In the Mood for Food

Yes, another post about food.

The mornings here lately have been absolutely breathtaking. The air is still and crisp, fueling the lungs with a breath of renewal and productive motivation. Before the insects rouse to resume their apocalyptic house invasion, the birds fill the air with sweet seasonal songs.

The sun has migrated almost completely to the south already, and takes much longer to crest above the horizon.

It’s comfortable enough to sit outside in the morning and have a few sips of coffee. Eventually, the chill and the late sunrise force me back inside to get started on our day. My start and finish every day revolves around the task of preparing our food.

Hot Meals

One thing [of an innumerable many] I’ve loved about homeschooling, is the opportunity for our family to enjoy a hot breakfast each morning. Variations of eggs and bacon is a quick go-to. We also enjoy our fill of waffles, pancakes, oatmeals, coffee cakes, and other hot morning food goodness.

Recently, I caught this video by [a favorite YouTube family] Heartway Farms showcasing their baked oatmeal. I made some, and let me testify: our breakfast life will never be the same. I halved the recipe and there was more than enough for us, but also, it went fast because it was so delicious. It’s like a breakfast cake, sans flour or sugar.

Now that temperatures are cooling outside, hot meals are a must, and my menu plan is chock-full of them. Not just for breakfast, but for each meal throughout the week.

Hot meals don’t simply taste good. They stick to the ribs and fill you up and warm you from the inside out. There’s an extra degree of comfort when one sits down to a meal around the table where conversation crosses a barrier of steam.

The Food Menu

I have never been a fan of having to, or psychologically able to eat the same food for consecutive meals. I’m okay with leftovers, but usually I want to use them and create something different, not simply reheat/re-eat.

Something about eating the same food over and over again is tormenting for me. I try to avoid it whenever possible. Our menus are a reflection of this.

Let’s say, for the sake of example, I make our favorite chicken dish: spatchcock chicken. My family will not devour an entire chicken in one meal, so there will inevitably be leftovers.

Rather than heating up leftover chicken meal after meal until it’s gone, I use the leftover chicken to create new dishes. Pot pie, fried rice, enchiladas, soup, etc. Everything we eat puts the leftover chicken to use, but it doesn’t foment rebellion from enduring the same meal over and over again.

Our menu, therefore, cycles through many different meals, even while incorporating several uses of the same food.

When planned out far enough in advance, our menu has enough variety to keep our family both fed and pleased.

The Process

This post isn’t going anywhere I had intended for it to. Now that we’re heading this direction, though, I’m rolling with it.

I used to write our menu out each week on a piece of paper. This kept a physical record of our meals so I could look back for ideas for future meals, or simply remember when we last had what type of food.

Or just look back through to admire my handwriting, let’s be honest. #humble

I would then copy that week’s menu onto the whiteboard on our refrigerator so my lovely, amazing family would stop asking me, “Mama, what’s for _(insert meal here)_?” every. single. day.

I still write the week’s menu on the whiteboard (#sanitysaver). Instead of planning my menu each week on a sheet of notebook paper, however, I plan it out a month at a time. In a spreadsheet. As our plans or meals need to be adjusted, I edit the spreadsheet to reflect that.

This spreadsheet helps me plan for groceries, around activities, special occasions, etc. I love, love, love this process and wish I had started doing it forever ago. Seeing our food planned out a month at a time helps me rotate through meals and ingredients far more efficiently and effectively than doing it one week at a time.

I can look at my spreadsheet and say, “Oh it’s been a whopping five minutes since I last had a helping of that amazing baked oatmeal, I better make it again on Thursday so I don’t ever lose this weight and become a visual stumbling block to some poor gentleman…” type type type, into the spreadsheet it goes, voila.

Yes, Every Meal

“Val, you keep saying menu… is that every meal, or just dinner?”

Every. Meal.

We’re not so much a cereal-and-sandwich family. Every day – wait, let me think…. yup – every day, we have a hot breakfast. Sunday mornings the kids are able to have a bowl of corn flake cereal. That’s their weekly cereal treat. Hubs and I still have hot breakfast on Sundays.

Breakfasts need to be planned and accounted for, so they go on the menu.

Some afternoons, I have meetings or appointments and the kids are responsible for making their own lunch. In those cases, I want them to know what they’re having. (I don’t know if this happens in your home, but if left up to my kids, they’d have a sleeve of saltines and zucchini chocolate chip muffins and call it a lunch. Um, not okay.)

The best way for them to know and make what we’ve planned for, is to get it on the menu. Even if it’s “snack lunch” ( meat sticks, salami, cheese, etc.) they need to see it in writing on the menu.

Dinner, of course, is our big meal of the day, and needs as much or more planning and preparation as the others. We typically use up more food for dinner than for any other meal. It might take more creative energy and brain power to come up with dinners. I also have to take into account our activity schedule, company, etc.

If I happen to get stuck in town for longer than I anticipated some afternoon, I can get home and know immediately what it is I need to get making for dinner, rather than staring at an open cupboard door having a mini-stroke trying to figure out what to feed my family.

Planning a menu for every meal might seem like a daunting task up front, but it saves ALL THE TIME once it’s finished. I simply grab food and start cooking.

The Food Shuffle

Also, just let me add this: While I plan my menu a month at a time, the beauty of the spreadsheet is the ability to delete and re-enter whatever I want.

If I somehow forgot to put a roast in the crock pot in the morning and continue to forget we have an instant pot that can cook the roast faster (but let’s be real, it tastes better when it’s cooked in the crock pot), I can erase “Roast” from the excel spreadsheet cell, and put in “Farmer’s Soup” instead.

Pop a top on a jar of soup, heat it up, dinner is done. Then the roast gets moved to the next night’s dinner slot, because I’d rather have that than the previously scheduled spaghetti. Etcetera and so forth.

But Wait, There’s More [Food]

I’m now circling around to a point I haven’t even alluded to but want to make. This is more about the food than the meals.

Our menu is based on food we have or need to use. I do not plan a meal and shop for food to make it. Rather, I take inventory of the food we have, and plan for meals to make with it. It’s that simple.

I don’t want to waste or be a bad steward of what we’ve got. Therefore, sometimes we eat that tuna casserole, because we’ve got tuna on hand.

We have breakfast-for-dinner because we’ve got 13 laying hens and wow, do eggs pile up fast!

We have steak because we bought a half-beef that one time.

Using the food we have, we make meals we enjoy. (Or tolerate… but still…) Knowing what I have on hand and knowing what to make with it (even a month ahead of time) removes a mountain of stress.

And now if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got a meal to make.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.