October 18, 2010

Meal Plan Monday | You Need a MELLY!

I plan my family's dinners in five week blocks to maximize my savings at the grocery store and minimize my stress at dinner time. You can read more about my strategy here in my Q&A post here.

I also answered several more questions about how I plan my big ol' menus and how I shop for them.  For more Q&A (because you're just dying to know, right?), click here.


I posted my October Menu Plan last week; I'll be sticking to this week's menu with one small change. We have another event this weekend (kid-related) and will be munching on some yummy cookout food at the party. I've moved the rest of the menu around for the week to accommodate Sunday as our *free night* rather than Saturday.

As I've mentioned before, I menu plan far in advance for our dinners (usually 4-5 weeks). While it might seem that this would be harder to do than planning a week at a time, it's actually easier for me in the long run.

First, I can look ahead to all the busy nights on our schedule and plan easy or freezer meals (meals I made doubled amounts of and froze the extras for quick dinners) for those nights.

Second, I can save more money on staples for the meals (particularly meats) by keeping an eye on the sales. If I see ground beef on sale (like the rock bottom price of $1.57/lb this week at Kroger), I'll buy what I need for the coming weeks based on how many meals I have planned that require ground beef. I just toss it in my freezer and thaw it when I need it.

But the biggest reason why menu planning for 4-5 weeks at a time is easier than a week at a time for me is simply this: I have a MELLY.

No, not smelly - though it is laundry day here and I am finding that basketball practice for (2) kids = seriously stinky laundry hampers!

MELLY isn't my personal assistant or chef, either, (oh, how nice that would be!).

Nope, MELLY is just a little acronym I came up with a while ago to help me with my big ol' menu plans. Here's what it stands for:

                   :: Meals Everyone Likes List {for} Your {family}

See? Not too complicated. ;-)

When I first shifted from writing weekly menu plans to writing 4-5 week menu plans, I spent fifteen minutes or so looking back over my weekly menus (I keep written copies of my menus; I know, in the age of everything digital, I am a bit of a pencil and paper throwback) and noting the meals that most everyone in my family of five enjoyed.

Note that I say *most* everyone. I can't and don't expect to please two adults and three kids every night of the week at the dinner table. I shoot for four out of five and encourage my kids to just TRY it. Most times, they do try at least a bite. Sometimes they discover they like it, sometimes not.

After I had those meals I found on my older menu plans added to the list, I asked my kids and hubs for their input. Many of the meals they said were already on my list but there were a few that weren't. Those got added, too.

By the time I was done, I had a good list of 20 or so main dishes and about 20 sides/vegetables on my MELLY

Now when I need to menu plan for the coming month, I take a look at my MELLY and use that as a guide to filling in the busier days.  On days when I see that I'll have a little extra time, I might toss in a new recipe (like this week's New Orleans Corn Bisque with Smoked Sausage) to try.  Sometimes the newer recipes end up to be so well- liked by my gang that  - you guessed it - they get added to the MELLY, too.

Next week, I'll share my MELLY with you all (with recipe links) in the hopes that it might be useful to you in creating your own MELLY

If you have any tried and true recipes that your family loves to see on the dinner table, please share them in a comment below.  If there's a link to the recipe online, feel free to leave that in your comment.  I'm always on the lookout for new dinner ideas for my bunch.  ;-)

Looking for more menu planning inspiration?  Be sure to hop through the Menu Plan Monday links over at OrgJunkie.

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