Menu Plan Monday ~ Week of August 29, 2011 & Tips to Fill Out Your Menu Plans

Menu Plan MondayWe survived the first week of school and the kidlet’s birthday mostly intact and with very little stress. I’m going to chalk the week up as a win. However, week two of school is proving to be even more hectic than week one. We have plenty of parent meetings and the start of the kidlet’s after school theater program. This means we’re not quite into the school rhythm but we’re getting closer. The busy week will impact our evening menus so I’m trying to stay both flexible and practical so I don’t just give up the ghost entirely and stop at a restaurant every night of the week. I think I’ve found a good balance of quick meals and those that I can put a little more time and energy into. First, before I dive into this week’s plan, I thought I’d continue to share some of my tips for menu planning.

Filling Out Your Menu Plan, Painlessly

Last week I included some of my favorite tips for kick starting your menu plan. Once you know what meals you don’t have to cook, it’s time to move onto filling in the rest of the blanks with the meals you will be cooking. I don’t know about you, but sometimes my menu mojo fails me when I’m faced with a (mostly) empty plan. I find these tricks particularly helpful when I need to get the creative juices flowing:

  • Turn to one or two stand-by dishes. An interesting thing that food blogging has taught me is that every meal doesn’t have to be new and different. In fact my family likes to revisit familiar dishes on a somewhat regular basis. It brings a sense of comfort and continuity to the table. My life is easier too so everybody wins. I have about six simple family favorite dishes that I rotate through every three to four weeks: taco bar, burgers, flank steak, roasted chicken (including the ones from the rotisserie at the grocery store), stir fry, and make your own pizza night. While none of these is earth shattering in it’s inventiveness, the family is excited when they find out we’re having a favorite dish.
  • Make one night a week “new recipe” night. To balance out family favorites, find at least one night a week to try a new dish. I often experiment on the weekends when I have more time. While not every dish is a keeper, we avoid falling into ruts and I get to push our collective tastebuds’ boundaries a bit.
  • Keep a gallery of recipes to try. Many of us clip recipes — either the old fashioned way with scissors or the new fangled electronic way — but note that I didn’t say “clip recipes to try”. Instead, I encourage you to start a Pinterest pin board of menu plan recipes to try. I wrote about how I use Pinterest a few weeks ago and one of the reasons I store my to-try recipes there is because the galleries are so very beautiful. Even when I’m as blocked as a menu planner can be, one trip to my Pinterest boards and I’m sure to find inspiration and a reminder of a dish I’ve been wanting to bring to our family table.

The Plan

Given how busy we’ll be this week, I’m going to do my best to plan dinners that are very easy on those nights so I’ll be more motivated to actually make them. One night we’ll have to rely on drive through chicken; otherwise we’d have to eat dinner at 4:30 or at 9:30. I’m looking forward to settling into a more stable routine next week.

  • Monday: Chick-fil-a between meetings and classes
    When I was on Weight Watchers I spent a lot of time examining drive through menus for the best tasty yet not too unhealthy options. Chick-fil-a has a collection of reasonably healthy items on the menu so it’s my go-to spot when I have to rely on a drive through.
  • Tuesday: Burritos (freezer stash), salad
    I have a food blogger event on Tuesday so the kidlet and her dad will be on their own. They can easily reheat burritos from my freezer stash and toss a quick salad together.
  • Wednesday: Pulled pork sliders (freezer stash), fresh veggies with dip
    It’s back to school night after an appointment so we’ll all be hungry as soon as we walk in the door. To keep us on track I’ll raid the freezer for two nights in a row. Raw veggies with a quick greek yogurt dip will be a simple side that’s just a little bit fun.
  • Thursday: Mongolian Beef over steamed rice
    This will be our first evening at home without a meeting, class, or other activity. It’s the end of the week though and I know from experience that I’ll be dragging. This stir fry comes together very quickly and makes great leftovers. I’ll substitute broccoli for green onions for some additional vegetable oomph.
  • Friday: Pecan-crusted chicken breasts, Linguine with Two Cheese Sauce (with added spinach)
    The meat counter downstairs from my Whole Foods office makes chicken breasts with a nut breading that are ready to pop into a saute pan. I’ll serve them with a quick pasta dish to which I’ll add some spinach to round out the meal.
  • Saturday: Spicy Apricot Wings, Pretzel Bites, Greek Nachos, Baked Southwest Egg Rolls
    Hook ‘Em Horns!!! The Texas football season starts this week and we’ll be watching from the comfort of our living room noshing on a collection of bar-style food but better than you’d find at any sports bar. If all goes well I’ll get a blog post out of this menu just in time for NFL opening weekend.
  • Sunday: Grilled lamb, slow cooked green beans, Beecher’s Mac and Cheese, baked butternut squash risotto
    This menu has three purposes: make a batch of green beans I can eat on all of next week, make a triple batch of mac and cheese I can freeze for quick snacks and sides, and test out the idea of baked risotto. I’m also hoping that by moving into some cool weather cooking I can help coax the fall to find its way to Texas.

Is your family getting back into the fall groove or are you still settling in? How are you handling routine changes as you make your menu plans? Please share your tips in the comments.

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