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Friday, January 20, 2012

TGIF (Truly Great and Inexpensive Food): Dinner Menu Planning

Like every woman in America, I get sick of menu planning and grocery shopping. Now that my son is 18 and has his own busy schedule, it is very hard to plan dinners.  In thinking about how our weeks play out, I discovered that I only needed to plan and shop for four dinners a week.  This realization has improved my grocery bill tremendously and I am not constantly throwing food (and money) away.

Each week, I know that I will not cook something “new” on two nights - meaning that we will eat leftovers, have a dinner from pantry staples (soup, pancakes, etc.) or eat out.  When I menu plan, I prepare for a chicken or pork night, two beef nights (my men are carnivores) and one non-meat  night. 

Our week looks something like this:

Monday – Beef Night #1:  Tacos, spaghetti, meatloaf and “cheater’s” lasagna are the usual suspects.  Since these dishes usually produce leftovers, this comes in handy on Tuesday.  (Cheater’s lasagna is made from bowtie pasta instead of lasagna noodles.  When my son was little, he hated the big lasagna noodles and wouldn’t eat it.  One night, I was out of lasagna noodles and only had bowties or farfalle.  So I combined the bowties, sauce and ricotta and topped it with mozzarella and baked it off.  From that moment on, it became one of P’s favorite dishes – I think because it was easier to eat!)

Tuesday – (My Grocery Order Day) – FEND NIGHT: At our house, it’s my husband’s dart night so I do not cook.  We “fend” for ourselves.  I may eat cheese and crackers and have my own mini-cocktail party (a complete thrill for me) or we eat leftovers from Monday. 

Wednesday - Chicken or Pork Night:  Admittedly, I am not a chicken fan.  I try to find different things to do with it like put it in a chicken and rice casserole, grill it, or I may purchase a prepared Moravian chicken pie from a local shop to serve with a salad.  Pork tenderloin is our favorite “other white meat.” 

Thursday – Pasta:  In the summer, I grow basil and make my own pesto.  In the winter, I buy prepared pesto and make pesto linguine.  We also like lemon linguine made with grape tomatoes, garlic, lemon juice and basil.  My goal is to skip meat entirely on Thursdays.

Friday – It’s the end of the week – no cooking:  We order pizza occasionally or bake a frozen one.  If my son is usually out, my husband and I may have cheese and crackers and sit on the deck or we may go out.  We eat out about twice a month.  We’re also great at cleaning out leftovers on Friday nights.

Saturday – Beef Night #2:  Skirt steak is a favorite for us.  It’s inexpensive, cooks quickly and is great on top of salad, in fajitas or on its own with a potato and veggie.  Since we enjoy grilling year-round, Saturday nights are reserved for this activity.

Sunday – Soup Night:  I don’t count this in my menu plan because make something from my pantry staples like taco stew, French onion soup or tomato soup and grilled cheese.  In the winter, we make pancakes sometimes too.  Sundays are laid back and there is always a sporting event on TV so we re-charge from the weekend and get ready for the week ahead.

What menu planning strategies do you use?  I'd love to hear about them!

Have a great weekend!  

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