Saturday, January 18, 2014

Menu Planning

I'm still struggling with menu planning. I hate trying to figure out what is going to make everyone happy... LOL But the other day I saw something on a friend's Facebook thread about this issue and it was GENIUS!!! It was so simple that many will say "duh," but I needed it spelled out for me.  The page suggested creating a weekly menu plan using Google calendar and when you add a meal, set it to repeat at a given interval (2 weeks, 6 months, yearly etc).

Also - put the ingredients/recipe/link in the "event" description so you don't have to dig for it each time it comes up!

I planned out 2 weeks worth of meals yesterday and when I looked at my future months I have SO MANY MEALS already planned!! Look, here's December based on what I planned - two weeks of meal planning NOW gives me months that look like THIS... Imagine what it will start to look like over the next several weeks when I add more meals.

There are days that maybe two (or more) meals coincide - no problem - as you prepare the grocery list for the week, decide which meal you want and ignore the other! Look at the 26th, three meals to choose from!

Decide you want something new/different this week? No problem... ignore the scheduled meal and add the new one to the rotation. Also - it's so easy to switch around the days each week. Realize you don't have enough time on Monday to make a big meal, but you do on Thursday? no big deal, you've already got the meals planned, and groceries bought for the meal, just swap it around as you need.

Gosh! This is so exciting to me, and will take away so much of my frustration that comes from TRYING to figure out what to eat weekly.

I'm also using a 30 day free (no billing information required) trial of Plan to Eat (associate link - please use this link if you decide you want to give it a try... this stay at home mommy to two hungry kiddos will get a bit of a discount on my next renewal fee) where I can store & share recipes, menu plan & the page generates your shopping list based on ingredients & servings. Admittedly I am still trying to figure it all out myself but I LOVE what I see so far.

Let's start at the beginning:
Adding recipes - there are various methods of doing this.
     1. You can manually enter the recipe... adding each ingredient/amount individually and then typing in the steps etc. This method might make the grocery list the cleanest in the long run.
     2. You can copy/paste the recipe using their "bulk" entry method. Make sure that you put the directions in the directions section, not in the same box as the ingredients. That really musses up the grocery list! Speaking from experience here.
     3. Bookmark bar button - You know how on Pinterest, there is that button that you can download so that you can pin from anywhere on the web? Or how Amazon has a button you can download so that you can add something to your wishlist, from anywhere on the web?? Guess what!!!?? Plan To Eat also has a button to download so you can add recipes to your recipe box from anywhere on the web!!
     4. Friends - add your friends (add me - please use my associate link) and you will have access to any of THEIR public recipes!!

Planning - again there are a few ways to do this. Here is what I have discovered so far:
     1. When you add a recipe, once it saves successfully, there is an option to "add to planner" or "add to queue" (more on the queue later)
     2. The same options exist when you are reviewing existing recipes (yours or someone else's)
     3. The Planner page - when you click the planner page, the screen shows a calendar front and center with your recipes along the left side bar (see below). Drag/drop the recipe to the appropriate day/meal (breakfast/lunch/dinner/snack) on the planner.

     4. "Copy" once you have a few days/weeks/months planned you can click on "edit planner", select the days/weeks etc that you want to copy and where you want to copy them to and "poof" almost like magic!

About the "queue" feature - say you are talking to your husband in the middle of the week and he says "Oh, Honey, you know what we haven't had in a LONG time that sounds really good right now?" You can go in and add that to your queue so that you don't forget about it when you sit down to plan the next time! 

The grocery list is sorted by "aisle" - but allows you to customize the aisles. For example, you buy tortillas from the dairy cooler instead of the International foods aisle - switch it so it shows up by your milk, instead of by the salsa) -- and it allows you to add other items (need shampoo, but not to cook with? No problemo!)

Really the only drawback that I had today (this was my first outing to the store using the list) was:

When I do my own grocery list if I have 4 recipes that call for chicken broth, I quickly do the math (2c + 1/4 c + 1/3 c) and put chicken broth on my list ONE time with a grand total "at least 3 c." Not so on PtE - I had several recipes that called for onions and this is how that section of my list looked:

I'm sure that with a little work, and maybe some editing of how "onion" is listed in the ingredients it would do it (I see here that it did combine "onions" from recipe C and recipe J - so that MIGHT be the thing...back to "manual" input method cleaning up the grocery list)

Now I am working to integrate the Google method into PtE - currently I plan and "repeat" on Google calendar and then go drag/drop onto the corresponding dates on Plan to Eat. I haven't yet figured out an easier method.  BUT - These two little things have seriously changed my outlook on meal planning.

This was a lot to get through, and I'm sure it's quite confusing as you're reading through it - please - ask any questions and I will do my best to help figure it out! Hopefully you've found something to make your meal planning easier also!

Now - who wants to help me tackle couponing??!!

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