Dreaming of meal planning

This is what my kitchen looks
like today. We are so close I
can taste it.
As my kitchen remodel winds to a close (FINALLY), my thoughts are turning to exciting dreams of what I will cook when I'm finally back in there.

I'm not planning any culinary masterpieces. I just want to cook for my kids again. Simple stuff that I took for granted until the kitchen was gone.

I'm dreaming about making scrambled eggs for breakfast. Boiling pasta in a pot on the stove. Baking chicken tenders in the oven. Steaming up some broccoli.

This is where I do the dishes.

(I'm also dreaming about the dishwasher.

And getting my water from a sink that doesn't have toothpaste residue smeared all over it.

Yes, that will be nice, won't it?)

So in short, I am very much looking forward to cooking again, as you might imagine. And, I'm determined to make another go at menu planning.

My mom has always been good at menu planning. When I was a kid, she planned simple but creative, unique and healthy meals for us six days a week. She still plans and cooks this way, for her and my dad. She's a champ at it. Unfortunately, the meal planning gene didn't get passed down. Nevertheless, there's no reason I can't master this handy skill with some simple determination.

As I recall it, her process was pretty simple. She would sit down at the kitchen table once a week with a stack of cookbooks and recipe clippings. She'd pick out six meals and write them down (using a blue bic ballpoint pen) on little squares of plain white notepaper. In her beautiful handwriting, she'd write and underline the days of the week, and then what we were having for dinner.  Then she'd make a shopping list and go once a week to the store. The shopping list was written out on another simple white sheet of note paper, and she'd organize it by putting the meats and fish in a little box in the upper right, and the dairy in the upper left. Veggies & fruits had their own little area on the paper too. It was so very organized, and so very simple. No fancy downloads, no phone apps, no Pinterest, no internet at all.

We have a lot more tools these days, and there are lots of clever people out there trying to solve the menu planning challenge for moms like me who struggle with it despite having such a great role model. I've been poking around online, looking for tips and inspiration, and I'll share some of my favorite finds below. But after all that looking, I came around to a startling thought. There's a lot of fuss out there around something that is actually pretty simple. It's really going to come down to a process just like my mom's. All it really takes is setting aside a few minutes to think about what to eat, write it down, shop for it and make it happen. No pretty formats or slick pinterest boards are going to make that basic process go away.

But if you want to see some pretty cool menu planning tools and suggestions, here are a few inspirational places to check out.
  • I enjoyed How to meal plan over at Holly's blog. I really liked her simple approach.
  • I've used Pepperplate to collect recipes I find online. I like how easy it is to import a recipe from pretty much anywhere.
  • I really liked this series, Meal Planning 101, especially this post about having a list of "emergency" meals you can always fall back on when the regular plan falls through.
  • This site has a long list of downloadable and nicely formatted meal planning forms. Somebody really went to town making all these different formats!
Meanwhile, I'm going to simply grab a stack of cookbooks, a sheet of plain paper and my bic pen... Thanks, Mom, for the inspiration!

Wish me luck!

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