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...
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).
Source: My own compulsive organizing.
By Diana from Prospect, KY
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.