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Friday, November 07, 2008

Finding a meal planning system that works

I love the concept of meal planning. As I mentioned in my budgeting post a few weeks ago, I know for sure that meal planning helps us save money. The problem is that I have a hard time sitting down and actually doing it. Though I'm always bookmarking great recipes to my account, I can never recall them when it's time to plan the meals.

I don't think I've mentioned it here, but a few months ago I started writing for Cool Mom Picks (THE best mom shopping site out there, if I do say so myself). Mir, one of my fellow writers, wrote about the Relish! meal planning system a few weeks ago, and I promptly signed up for an account. I love this system, and, surprisingly, it's actually working for us. (I am surprised because I am never consistent with anything.)

Every Thursday, I get a link to the following week's dinner options. What I love about the site is that there is a lot of flexibility. I can choose any five meals I want from a list of 15, and they are very varied. Once my meals are selected, I choose the number of people eating each meal (I do six servings to cover the au pair and leftovers), and then a shopping list and recipes are generated as a PDF for easy printing.

Shopping is a BREEZE with this system. Everything is broken down by aisle, so I can easily write in any extra items I need (like Max's beloved apple juice or our never-ending supply of milk). I think it's really important to note that I don't follow the system exactly. Sometimes I use it just as a jumping off point. Like, last week I printed out a Mexican recipe, but because it was election week, and my emotions were making me tired (seriously), I kept it simple, and we did plain 'ol tacos instead of the Relish! option. All main dish recipes include a side dish recipe as well, but sometimes I'll adjust to make things easier on myself. For example, I'll use those organic Alexa French fries instead of making rice.

All of the recipes are coded with symbols that indicate the type of meal. For example, some are KF for kid-friendly, or C for crockpot. I have been choosing one crockpot meal each week, and for next week's menu, I made sure to also select one labeled with an M for morning prep.

We've only had one dud recipe (chicken in a crockpot with butternut squash), and I've been really impressed with the variety. I am making things that I would never usually make, and finding new favorites for the family. I also love the use of fresh herbs and nuts (an underused ingredient in dinner planning).

Next week our menu looks like this:

- Buttermilk unfried chicken, broccoli with herb butter (I'm guessing my family will want me to add potatoes as well, and I might swap out the broccoli since it's featured in another recipe as well)
- Apricot lemon chicken in the crockpot, butternut squash, couscous
- Bleu cheese burgers with sauteed onions, spicy french fries (kids will have regular cheese burgers, I'm sure)
- Creamy pasta with lemon and prosciutto, boston lettuce witih shaved parmesan
- Peanut rotini with broccoli, Asian spinach salad

Are you guys using systems that aren't your own? I know that Lauren played around with Six O' Clock Scramble for a while.


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