Monday, December 30, 2013

100 Nights of Dinner at Home: Meal Planning Basics

It's easy right?  Well, sort of.  After many years of doing this challenge I have learned one thing and it's a quote, I heard on a cooking show.
"Good intentions are not enough, they have yet to put the onion in the soup!"
So let's get organized and started. First you need to find out what you should eat during this 100 night challenge.  Who better to turn to than the people who love you most (ahem, that would be your FAMILY).
Get a pen and pencil, gather the family and make a list of their favorite recipes.  This one is easy! 100 recipes. Not that you will use every one of them - you will probably eat pizza more than once ;)  Want to get even more organized?  This is how we organize our favorites list.

Fast: Pizza, potstickers, stir fry, spaghetti, chili mac, Tacos, breakfast, fish tacos, meatloaf logs, burgers, BLT's, fried rice, sandwiches, chef salad, leftovers...

Slow Cooker/or advanced prep: pot roast, pulled pork, sweet and sour meatballs, chicken soup, pot pies...

Chicken favorites: BBQ, Enchiladas, chicken cordon blue, fried chicken, baked chicken, lemon chicken...

Meatless: Eggplant Parm, tofu burgers, stuffed peppers...

and also:

Sides etc: rice, refried beans, mac n cheese, mashed potatoes, scalloped potatoes, rice pilaf, sweet potato fries....

You can also organize by themes or ethinic styles like Chinese, American, Italian etc.

Now you have a nice list of things that your family would like to eat.  Remember, the challenge does not mean that you have to be miserable.  If you have discussed throwing in one meal a week that is "different" make sure you can mostly agree on what you want to make.  For instance, my husband doesn't really enjoy our meatless dinners.  So, I usually cook those when I know he will not be joining us for dinner. But, if he does happen to be willing to go without meat - we come up with something that he likes, like burgers and we use lots of secret sauce to cover up the taste of the tofu ( and then we laugh at his yuck faces LOL! )

The second part of the exercise is to grab a calendar.  This can be on your phone, a real paper calendar, computer, anything that gives you at least 100 days or more so you can log your start and end date.  This year is 2014 so we will be doing this challenge from January 1st to April 10th.  Remember, in the Introduction if you slip up - you add a night to the end.  Guaranteed, we will be adding a night or two (or three).

Next, the third step is to get a pencil (with an eraser) and organize your list by week - 100 nights is about 14 weeks plus a couple of days. Now, you can use your phone, a paper calendar, a white board etc.. But, you don't have to re-invent the wheel.  A quick google search for a meal planning calendar will give you lots of downloadable calendars.  I love this colorful one from Domestic8d.  It includes breakfast and lunch, but I just put dinner and sides in the box.  I print them front and back so I have two weeks worth of shopping info in my hands at once.
Now with your calendars you can mark any holidays that your family celebrates, it's easy to start there because you can explore theme Weeks.  Don't forget to mark any known out of town, vacation or other days.  Typically for our family holidays include: New Year's Day, My Birthday, Valentine's Day,  St. Patty's Day, and possibly Easter.  We make themes around these holidays just for fun!
Grab that list you made with your family and start spreading them out through your calendar.  You can put the fast meals on days your son has practice or crock pot meals on days you typically have meetings.  Think ahead where you can.

Now to complete your calendar, you can search for recipes. Ask your friends, look in cookbooks and magazines, follow my 100 Nights Pinterest Board or my other recipe Pinterest Board.  Don't forget to save tag, bookmark or otherwise file away your recipes - marking the location in your calendar helps stay organized!

Make your grocery lists for the items you don't already have in your pantry according to the menu items.  Eventually you will need to replenish your stocked items too.  It's best to do it as needed so you don't have a double grocery bill!
Here's a little dose of real life straight from my family.

It's Thursday and momma is dead tired. We have baked chicken with veggies and potatoes on the calendar. I have to defrost the chicken, cut it up, wash and chop the veggies... Forget it. Inside I know that I need a break, but I don't want to waste a "cheat" night on drive thru!!!! We like to save the cheats for something awesome like sit down dinner at our fav Chinese place after an awesomely fun day out with the family.  What is a mom to do???
Dig out the frozen pizza, open that backup bag of salad and just get through the night.  I know lots of people will have frozen pizza on their lists already anyway - but you get the idea - dig out something and just heat it up.  This is a good night for leftovers, breakfast, cereal, soup, sandwiches etc...that's why you checked out that Post of the Basics. 
No one said you couldn't have leftovers, prepackaged dinners, etc. You don't have to be miserable, it should be a challenge you look forward to.

And I'll let you in on a little secret, if you get through 100 nights or at least come close - you will have an awesome drive to continue - it's a habit now!!
Take a deep breath, set aside a couple of hours and start your journey!


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