The Crazy Hat Box

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Planning a Monthly Dinner Menu

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Do you ever stand in your kitchen at 5:30pm and know that you need to make dinner, but you have absolutely no idea what to make?  It’s not that you don’t have plenty of food, but without a recipe, it’s all just a bunch of purposeless ingredients.  I do this more than I care to admit.  Enter the monthly menu plan!

A few years ago, in efforts to reduce the amount we spent on groceries, and to decrease the number of times I stood in my kitchen for 15 minutes trying to think of what to have before just making grilled cheese, I started grocery shopping once a month, which forced me to plan a dinner menu for the month.  That way, on my one trip to the grocery store a month, I was able to buy all the ingredients for all the meals I planned to make.

I’ve perfected monthly meal planning to how it works best for my family, so I thought I’d share a few pointers.

1. You Don’t Have to Plan 30 Meals

Monthly menu planning can seem really overwhelming when you think you have to plan and shop for 30 meals.  But in reality, we rarely eat at home every day of the week.  Think about your week.  Are there days you don’t eat at home?  We eat at my parents’ house once a week, and at my in-laws’ once a week.  There are two meals I don’t have to plan. Maybe you have family dinners or you know you eat out so many times over the month.  Subtract those times.

Then, take into consideration that some meals are going to be things you can quickly put together – meals you know you always have ingredients for.  I know that at least once a week I’m not going to want to make a meal I have to read a recipe for.  These are your go-to meals for busy/lazy days.  For us, it’s Chicken Noodle Soup or Pizza or Breakfast Food.

Finally, allow for left-overs.  If you make big batch of soup on Monday and know you’ll have leftovers, plan to have it again on a day you won’t feel like cooking.  You can even mix it up so it doesn’t feel like the same meal.  Add another ingredient before warming it up, or serve different sides with it.

Tip: Write your recipes on a white board or chalk board, along with where to find the recipe (Pinterest or recipe book with page number) so you can easily see your options for meals to make.

2. Don’t be Overzealous

When I pick recipes, I peruse Pinterest or recipe books I have (one of my favorites is Betty Crocker’s Quick and Easy Cookbook), but I don’t pick anything that has more than about 7 ingredients.  While I would like to think I can cook like a gourmet chef, in reality, I’m not going to want to test that theory on a Tuesday night.  Pick things you’re comfortable making, things you’re familiar with.  If you want to try new meals to expand your cooking expertise, pick one recipe that’s more challenging.  And remember, you have to shop for these ingredients – don’t pick recipes that you’ll have to run all over the city to find ingredients for.

Tip: When picking Pinterest Recipes, create a board just for that month’s recipes.  That way, they’re easier to find and you won’t have to scroll through every recipe you’ve ever pinned.  Just remember to move recipes to you other recipe board at the end of the month, before adding new recipes for the next month!

3.  Pick Recipes That Compliment Each Other

When you’re looking through recipes, think about how you can use the same ingredients for other meals.  For example, if I’m planning on making a chicken in the crockpot, I plan on another meal that also uses chicken because we’re not going to eat a whole chicken in one meal.  I might choose to make Chicken Noodle Soup or Chicken Enchiladas later that week.  This will decrease the waste of ingredients not used up and will also help you save money on your grocery bill.

Tip: Pay attention to cook or prep times.  I can’t tell you how many times I’ve chosen a recipe and stood in my kitchen ready to cook only to realize I should have marinated something overnight or that I have to let dough rise 15 times over 3 hours. 

4.  Don’t Forget the Sides

I very rarely plan to have specific sides with my main courses, but I always try to have a good selection of vegetables, fruits, rice, pastas, etc., I know my family will eat. Then, I just make a couple of those to have a well-rounded meal.


I usually plan for about 12-15 dinners a month.  Then, I get all the ingredients in one shopping trip.  That way, I have a go-to list of recipes to make, and I already have everything it takes to make them.  Please note, I don’t plan a menu for breakfasts or lunches, mainly because my family eats the same basic things for those meals, so they don’t require much planning.

Still having trouble coming up with meal ideas?  Visit our Pinterest Board The Chef’s Hat – Monthly Meal Planning Ideas.

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January Blues

I hate January.  Christmas and New Year’s is over, and so are the parties and family events.  I no longer give myself excuses to eat unhealthy (but so delicious) foods, and we’re back on a budget.  January is blah.  It’s dreary.  It’s long.  It’s cold.  And with the exception of my beautiful sister’s birthday (and it’s the last day of the month so, really, it could be counted as a February event), there is nothing to look forward to.

With that in mind, and the knowledge that I am subject to getting the January blues, I decided to start a thankfulness journal.  Every day, I write one thing I’m thankful for that day.  It can be big stuff or little stuff, but it must be specific to me – not something vague like “life” or “the air I breathe”.  My intention is to do this every January, so I’m leaving room under each day’s thankfulness log for next year’s log.  Then, I can look back on what I was thankful for exactly one year (or hopefully more) ago.

Yesterday, I was thankful for one last day of winter break.  A chance to be with my family before everyone went back to school and work.  One more day of not running a taxi service.

Today, I’m thankful for my new Converse shoes.  Shallow, right?  But I am. They made school drop-off, grocery shopping, laundry, and getting back into the daily grind a little more tolerable.

What about you?  How do you combat January’s blahness? grateful

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