Meal Planning Notebook and Filing System

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As a working mom, I enjoy cooking but was getting a bit bored with what felt like limited menu choices. Our busy schedule had caused us to fall into a rut, eating the same items over and over again. A busy family needs a plan that allowed us to eat tasty, nutritious meals together. I created my Menu notebook and filing system and it has made this task much more enjoyable.


Using a spiral notebook and an expanding file...

  1. List all foods you normally prepare in broad categories (One category per page) such as PASTAS, chicken, grilling out, Crock-pot meals, FAST and EASY in your notebook. It's OK to list the same item on multiple pages. I also include the recipe's cookbook and page number for easy retrieval. I list unusual ingredients as well.
  2. I sorted through my stack of recipes I wanted to try but had not yet gotten around to and placed these in a file folder in the back of the notebook.
  3. On a blank page vertically record the days of the month and week. Have your calendar handy so you know what practices, school performances and meetings you have to attend. This will assist you in preparing a meal that can be prepared with that time limitation in mind. Perhaps a night when 3 kids need to be in 3 different zip codes calls for a CROCKPOT Meal! this also assures you wont have the same meal 3 weeks in a row.
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  5. Determine the menu for the week and record it in the notebook. Make a list of any grocery items you'll need to purchase. I have my 10 year old daughter assist with menu planning. This can easily be done on the way home from practice because all the ideas are already in the notebook. I also use my recipe file to introduce new menu items, reserving these for days when I have more time.

I found trying to decide what to have for dinner was the hardest part of my day. Now the decision is made for us ahead of time and meal preparation is a lot smoother. This has also saved us from running out of a specialty item that may have been required. We are trying new dishes, have more variety and a lot less stress! An added benefit has been the organization of my recipes which were torn from magazines or copied from this website. I store those in an expanding file by broad categories (see #1).


Happy Eating.

Source: My own compulsive organizing.

By Diana from Prospect, KY

August 27, 20080 found this helpful

This is a excellent idea. I think I am going to build a notebook that I can take shopping with me full of the recipes I have tried out, have a place for coupons, and grocery list for each meal.

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August 27, 20080 found this helpful

I have been doing something similar to this for years! I had a new baby, husband, and working, and when you get home at 6 and everyone's starving, no meat is thawed, and have no idea what to make, you get a bit nervy! So I started going through cookbooks of all the recipes I wanted to 'try' that were basic, on hand ingredients. I just wrote them on 4x6 or larger note pages. I headed them with Dinners, Breakfast, Lunch, KIDS (little ones that do not need the extra fat, salt, sugar.etc, ie: toddlers), Extras, desserts, and SNACKS. Then I even went further to make my own diet menu when I needed to lose a few pounds. It's great for meal planning because I know what I have on hand, and know the ingredients will not cost an arm and a leg. Now I only shop twice a month and I always plan ahead and write it down. Meals are not a problem anymore! Thanks for this post! Makes me feel good that I'm not the only one.

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August 27, 20080 found this helpful

What a great idea! Thank you for sharing this with us. I am going to start compiling my notebook this weekend.

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August 27, 20080 found this helpful

If you wanted to be thrifty and maintain a good variety/healthy diet; you could simply purchase extra healthy staples when on sale.

For veggies and fruits; I buy what's in season and that't what's at it's best and on sale. I make meals around that on the spot.

That will give you great variety, healthy/fresher meals and keep you from getting into an eating rut.

You can't buy the best/freshest foods by going off a planned list from home because you don't know what's at it's peak while sitting on your couch. The reality also is that if you're in a food rut and you're still planning meals from your routine list; you're still in a food rut. You're just taking much more time to be in a rut.

I take a very short list for staples I may keep forgetting but even that's very rare. It's easy enough to keep in mind most of the time.

If you aren't able to make up recipes on the spot so you can eat the freshest/peak flavor foods; just try it with one or two items. Shopping this way is how Italians do it and how I was raised. It makes the decisions for you and you get creative on the spot. You also eat the best foods available.

For example, when I see nice, fully ripe bananas on special I buy a lot of them. I make a healthy banana bread (no added sugar or oil) that's perfect for quick breakfasts that week. I freeze the rest so I can make banana bread at any time later on. Beats the heck out of buying unripe bananas at top price and having to wait for them to ripen...

Fat Free cottage cheese on sale? I add some tart apples to the cart. Snacks for at least part of the week.

Healthy, high fiber bread and eggs on sale? I make an entire loaf of french toast and freeze. That way the kids can throw them into the toaster whenever they like.

Celery and peanuts on sale and look good? I grind up my own peanut butter (we prefer no added oil or salt and can keep the texture much crunchier than packaged butters) and we have a high protein/low cal snack. The peanut butter is also fantastic on tart apples.

Since the same foods are never on sale week after week; you not only get great variety by shopping this way, you save LOADS of time, eat a much better variety of healthy foods, have virtually zero waste and you make way less trips to the store! Shopping itself takes much less time since we aren't chasing down tons of little items to meet specific recipes. We're flexible and it's faster to learn about good ingredient substitutions than to overbuy, spend lots of time planning and locating in the stores, etc.

It can be a quick and fun way to expand your menus also. We hit a super sale on monster conatiners of organic salsa. Instead of buying bags of fatty, salty chips to go with it; I did a quick search for recipes with salsa as an ingredient. I put together my own versions based on the foods we had on hand in about a minute.

Never used salsa to cook before but now my kids LOVE it as a quick mixed salad with other veggies or beans over cooked barley or brown rice. It's a 2 minute meal that's become a huge hit with the kids and their friends! Couldn't be healthier if I tried and it's a total no brainer.

You get the idea.

The crock pot's always a handy standby for stews to use up any veggies before they go past their peak.

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August 28, 20080 found this helpful

This is excellent! I tend to want to overdo and use all new recipes. I even bought subscriptions to menus and recipes and noone liked them. This would work in that I know that the family would like it. Even I could do this! Thanks

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August 29, 20080 found this helpful

It's Diana, the author. I keep a well stocked pantry to assist me in using my notebook - but I don't keep more unusual items like ricotta cheese or clam juice in the pantry (yes, I have a recipe that calls for both)

I also like to cook more on the gourmet side. So unusual items MUST be thought of ahead of time or my recipe is toast (no pun intended).

We have a small garden and "put up" the beans, tomatoes, peppers and squash for future use.

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August 31, 20080 found this helpful

I feel like you were looking in my windows this weekend. My sister-in-law came up over the weekend and we started talking about recipes. I have so many that I have them all over the house. She always wants ones that I can't find. Then while looking for it I find all these other ones I have been meaning to try. I need some organization for all those clipped recipes. This is a great idea. I love the note book idea. Great timing with all the sales going on the back to school supplies.

I have bought those clear plastic covers and started sorting the recipes by categories using those covers. Now I think I will by a binder and put a notebook at the beginning and then add the plastic covers at the end sorted by categories. I just love people helping people.

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August 31, 20080 found this helpful

You have inspired me to be more organized in the kitchen. All I need to do now is gather all recipes together and start to organize. Thanx

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September 23, 20080 found this helpful

(Sent in by email)

Hi, I just wanted to tell you that I tried that menu planning from one of our readers and I do admit it is work but the results how I will know where all my loose recipes are at. I still have to right down the favorite ones in my picture album cookbooks but the loose one are filed away. Thanks for the great tip.

By Barbara from Shoemakersville Pa

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