Monday, January 26, 2009

Menu Planning on the Fly: Toddlers and Leftovers

I used to plan my menus every week fairly meticulously, especially when we were on a really tight food budget. Now, with two toddlers and a preschooler, planning them meticulously is merely a lesson in frustration and wasted food. So, I'm learning to make plenty of the dishes that can be reused in multiple ways, make less of food that won't reheat well, and eat leftovers for lunch while my kids eat PB&J. You just never know when they're going to love something and eat all of it, or decide they're simply not hungry that night. I don't cook for my children's whims of taste/hunger; I cook regular meals that my husband and I enjoy and that the children can physically eat (and frequently which include ingredients they've previously eaten with gusto). I don't expect them to love super spicy foods, but otherwise, it's their choice whether to eat what's in front of them. If they don't like it, then they can wait for the next meal and I won't sweat it. Thus, my days of planning nice, weekly menus are over. What do I do now?

I make a list of 3-5 meals that I plan to fix; one or two meals will give guaranteed leftovers, and at least one of those is a meal that can be held until the following week (perhaps the ingredients are frozen or pantry staples or they can be used in lunches or breakfast meals--something like quiche or spaghetti, etc.). I also keep dried and canned beans on hand, frozen vegetables, pasta, canned tuna and salmon, meat in the freezer, and miscellaneous fresh vegetables. Then, I can whip something up without going to the store if we've actually eaten all the meals I planned for!

Below is our menu from the previous two weeks. We had a lot of leftovers from a fondue party to work with (cabbage, leftover slaw, rice, broth, various meat), a lot of potatoes from a science day hubby led at a local school (he'd bought a 10 pound bag and we had a lot leftover!), a thawed turkey we'd planned to eat with our neighbors, and at the end of the first week, my father-in-law gave us a 4.5 pound pork loin! We served my in-laws at the beginning of the week, our neighbors the turkey dinner, more neighbors the wild rice and turkey soup, and 10 friends for the fondue dinner. I went to the grocery 1 time for this entire amount of food/menus because I just kept using what we ended up with (except a box of salad mix and a bag of oranges we picked up at Sam's)! I'm even coming out way ahead for January's food budget.

  • Friday: Fondue Party for 12 (kids ate hot dogs or something like that)
  • Saturday: Free Fondue Soup (for lunch and dinner); bread; leftover chocolate fondue (kids ate ?)
  • Sunday: Roast Turkey with all the fixin's for lunch(we did turkey, gravy, green beans and the last of the chocolate fondue; they did mashed potatoes, stuffing, and bread); Free Fondue Soup and turkey sandwiches for dinner. (we stayed home from church with sick kids, so that's why we got to do the big dinner for lunch!)
  • Monday: lunch was turkey sandwiches; dinner was more Free Fondue Soup and miscellaneous turkey dinner leftovers; chocolate fondue for dessert
  • Tuesday: Broccoli and Meat stir-fry (using leftover pork from fondue night--frozen the night of the party--and leftover broccoli from fondue night); lunch was leftovers of some sort
  • Wednesday: Potato Soup; Cuban Bread
  • Thursday: Potato, Cabbage, Sausage soup (using more potatoes, cabbage left over from fondue night slaw, and frozen kielbasa); leftover cuban bread
  • Friday: Light and Easy Italian Chicken; mashed potatoes; frozen green beans; bread
  • Saturday: at in-laws to celebrate grandmother-in-law's 85th birthday. Dad sent us home with a 4.5 pound pork loin, so you know what's on the menu for the coming week!
Lunches for the previous week included leftover light and easy italian chicken stuffed into mini pitas, topped with grated cheese, and run under the broiler; turkey sandwiches for hubby; leftovers undisguised; pb&j; etc.

Week 2:

  • Sunday: Pancakes and Sausage
  • Monday: Roast Pork Loin (some of it I froze; I cooked about 3 pounds), salad, can't remember what else?!
  • Tuesday: Turkey and Wild Rice Soup (mmmmmm... using frozen turkey stock and turkey meat) with bread and salad
  • Wednesday: Turkey and Wild Rice Soup, bread, salad
  • Thursday: Brazilian Black Beans over rice, salad (rice was leftover rice from fondue party that I'd frozen)
  • Friday: lunch was quesadillas made with leftover black beans and rice; dinner--on the road to my parents' for my mother's surprise 60th birthday party
Lunches included pork sandwiches, black bean and rice quesadillas, turkey soup. etc.
Breakfast leftovers included the discovery of leftover oatmeal muffins!

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