plan. 
I use the same type considerations for things like carrots (really handy to have the carrots already diced and just drop a little dried into all sorts of meals I didn’t use to put carrots in just to add a fleck of color and oh yeah extra nutrition.   

When potatoes hit $5 a 5# bag here this last winter I simply went to the basement and brought up the dried potato slices, dices and hash browns that I had purchased on sale earlier in the year.  Any more I only use fresh potatoes for things like baked potatoes.  No rotting  or sprouting potatoes in this house any more!”

You notice I mentioned the ipod ap ishopare.  I paid around $2.99 for this ap and I love it.  It has all the conveniences of a price book, without the bulk of carrying a heavy binder around.  I enter the info online and download it to my ipod.  It allows me to instantly compare the prices of a single item at numerous stores/websites so I know when a sale is really a sale. 

Now you don’t NEED an ipod ap to do this, you can do it as I did it for years, with a spiral notebook and a pencil.  In fact I still collect my data that way and simply enter it online in the computer at home. KNOWING your prices can save you hundreds a year.  You can also make notations as to when you found different foods on very good sales and be prepared for the next time they go on sale.

Another program I use is Master Cook Deluxe.  This is a wonderful recipe program that allows you to either cruise the cookbooks that are included in it, or create your own.  It also allows you to “size” a recipe immediately to meet your needs, creates grocery lists, plan menus and much more.  I use an older version of it, but just read the program has recently been purchased by a new company that will be putting out many upgrades on what I already have.  I am very pleased with the version I have, but it does have some bugs in it.  So I’ll be anxious to see how they improve it.

Again you don’t need a computer program to do this, I just find it simplifies everything for me to use it.

Good tools are essential to an easy time of preparing meals in the kitchen.  We all have our favorites, but there may be a few things I will suggest you might not exactly have in your kitchen.  Especially where Master Mixes are concerned.  Not everyone has a bowl that will hold 16 cups of mix.  If you don’t, don’t panic, don’t run to the store to purchase one, use your big stew pot, a roaster pan or even a clean food grade bucket to mix the Master Mix in.  It doesn’t matter the container, all that matters is the capacity to mix in.

For  flour based Master Mixes I highly recommend a wire whisk, but if you don’t have one, stir well with a fork or a large spoon.  The important thing is to simply get it mixed well.

I have an old heavy duty Oster Kitchen Center that I use when doing bulk cooking, but again, you don’t have to have one, it’s just handy to have. 

If you are going to can then you need jars and rings.  If you want to vacuum seal foods, then you need a sealer, but you CAN do without these, it’s just more time consuming.

Storage containers for the Master Mixes can be something as simple as 2 liter bottles you have collected and cleaned and dried well.  We have used these for years and have successfully stored popcorn and other materials in them in excess of 10 years and still have a quality product to use.

To use two/three liter bottles cut the top off of one of the same size to create a funnel to fill the other bottles with.  Tap the bottles as you are filling them either with your hand or on the counter top.  The more you tap, the more air your force out and the more that will fit in the container.  The more air you force out, the better the storage quality will be. 

I label both the side and the top of the bottle with its contents because I store my two liters on their sides.  They take less space this way and you can readily see everything you have available.  I do place a “chock” on either side of the two liter pyramid I build or in a cardboard box laid on its side to keep the base of the pyramid I build from rolling out.

Whether you use “official” storage containers, or two liters labeling is essential.  Everyone has their own labeling system and you will need to develop what is best for you to easily understand. 

I write directly on the part of the bag you cut off when using vacuum sealed bags with a permanent marker.  On jars and other containers I will reuse in the future I use a peel and stick label, much like a file folder label with a permanent marker.

It is important to label everything you store to avoid disasters in the future.  Brownie Master Mix looks just like Chocolate Pudding Master Mix, but they are not interchangeable. Same goes for canned or frozen chili and spaghetti sauce mixes, but you could get away with interchanging them a bit.

I HIGHLY recommend that if you are going to can your foods the way I do that you invest in the Ball Blue Book and follow its USDA requirements religiously.  There is no savings in all this if you poison your family. There is also an excellent free yahoogroup that has a wealth of information and helpful people on it for canning.  You can join this group at: Canning2-subscribe@yahoogroups.com

So now that those basics are out of the way let’s get started.

To do it the way I do you choose your main meat for the week.  Because we eat a lot of ground beef I chose to start with it, in subsequent weeks I use other meats, but will have already prepared ground beef ready to go for “fill in” meals.  I also tend to plan menus around ground beef every two to three weeks. I have ample recipes that my family likes to do this with without duplicating meals very often throughout the year.

