March 20, 2014

Meal Planning 101

As a SAHM, meal prep is one of the most important things I do around the house. A little over 18 months ago, I worked out a way to organize my meal planning and grocery shopping, and it's been working out great. Now, if only I could get the rest of my life that organized!
Here's how I do my meal planning, one month at a time:

First, I got a magnetic, combination dry erase/cork board and used it to create a perpetual calendar.
You could pick one of these up at any office store, such as Staples, Office Max, Office Depot, etc. If it's Back-to-School time, you can also probably find them at Walmart or Target.
I used a yard stick and permanent markers in the colors of my kitchen to mark out a grid on the dry erase portion of the board.

Initially, I intended to write in meal choices with the dry erase marker, but I quickly found that didn't work as well as I had hoped. Dry erase marker ink contains alcohol, so it ended up ruining my permanent marker lines. Since the board was magnetic, I was able to print out a bunch of meal cards that are held onto the board via magnets. The cards are standard business card size (2"x3") that I typeset and printed using Microsoft Publisher. I printed mine out on standard 8.5"x11" white cardstock and cut them out by hand, but pre-perforated business card stock would make that even easier.
I try to keep the meal choices healthy, with familiar kid-friendly choices, as well as items to keep the adults interested. I switch up my meal choices four to six times a year for variety - usually on a seasonal basis. Fall and winter tend to be made up of casseroles and soups or stews, while spring and summer have lots of salads, and dishes that can be made in a skillet or the crockpot. Anything to avoid turning on the oven in southern summers! I also make sure to always include cards for when we might be "Out of Town" and for "Leftovers" as well as a couple of  "Try Something New" for any recipes I might be auditioning.
As for finding meal ideas to include, is my go-to site for new recipes. I also have a meal planning board on Pinterest for things that look interesting.

For the magnets, I got 1/2" round, self-adhesive magnets and a bag of assorted 3/4" buttons from the craft store. I attached the buttons to the magnets, but I didn't have enough red and blue buttons to match my kitchen, so I painted them with glitter nail polish to cover the wrong colors and to add a little pizzazz. ;-)
The numbers for the dates on my perpetual calendar are also magnetic. I used 1/4" adhesive magnet strips and attached them to numbers I printed out, then I cut the numbers apart into 1/4" squares. Having the numbers on magnets makes them easy to move around each month. I did the same thing for each of the month headings and days of the week, using inch wide magnetic tape and card stock. The months live on the side of the fridge when not in use.
To store the menu cards, I made small library card pockets out of printed cardstock. I drew my template freehand, but you can find them all over the internet with a quick google search. Standard card pockets will most likely be too big, so I would recommend reducing them to 80% or so.
I attached the card pockets to the unused cork section of the board with hot glue and they have held up really well for over a year and a half. The pockets are labeled behind the cards - chicken dishes, pork dishes, beef dishes, various (for meals that can be made with any meat), and vegetarian/fish for Meatless Mondays.
The cards go up on the board like so, and each week on Tuesday, I check the board and make my grocery list for Wednesday's shopping trip. Admittedly, the button magnets partially block what is on the cards. I could change the magnets, or rework the cards to avoid this, but to be honest, it doesn't bother me that much.
For the first six months or so, I used a pre-printed grocery list every week. It had every ingredient I might possibly need for every meal on the board, organized by the layout of the store. Each week instead of writing a list, I would just highlight what I needed on the pre-printed list. It worked out okay, until I swapped out the meals and had to completely rework the list. I also found that there were often things I needed that had not been put on the list in the first place.
Now, I just write that mess on notebook paper every Tuesday and I am good to go. ;-)
(I still organize my list by the layout of the store though. It just makes so much more sense than running back and forth because you forgot something!)

Please feel free to hit me up with meal planning questions you might have - I love to cook and share ideas!

March 16, 2014

The coaching continues

Back on March 1st our two teams for Odyssey of the Mind competed at the regional tournament.
Both of our teams placed at regionals and are now going on to the state competition in Charlotte, NC on April 5.
In an effort to get the kids ready to face tougher competition, we have been practicing with them 6 days a week. (I initially typed 67 days a week, but it only feels that way.)
I'm trying to do better about making regular blog entries, but honestly I haven't had anything interesting to talk about beyond OM - and let's face it, that's only interesting to me.

So if you are reading this, bear with me. I'm going to try to get back on track, I promise. I can't quit you, baby. Etc, etc.