Menu planning: saving time, money and avoiding stress

After a long day away at work or home with the kids you open the fridge and stare with frustration. What can you cook for yourself and the family that can be done in under 30 minutes, doesn't break the bank account, and is nutritious?There are endless possibilities and not only can it be simple, economical, and healthy, but also enjoyable and relaxing. Yes, I said relaxing. The key to a relaxing evening at home with your family begins with organization. Menu planning is the first step to a stress free week of meals for your family. Planning in advance takes the guessing out of cooking. No more wondering what's for dinner tonight or the next night. All the necessary ingredients right at your fingertips, or actually, right in your fridge and pantry. We all have 15 minutes to sit down and decide what to eat for the next seven days. Just get off facebook or turn off the tube for a few minutes. There are several ways to approach this task. Here are some simple suggestions. You will need two pieces of paper. On the first piece write down all of your family's favorite meals. Next write down some meals that you'd like to try to make including all those recipes you tore out of magazines months ago. Sounds easy enough, right? Now that you have your master list of recipes, it's time to make a shopping list. On the second piece of paper write down all the meals for the upcoming week. For example, list all the days of the week, then write breakfast, lunch, and dinner. On this list write down a main dish and a couple of sides. Keep in mind what staples you already have in your pantry and freezer. Remember to write down the extras, such as snacks and desserts you may want to prepare that week. Check the ads from your local grocery store and plan around the weekly specials. While making your menu, think about your family's schedule for the upcoming week. If one night is filled with sports, meetings, church, or other activities, cook an easy meal that night. Perhaps that might be a great crock pot night or make a big salad in advance. Be creative. On the night or nights you'll be home, be adventurous. Try a new recipe or one that requires more prep time. Be flexible with your menu. Switch the menu around to adjust to your busy schedule. A home cooked meal can be enjoyed every night of the week when you plan ahead. You will save time and money because you won't be tempted to eat out next time you open the fridge. You will become motivated to cook because your family will be excited to know what they are eating every night. Believe me, it works. I have four children and kids love to know what they are having for dinner. Mealtimes will become enjoyable and relaxing. Who doesn't love a stress free night at home? Like my mom always, said, "Mangia, que te fa bene." "Eat, it's good for you."

********** Published: July 19, 2012 - Volume 11 - Issue 14