Menu Planning for the Indecisive and Forgetful

I’ve long admired people who plan menus, and I have tried to emulate them in fits and starts and with varying degrees of success.  The problem is that I am somewhat extemporaneous in my cooking style (which is to say, I am seemingly unable to follow recipes without changing things and I like the flexibility of doing something entirely different at a moment’s notice) and prone to discouragement if I don’t stick to lists and schedules I’ve set for myself.

At long last I have developed a solution that works for me. I survey what I have on hand in the freezer and pantry, check what’s on sale at the store that week, find a few new recipes I want to try that use those ingredients, fill in the rest with tried and true recipes and plot out a week or two of dinners.

But wait, you say, isn’t that just regular menu planning???

No!  See, I always thought that you were supposed to take your lovely menu plan and then, you know, stick to it day by day in the order you designed it.  I got totally stressed when something came up and I could not stick to the plan.  In case you’ve wondered, being a Type A perfectionist is really awesome.  Now, instead of viewing my meal plan as an immovable axis along which all of existence turns, I have given myself permission to mess with it.

For example, in the randomly chosen week pictured above, I planned to make Cassoulet on Monday.  However, once Monday afternoon rolled around, I realized I had forgotten to soak the beans overnight.  Then, after scanning the recipe, which I rarely remember to do in advance, I realized that I had no duck confit.  Yes, I am one of those rare people who does not keep duck confit on hand.  Go figure.  Since time was of the essence, I made a big arrow on my menu plan and moved Cassoulet to another day, switching it with the less time intensive beef and barley dish.  By the time Cassoulet rolled around again, I remembered to soak the beans and found another recipe that used bacon instead of duck confit and it came out fine.

Another day, I realized that the leftover German beef, spaetzle and red cabbage meal I had made the week before was going to go bad if we didn’t consume it, but I didn’t feel like having the whole meal again so I made the leftovers into soup and that worked out great since I had forgotten to defrost the chicken for another meal.  Later in the week I  stopped craving Indian food and started craving Korean food, so I switched up the curry and chapathis plan entirely and moved Indian food to the following week.  No harm, no foul, no stress.

By the end of the week I had changed every single day except for Tuesday.  And that’s ok!  The benefit to having a flexible plan is that I can change my mind or make a substitution and I still have an idea of what I have on hand, which keeps me from needing to make extra trips to the store, and I avoid making the same thing too often.

If you menu plan, how do you do it?

5 thoughts on “Menu Planning for the Indecisive and Forgetful

  1. We’ve had great success in menu planning, but I’m with you, and I need my plan to stay flexible. Like when it’s 3pm, and you look and see whats for dinner, and realize it’s a crockpot meal that should have gone on HOURS ago? Yeah…then I need to be able to switch it up! It’s changed how we shop though, and made life SO much easier!

  2. Menu planning is essential with two chefs in the house. The menu is posted on the fridge but it is up to the discretion of the chef of the day to make adjustments as necessary, which usually means forgetting to thaw or marinade something when dinner needs to be ready in 30 minutes. Instead of looking at specials ahead of time though, we usually just make the menu (although we do check out what we have on hand, esp if it’s about to go bad) and then if we see something on special that looks like a good deal we buy it anyways and freeze. This usually only happens with meat. We have a spreadsheet with all the things we’ve made before and where to find the recipe so if we are at a loss for ideas we go to the spreadsheet. I feel like every time I’m doing the menu though I have to really wrack my brain.

  3. I try to keep a running list of meals I can make with things I have on hand as well as leftovers in the freezer. That way I can pick something I am in the mood to make.

  4. Although I haven’t managed to do this since having my son, I used to have great success planning a month’s menus at a time. I found that it gave me lots of ideas, and included enough options that could be made without needing special trips to the store. I did find that I usually only made 3 weeks worth (spread out over the month) and I might or might not reschedule that other week for the next month; for whatever reason by the end of the month I usually wanted fresh ideas for the new month.

    I just like having options!

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