Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Menu Planning

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Cooking has always been a challenge for me.  I really don't like to do it!  Since I'm home, it's my responsibility, but it's one I'd gladly get rid of!  I have been on a quest this past week to develop a system where I have to cook as little as possible but still provide homemade, healthy meals for our family.  This is the first week of the new system, so it's in test run phase, but it's working very well!

the 2-week make ahead plan
The basic idea of this plan is that it provides a self-sustaining system where, with the exception of Sundays, I only have to cook 3 times in two weeks.  Meal planning is done in 2-week blocks.  Monday - Saturday of each week is accounted for, which means there are 12 total meals in the rotation. 

Here's how it works:

Before you start, you need EIGHTEEN meals in the freezer.  That is really the worst part of the whole plan, because cooking that much is quite a big commitment.  However, once you're done with that, it is easy to maintain.  I found 12 recipes that we like, and I did the following:

Meals 1, 2, 3 = none made
Meals 4, 5, 6 = 1 each made and frozen
Meals 7, 8, 9 = 2 each made and frozen
Meals 10, 11, 12 = 3 each made and frozen

Weeks 1 & 2:
I put the odd meals on week 1 and the even meals on week 2.  This way the cook days get separated, and the meals are only repeated once in a two week period.  Aside from my 3 cooking days, everything else is being taken from the freezer:

Week 1                                                        Week 2
M: #9                                                           M: #4
T: #5                                                            T: #6
W: #3 (cook 4, eat 1 freeze 3)                      W: #2 (cook 4, eat 1 freeze 3)
Th: #11                                                        Th: #8
F: #1 (cook 4, eat 1 freeze 3)                       F: #12
Sa: #7                                                          Sa: #10

At the end of week 2, my meal count will look like this:

Meals 1, 2, 3 = 3 each made and frozen
Meals 4, 5, 6 = 0 in the freezer (will be made during weeks 3 & 4)
Meals 7, 8, 9 = 1 each in the freezer
Meals 10, 11, 12 = 2 each in the freezer

During the 2-week period, 9 meals come out of the freezer and 9 meals go in.  When a meal comes up as a 0 and needs to be cooked, I can change the recipe and switch it up.

Here is a chart of an entire 8-week cycle.  I left the meals in order, but you could move them around.

Week 1:          Week 2:         Week 3:          Week 4:        Week 5:         Week 6:
M: 1 (cook)    M: 2 (cook)    M: 1                M: 2              M: 1               M:2
T: 3 (cook)     T: 4                 T: 3                 T: 4 (cook)    T: 3                 T: 4
W: 5               W: 6               W: 5 (cook)    W: 6 (cook)   W: 5               W: 6
Th: 7               Th: 8               Th: 7               Th: 8             Th: 7 (cook)  Th: 8 (cook)
F: 9                 F: 10               F: 9                 F: 10            F: 9 (cook)     F: 10
Sa: 11             Sa: 12            Sa: 11             Sa: 12          Sa: 11           Sa: 12

Week 7:           Week 8:                         I move my cook days around (as you can see in my first example.)
M: 1                 M: 2                               If you don't care when you cook you can just follow this schedule.
T: 3                  T: 4                                I just make sure I keep the odds in the same week and the evens in
W: 5                 W: 6                              the other week so we don't have a repeater too close together.
Th: 7                 Th: 8
F: 9                   F: 10 (cook)
Sa: 11 (cook)   Sa: 12 (cook)

Here's our current meal schedule:

1: Baked Penne and Chicken with Mushrooms
2: Chicken Jilly (my SIL Jillian's chicken chili recipe!)
3: Bagged Stouffer's Meal*
4. Spaghetti Pie
5. Cream Cheese Chicken and Noodles
6. Burritos
7. Creamy Corn and Red Bell Pepper Soup
8. Manicotti
9. Beef and Barley Soup
10. Chicken and Rice Casserole
11. Beef Pot Pie
12. Beef Tamale Pie
*(this is a stand in.  another stand in could be your husband grilling, etc, so you really don't have to cook this night, you just know that once every 2 weeks there needs to be something else ready.  Or this could be a super easy meal prep night, like salmon as Katie was suggesting.)


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