Friday, July 13, 2007

Tip of the week: July 13 - July 21 2007

Yes, I know I have been remiss with this "reoccurring" post, but....actually, I really have no excuses. Anyway, for this week's tip, I take one from my mother (the font of ALL cooking/homemaking knowledge) I swiped this tip, word for word, from my mom's cookbook, so it is almost like she is posting it herself.
Before I post it, let me tell you that this has been one of the most influential cooking tips I have ever received: it saves money, it saves time, and it ensures that my family has a wonderful, home cooked meal every night of the week. My mom does her menus in 3 month periods, I like a little more spontaneity and so I usually do menus every other week in the summer, and once a month in the fall/winter/spring months. You can't beat the power of a menu!

"When I started my own family I quickly discovered that the biggest dilemma in regards to feeding a family was what to make on any given night. The second biggest dilemma was budget. I killed two birds with one stone. All of my children have one night a week that they are assigned to cook and do the dishes. If they were younger it became a time for mom and child to talk and spend time together as I helped. As they became more confident I was usually just there for company.

When they were little, deciding what to make usually involved them looking in cookbooks and picking the pictures that they liked best. This is how we found some of our family favorites. As they grew older their methods changed. Some would honestly try to find something that sounded good or fun to make. Others would try to make whatever was easy. Others continually tried to make what was their favorite over and over again. We finally came to the conclusion that they needed to give me six different things that they wanted to make on their night. This is how our menus evolved. It eliminated the ever present, “What do I make for dinner”. It also helped the budget. How many times have you gone to the store without a plan and ended up spending more for one meal than you normally would for 2 days worth of meals. We could shop for what was needed only, and watch sales and case lots to stock up on what we used the most. Our menus started out being for 2 weeks, and then evolved to 6 weeks. For the last 5 or 6 years they have been for three to four months at a time. Now, I know you think that 3 months of menus are a lot, but let me break it down.

When my boys became the main body of our household I knew that I needed to change the way that we did menus. They didn’t really care what they made. They just wanted to be told what to make. One day I was riding with my husband as he was checking on some jobs for work. This involves me sitting in the vehicle for extended periods of time. I started writing down everything that our family ate. When I was finished I had around 80 different things. I was amazed. I broke them down into type of food; like soups, casseroles, etc. Then I broke them down by ethnic type; Mexican, Italian, Chinese, etc. You get the picture. I then took out a calendar. I put soup once a week, then Mexican once a week, etc. You get the picture. I put in an occasional try a new recipe night, leftover night, pizza take out night. Before I knew it, I had three months worth of menus.
There is no more humdrum in the house. We don’t find ourselves repeating the same 15-20 meals over and over. We eat a greater variety and are all better cooks and budgeters (if that is a word). You will find that you cook certain things in the summer, and certain things in the winter. We eat a little differently around the holidays. But once you have you basic menu set, it is no big deal to mix it up a little for the next 3 months of menus."

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