Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Large Family Recipes + Meal Planning

First of all, I wanted to announce a brand new area on the Lotsofkids.com website. Large Family Recipes is a new sub-site focusing on recipes for large families. These recipes are a compilation of recipes submitted by the LOK visitors and staff. There are currently over 350 recipes and the number is growing. Be sure to check it out HERE.

Also, I just posted a very extensive article on meal planning on the main LOK site. You can read it HERE. Now, admittedly, there are a lot of articles out there about meal planning. In fact, our blogger Denise did a post about this subject a while ago. Whether you use the system in the LOK article, Denise's, or another, meal planning is truly an essential in a large family kitchen. It can be hectic enough around the house. It really is a blessing to have one thing taken care of ahead of time.

One of my favorite frugal cooking sites was Steph's Kitchen (of www.stephskitchen.com--there are a few other Steph's out there and I don't want to get them confused). Steph offered hundreds of budget meals and recipes. I was saddened to learn that after being a staple of the internet for years, Steph closed her site for good late last year. One of the articles she had which I saved was on meal-planning. I am posting a copy of it below in the hopes that it will offer yet another viewpoint on how to meal and grocery planning.


Do you feel like thisafter a trip to the grocery store?

With three children, I know I sure have! But, since I simplified my meal planning and grocery shopping, I am able to breeze through the grocery store in less time and with less headache.

In my earlier days of marriage I would go to the grocery store empty handed~no list, no coupons, no store ad, and no earthly idea of what I was going to buy for a weeks worth of dinners. That must explain why we ate so much "prepared" food. Prepared food is okay once in awhile, but I like to rely on my own home-cooking now, and going to the grocery store un-prepared is a disaster waiting to happen~missing key ingredients, forgetting you need toothpaste, or only buying enough food to last 5 days instead of 7, then going back and doing it all over again!

So, with that in mind, skim through my meal planning tips and apply what will be of use in your household. Those I have shared my plan with say it's easy, quick, and saves them money. Use that money you saved to treat your family to an evening treat at Baskin Robins! Yum!



This part may be time consuming at first, but once you have completed this important step, you'll reap the rewards from having done it. There are many different ways you can organize your recipe files~by category, by ingredients, by ease/difficulty, alphabetical, etc. I have mine organized in Recipe Books according to category (Appetizers, Meat, Chicken, Casseroles, Soups, Cookies, Pies, etc.). This, with my cookbooks, magazines and index cards, are stored neatly in my pantry. Space will determine where you store your cookbooks and recipes, but if they're organized, they'll be easily accessible anywhere (except maybe the attic!).

Okay, now you have that job done~whew! You deserve a rich mocha espresso!

In your organizing, did you notice you have quite a few recipes that you have clipped or marked in a cookbook that you have not yet tried? I sure did! So, to eliminate the hunt-and-peck game for that "something new" to try, I created a simple file of just recipes to try. I took a big recipe filing box and made category cards (this can be fancy or simple, however you wish to do it). Then I filed all of the loose recipes behind the appropriate heading. On an index card or piece of paper for each category, write down "to try" recipes in cookbooks (title, cookbook and page number) and file them accordingly, too.

Now you're set...tried-and-true recipes are organized, and you have a handy box full of recipes you want to try. You are ready to begin meal planning.



Grab a piece of paper or two, a pen and your "To Try" box. If you shop weekly, number 1-7 on the top of your paper (1-14 for two weeks). Now you have 7 (or how many ever you're shopping for) dinners to plan (the fun part, I think). Start with line number one, and write down a complete meal (ie: Lasagna, Garlic Bread, Salad...or Grilled Steak, Rice Pilaf, Green Beans). Continue on down through the remaining lines, trying to add a new recipe or two if possible. I usually add 1-3 new recipes a week. I often put my family through what we call "the guinea pig test".

To save money, try to plan meals according to your grocery stores specials. If their chicken breasts are on sale, plan a couple of meals using chicken (there are several on my recipe page!), or the same goes with ground beef, roasts, pork chops, etc. Also browse your coupons for ones that expire soon and see if you can't incorporate that item into a meal or dessert. I can often times buy a box of cereal for well under $2 because I buy the store's special and use a coupon to go with it. I have bought items for pennies using this thrifty method. Another money-saving tip: plan on using leftovers! If you make a pot roast one night, automatically plan on French Dip Sandwiches the next night. Team it up with some home fries and a vegie or fruit of some sort and you'll have a complete and inexpensive dinner!



Once you have all numbered lines filled in with a complete menu, now go through those recipes and determine what ingredients you need to buy. Categorize your second sheet of paper (or the back of the first one) with appropriate headings (meat, dairy, produce, canned, frozen, bread, cleaning, etc.), leaving enough space in between categories to write down what you need underneath. Let's take the first line, Lasagna, Garlic Bread, and Salad. Under meat, do you need ground beef for your sauce? If so, write it down under "Meat" (or if you buy canned, write spaghetti sauce under "Canned"). Same with lasagna noodles, cheese, spices, etc. Continue on with the Garlic Bread and Salad. Once that line is completed, move on to line number two, and so on. Very simple, and not as time consuming as it may sound.

Once you have your dinner ingredients complete, decide if you'll be doing any baking in the next week or two. If you will, write down the ingredients you will need. Now is a good time to try a new dessert recipe!

Now go through your refrigerator and cupboards to determine what staples you are low on. Don't forget to keep breakfast and lunch items in mind...cereal, eggs, bread, fruit, etc. Make sure to check out your bathroom and cleaning needs, too. Running out of toilet paper is the pits!

Want something even easier? Keep a handy list posted on your refrigerator or somewhere within easy reach, and whenever you run out of something, write it on the list. Just grab that list when you're making out your shopping list!



This part is easy when you have a tidy little list with you! Bring along your list and menu, and your coupons. Make sure you take your menu, because often times I have had to refer to it during my shopping. Better to be safe than sorry. If you've been shopping in the same grocery store for awhile, you probably know the layout by heart (and you can even organize your shopping list by the store layout rather than category, if desired). Tackling the store now should be a breeze. You'll no longer be rushing around with no idea of what to buy, and going through the same aisles three times because you forgot something, or are "planning" meals as you go. We can all simplify life in small ways, just like this.



*** I do want to note that over the last couple of months, I have tried to reach Steph to offer her free hosting to put her site up again. Unfortunately, I have been unsuccessful at reaching her. In the past, she has allowed people to re-post her recipes and articles with proper credit, so I have posted the above article in that spirit. ***

On her original site, Steph offered a wide range of monthly menus which could be used for easy meal-planning. While her site is not up any more, you can find a copy of a good portion of it at the Internet Archive. Here is a link to the monthly menu page to help inspire you: Wayback Machine.