The Make a Menu Binder
I've only been menu planning for a few months, but when I follow a plan my time spent thinking about, shopping for, and preparing meals is significantly reduced!
Leslie at Menu Maker Mom has a step by step plan for creating a make-a-menu binder. (Scroll to the bottom of the link to see step one). Leslie's outline begins with you collecting a list of family favorites by asking each member for their list of favorites. Next you compile the favorites into categories, beef, chicken, meatless, etc. Then you compare your list of meal ideas with what you have in the freezer, if you don't have anything in the freezer Leslie has you go to your grocery store ad. This is a tremendous help to the meal budget as you are making use of what you already have on hand or you are purchasing the loss leader meats from the sale flyer.
Leslie plan has you print out a blank calendar where you will fill in family activities and your meal plan. If you will be out at the soccer field for 3 practices on a given night you will probably be packing a picnic dinner (and avoiding the drive thru). Leslie's plan was a tremendous help to me. With eight children and many different activites in the evenings I was able to step back and see who was going to be at the table on a given night and what time dinner should be prepared so as many of us as possible could dine together. Before her plan I can remember putting dinner on the table right after 3 people had left and realizing that if I'd only scheduled dinner 30 minutes earlier we could have had a "family" meal.
I am still making my binder. I have so many recipes to go through and categorize. I am looking forward to having a completed Make a Menu Binder (by Christmas at least!). Check out Leslie's blog and make your 4 o'clock hour an easy one!