Ok…Once a year I have to write a post on this. I can’t think of another area of my life that I have relieved as much stress as I have in the cooking department (maybe with the exception of recently cleaning/purging my house ). It did not come easy to me. When we were first married and became parents, I did not cook well. I had a few recipes that people gave me with wedding gifts, but we ate a lot of boxed foods, and just JUNK now that I look back on it.
For Christmas 2005, my husband gave me a copy of some cooking software. I looked at the box and thought he was crazy. What in the world would I ever do with cooking software? But then I read the back of the CD case, read the reviews online, read what that software would help me do, and I was hooked!
I learned to cook by recipes and ingredients, and have rarely if ever bought another boxed food item. This software and the beginning of meal planning was life changing for me…and I don’t say that lightly. I mean REALLY life changing.
I entered all of my favorite recipes into my software, used some of the recipes that came with the software, and found a few more favorites online. I began to compile menus for two weeks at a time. I wholeheartedly recommend the two week plan. Meal planning is not the most fun thing to do for some, so only having to do it every two weeks is great.
Here’s what I do:
I first look in my pantry/fridge to see what ingredients I have on hand. I can enter those ingredients into my software, and it will give me meal ideas from the recipes I have there…so cool! Next, I pick a few of our favorite recipes, and I set up a two week menu and fill it in. I try to have a couple chicken dishes and a couple beef dishes on each menu. I like to have one pasta dish, and one international dish if possible. I add soups to the menus during the cold months, and some during the warm months. We have seafood dishes on occasion as well. My crock pot is my friend in the kitchen, so I use a lot of crock pot recipes. I will add event dishes to my menus if we are going somewhere, and I make one dessert for every 2 week menu plan. Here is what my software looks like…
That column on the left is a list of all of my cookbooks. I can click on the cookbook I want, and scroll through it for recipes. I add those to my menus. Once the menus are complete, I click on “list”, and my software will make me a grocery list based on the recipes I chose, and the ingredients needed for them. Once I have the list in my hand, I do inventory of my fridge/pantry again to see what I have on the list and what I need to buy. I then hand write a final list and that is what I take with me to the store. I write it based on sections of the store, and it’s very easy to shop that way.
This is how a typical week’s menu prints out for me…
I am able to choose fun fonts for printing, and it prints out in an easy to read format. I print out both menus for the two week plan…seven days at a time. We eat leftovers on the weekends, so I only plan five days. This gets posted on the side of my fridge, along with a sheet protector filled with all of the recipes for that two week plan. A typical recipe looks like this…very easy to read and follow with ingredients listed at the top in columns, and directions underneath.
All I have to do when I’m ready to prepare a meal is grab that day’s recipe out of the sheet protector, and voila! I’m ready to make dinner. The nice thing about having the menus and recipes posted on the fridge, is that no one EVER has to ask me what is for dinner. They can just look at the menu. Now sometimes, due to circumstances beyond our control, I have to switch days around. That is not a problem at all. I just do it. I make the meal that was scheduled for that day another day. It is just whatever works out best for us. We are able to be a bit flexible.
Here are the menus and recipes posted on the fridge…Menus on top, recipes underneath. The watermelon pad is where I make lists of staples we need like toilet paper, etc. Things that would not be on a cooking list
I cannot express to you enough how much this has changed my life. It is something I only have to think about every two weeks, and then I don’t. I just grab a recipe and cook meals. My husband takes most leftovers for his meals at work, and we eat some on the weekends. Otherwise we just have soup and sandwiches or stuff like that…easy peasy. I am a person who THRIVES on routine, order, schedules and everything in its place. Menu planning allows me to have that in a very important area of our lives. I can still be flexible, but for the most part we follow a schedule, and it relieves a lot of stress for me.
Meal planning has saved us money. I only buy what is on my list. I used to shop grabbing whatever looked good to me, and would find ingredients months down the road that were never used. I have cut our grocery bill well in half doing this, and most two week shopping trips, we come out having only spent $150 or less, both stores combined. That’s pretty good for a family of four.
For Christmas this past year, my husband bought me the updated version of my cooking software (and I got two extra copies for a STEAL). I will soon be able to get an iPhone app for the software that will make it even easier to shop. I can email recipes easily with the software, and I can even type the name of a dish in the search engine, and it will find a recipe for me online. Then I just click “capture”, and the recipe is automatically entered. SO NICE.
I gave one of my copies of my software to my sister, but I still have one left. It is normally around $100 to buy it (SO worth it), but if any of my local friends that read my blog think that this could be for them, I’d be happy to GIVE them the other copy. (Sorry…not into shipping and you MUST be serious about this. I don’t want to give it to someone that doesn’t really want to give this menu planning business a shot )
The example of the recipe I posted was for Mexican Chicken Stuffed Shells. It was a new recipe, and I was excited to try it. It was a bit more work than most recipes I use (I go with easy prep recipes ), but it made two batches. I cooked one tonight for dinner, and put the other one in the freezer for a future meal. Next time will not mean as much work! The meal was very tasty, and I’ll definitely make it again. This is what it looked like, and this is the picture that I will enter into the recipe so that I can see what it looks like when I’m choosing recipes. I always try to add a picture, because that helps greatly in recipe selection.
I LOVE to talk about meal planning and cooking software, because it is something that has changed my life, and has relieved a great deal of stress. Cooking is easier now, and the whole family gets involved in the planning and preparation of meals now. We love it! Maybe I will start posting my menus, and some of my recipes again. I really enjoyed doing that!
Local friends….let me know if you are interested in this software. It has been a great help to me.