Yesterday, one of my dear cousins posted this on Facebook: "Trying to decide what to make for dinner.....hum... Whats on your menu this week?" She got quite a few responses, and I've seen several similar posts from my different circles.
It seems that the perennial, "What's for dinner?" will always be the bane of most moms. I've tried many systems over the last 15 years or so, and last year, finally found the one for me. It's actually a mix of several I've seen and tried over the years, but it is all ME. That said, I will tell you that while the format is set in stone, the variables are constantly changing. You'll see what I mean. Let me introduce you to my mealtime binder...
It's a simple 3-ring binder. I did find some cute scrapbook paper to put in the see-through pockets. I also sprung for deluxe dividers--the plastic kind with pockets. At this point, I'm only using 3 of the dividers,but that's OK; I've got ideas for the others. I chose to put all my pages in page protectors since this will spend most of it's time near the stove while I'm cooking. Finally, the best thing about it is that its all on my computer in MS Word so I can mark changes in the book then go and make them on the computer. I only have to print out a page or two here and there a couple times a year to keep it up-to-date.
Section 1: My Menues
I chose an 8-week rotating system. The main reason for this is that it makes long-term storage and buying with sales a little easier. I go through each week about six times the whole year. I have also worked 5 nights of new recipes into that 8 weeks --I'm always on the lookout for the next keeper. The backside is a master list for breakfast, lunch, and snack options. I worked with my kids to come up with these lists. They're pretty much on their own for these--I just keep us stocked up with choices.
I also keep a page-protected copy of these two pages on the side of my freezer for easy reference. We've had this posted in its various forms for about 4 years now. I use the menu side to keep up with dinner--getting things out of the freezer, making rolls or jell-o ahead of time, etc. My kids use the other list for inspiration as needed. My kids have basically been on their own for breakfast and lunches since my youngest was in Kindergarten.
Section 2: Recipes
I have found that I like having my recipes all in one place. I don't like to remember which recipe is in which book, much less which page it's on--heaven forbid I came across it while trolling the internet and printed it out. I felt like I was spending too much time finding my recipes. So, I collected them all into one word file, organized them by week and by day, including personal notes often, and voila! constant easy access. When the menu calls for a new recipe, I make a copy or rip it out of the magazine and put it into the pocket dividers so it is all still at my fingertips.
Section 3: Shopping Lists
For me, this is the most important section. Each week I don't have to think about grocery shopping very much. I can grab by master list, cross-check with my pantry for what we have on-hand and be off. I'm even working on getting it all onto my Grocery Gadget program on my i-phone. I can explain that cool little system another time if anyone is interested.
In addition to a shopping list for each week, I have an Overall Master List and a Perpetual Shopping List. The first includes everything I would need for a year's supply using my 8-week rotation. This is particularly helpful in stocking up with sales. The latter is for those quick trips when it feels like we're out of everything and I I'm not ready tor "the big trip."
Some of my ideas for the other sections in my handy-dandy notebook are 72-hour and year-supply storage inventory, holiday & special event menues, and recipes for baking (including master shopping list and pantry inventory).
I know this may seem quite intensive to set up, and it would be if you tried to just sit down and do it. I just made a point of taking the extra time to sit down and do what needed to be done during one 8-week cycle. I already had most of it in some form on my computer or on my cookbook shelf--I just sort of re-formed it into what I wanted it to be. The time it took has turned out to be so miniscule in comparison to what has been saved. The removal of that weekly 1-1/2 to 2 hour planning session before grocery shopping and the overall massive reduction of the frustration factor--truly priceless!