I don't usually talk about how I come up with my menus, I just post what we've had. Since the last post was a catch-up and included some things we had last week, I thought I'd discuss how I make my weekly menus. I know menu planning can be hard and putting a whole meal together is not super easy for anybody (well at least not people I've talked to!) This is how I've been menu planning since I started getting produce every week through a produce co-op (no CSA here :( ...)
Note: this was not this week's veggie portion of the co-op produce we got, but one from last fall...
First I look at what produce I have left from the week before (I make a list of it in a notebook), then I list all the new produce we received. I also typically have an idea what types of meat I have in the fridge/freezer. If there is any food in my fridge that needs used soon I try to list that as well.
My list this week looked like this:
Old: New: Fruit Needs Used
Carrots Broccoli Pears Leftover Green Chili Chicken
Lettuce Cauliflower Pineapple Leftover Turkey
Celery Sweet Potatoes Tangerines Eggs
Cucumber Romaine Lettuce Bananas
Green Onion Grape Tomatoes Grapefruit
Then I go through the produce list and come up with dishes that will use them. This week my dishes with produce included:
-Thai Chicken Cabbage
-Ham & Cauliflower Quiche
-Baked Potato Bar with Broccoli & Cheese sauce
-Grilled sweet potatoes OR mashed sweet potatoes (depending on the weather)
-Carrot & Celery sticks (lunches)
Once I have the veggie dishes (whether they are side or main dish), I make sure I pair the rest of the food categories with them:
-Thai Chicken Cabbage (has protein, veggie and grain - needs dairy & fruit, so I decide we're having juice and then ice-cream for dessert.)
-Cauliflower puree with leftover turkey & gravy open faced sandwiches (still need fruit and dairy - yogurt and either pears or bananas). *uses half of a head of cauliflower
-Ham & Cauliflower crust-less Quiche (still needs fruit, dairy, grain - so we'll have a pear crisp with yogurt) *uses half of a head of cauliflower
-Baked Potato Bar (still needs fruit - probably will just go with juice...)
-Side salad with Stuffed Shells (still needs fruit probably will pair with pineapple -if it is ripe.)
-Grilled Sweet Potatoes with grilled Pork chops - will broil pork if bad weather and use the mashed sweet potatoes. (Still needs fruit, grain, dairy - will have grapefruit smoothies, and a side of pasta if bad weather or I'll make grilled flat-bread if not.)
Now I look and see I've used up most everything on my list... except the leftover chicken - so I'll use that for lunch (we actually had it in quesadillas yesterday ;). We also have tangerines and bananas that I haven't listed, but they can be for lunches or snacks anytime.
I do not actually assign a meal to a particular night (unless it has something in it that is time sensitive - like leftover turkey), as I find that if I assign them I'm more likely to just scrap making dinner and want to go out to eat if I don't feel like making that meal. When I just have a list, I can go down it until I find something I have enough time to make and feel like eating (more prominent while I'm pregnant I'd have to say!)
I have actually loved planning my menu with a focus on the veggies first! Before I'd plan what protein we were having and then sometimes not think of a vegetable until I was almost finished cooking dinner. The other food groups would only get added in if they were part of what I already made!
Once I have my whole menu, I make a grocery list and go shopping for everything I need for the whole week (lunches a lot of times are leftovers or very simple - grilled cheese -or string cheese with saltine crackers- with yogurt and carrot sticks, Peanut Butter sandwiches with bananas and pudding, etc.)
So that is how I plan my menu's... I know that there are SO many different ways to plan a menu but I thought I'd share my way. I hope it is helpful to at least one person out there!