Because meat is GENERALLY cheaper if you purchase it in large quantities I purchase most of my meats in 10# lots.  At Sam’s Club the 10# chub of 80% (my family’s preference) lean ground beef is $.40-$.60 per pound cheaper to purchase it in the 10# chub.  They do not have this chub displayed, you have to ask the butcher for it, but they do have it in the back.  It is the exact same meat as in the smaller packages, it just hasn’t been reground to make it pinker and repackaged.  If you have the freezer space or the time to do a major canning session and the cash it’s even cheaper to purchase a case (8) of these chubs at a time.  Since I have neither the freezer space or the cash I go with the 10# at a time.

Before I ever bring it home I plan my menu for the week and how I will preserve the rest of the meat.  We no longer have a free standing freezer.  I can all excess meats following the safety measures laid out in the Ball Blue Book cookbook. I am very careful in the canning of meat and other food items. I also occasionally dry meat, again following every safety precaution possible.

Once I’ve decided on the meat of the week, and checked the grocery sale ads to see what side dishes might be on sale,  I look through my recipes to see what might be good for the family for that week.  I try to include meals that will use much of the same type preparation, and/or that have items that leftovers can be used successfully in for other meals.  An example: A meatloaf on Sunday makes good meatloaf sandwiches for the work week lunches.  Or chili, spaghetti sauce, and taco filler all require browning the meat as the first step.  So I plan on doing all the browning on the first night that we are having one of those meals.

I use the meat of the week for 3 or so main meals.  The rest I fill in with meatless, or meals that can be made from meats I have already home canned or otherwise preserved.

I cruise the sale ads online for the grocery stores I shop at, most major grocery stores now have their weekly ads online, so you can view them without having to purchase a newspaper. I compare the prices with mail ordering the groceries.  Both amazon.com and walmart.com have free delivery on groceries and often their prices are cheaper than if you made the trip to the grocery to do your shopping once you consider fuel, sales tax and impulse purchases. 

I include items from the sales ads either for the main meat of the week or for the side dishes when the price is good.  I also purchase a minimum of two of everything I need at the sales price.  One for using that week, and one for food storage.  If you purchase two every time you use one you will soon have your food storage built up without really feeling the pinch.

I also check the garden for any foods that might come ripe that week to use in the weekly menu.  You do not need a lot of land, or even any land at all to grow a garden to supplement your meals.  A large flower pot will work well and fit into most any space.  I personally have a decent size garden and a good helper in it, but not everyone does.  Even if you only grow herbs on a window sill fresh herbs add a lot to a meal and basically zero cost.

My menus for each week include breakfast, lunch, dinner and snacks for each day of the week.  Once you get started you will soon figure out the ease and flow of the system and before you know it you will have a year’s worth of menus all laid out, one week at a time.

After you create your menus, print it out, then create your grocery list for the week, right down to the total quantity you need for the week of each and EVERY ingredient.

Now shop your food storage, do you have enough of EVERY ingredient on hand?  Check your quantities, don’t take for granted you have enough of any one ingredient, VERIFY it.  Make a list of everything you do not have on hand and then consult your price book and see where it would be best to purchase the items. 

Now do all your shopping for the entire week before the first day of the week.  Don’t try to shop and do prep work on the same day, if you do you are setting yourself up for problems.  Life happens and even the sturdiest of us are subject to getting tired.

The first day do all the prep work you can, brown the meats, chop the veggies you can do ahead of time, put your Master Mixes together and POST YOUR MENU where the entire family can see this.  This is important, this gives them a head’s up that this is what we are eating this week, what is available for them to snack on, and what leftovers they BETTER NOT TOUCH if they want to eat later in the week.  Nothing worse than planning on a pound of ground beef that you have already browned for spaghetti sauce to discover that your teenage son has consumed it as a “snack”.

I plan desserts for every day, when they are readily available we actually eat smaller quantities than if they are only occasionally available.  A batch of cookies lasts longer if they know there will be another “sweet” for them on down the line.  Sometimes our desserts are fruit based, other times they are a sinful sugary treat, but they are always there.

So now you have the basics, let’s get started on the year.
Jan who hopes this hasn’t been too preachy in OK.

3 comments:

  1. I have really enjoyed reading this, and i will use some of your tips and suggestions.

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  2. Thank you, feel free to read all the posts on this and my other blogs at your leisure. If you click follow you will be notified when other posts are put up.

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  3. Thank you, feel free to read all the posts on this and my other blogs at your leisure. If you click follow you will be notified when other posts are put up.

    ReplyDelete