Over the course of the last 10 years as a wife and mom, one of the ways I've found to keep myself sane is to 1. menu plan and 2. repeat the same meals over and over again in my menus. That probably sounds like insanity, just doing the same thing over and over, but it seriously saves me so much time and energy. And therefore my sanity.
I get a lot of questions about menu planning and about cooking. They are both things I love to do and I really enjoy helping others to improve their own processes. Here is my guess about why many find menu planning and cooking to be difficult or intimidating: we think that to be a good cook, a successful homemaker, we need to always be cooking new and exciting recipes. The same 'ole, same 'ole is boring.
But maybe we're bored of those recipes because we don't have the right perspective of food and meals with our family. We'll get to that in a minute, but first let's talk about why it's totally okay and really helpful to eat the same 20 meals over and over again:
- I have almost every single recipe committed to memory. No need to always pull them up on pinterest (how annoying) or flip through a cookbook.
- You can make a list of your recipes to use as you menu plan. Not a whole lot of choices so the process is super quick. (After a few months, you'll be able to remember all of your dinners without even looking at a list).
- I buy basically the same ingredients for every menu so my grocery lists take almost no time to write. Or you can even have a pre-written list to use every time. No more list writing!
- I know exactly where every ingredient is located in the grocery store (because I always buy the same things) and so it takes me less than 30 minutes to shop, with 2 kids. In and out!
- I don't have to worry about learning a new recipes, accidentally forgetting an ingredient at the store that I'm not used to buying or accidentally not leaving myself enough time to make the meal.
- My kids don't complain about dinner because they eat the meals all the time and are used to them.
I know you're wondering, how in the world can you eat the same meals all the time and not get tired of them? The answer to that is contentment. Seriously, what you eat is a heart issue.
It doesn't take much observation to notice how obsessed we are with food in this culture. And I don't mean just that we eat a lot of it, and all the time. But also that we want it to be pretty and pleasing to the eyes, mouth and stomach. We always want to try something new and in a new way. And then there's always a new diet to try. Hello, there are entire television networks, blogs, careers and business empires dedicated to food.
And I am totally not knocking food. I love food. I eat it often. And I love cooking shows. I watch them far more than my husband appreciates. I'm surprised my television isn't permanently stuck on PBS Create. And I have my favorite food blogs. I mean, where would we be without food blogs and Pinterest?! But food is something I enjoy as a part of my life. And it's something that I view as a gift from God and a reason to turn back to Him and praise Him for what He's allowed me to eat and enjoy.
In order to be content with what we're eating, we need to readjust our focus. It should not be about the food. It should be about the Creator of food, the blessing that He's bestowed on us called food, the worship and thanksgiving for food, and the fellowship we get to enjoy as we eat the food.
When we stop to adjust our focus back to God, the smaller things lose their importance. Not that food isn't important. We obviously need it to survive. But worrying about the food we eat, always needing to try new food, wanting to eat just because, focusing on how the food looks and how much it satisfies us; all of that fades away. And we are simply grateful that the Lord has given us food to begin with.
This post is part of my How to Live Within Your Means series because eating the same 20 meals all the time is one way we've found to live within our means. It's difficult to always stay within your food budget when you change what you eat often. But as I said above, I always know what I'm going to buy and so I know that what I spend on food from month to month doesn't very much. And although we don't have a whole lot of money for food, because I don't spend a lot of energy worrying about, I have learned to be content with what we eat.
I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. Phil 4:11
If you are considering building a similar menu plan, let me offer some tips that have worked for our family. I've also started a Pinterest board called 20 Meals Ideas that includes many of my own 20 Meals and a few others that would work great.
1. Pick what you know Think about what you already enjoy cooking. Is there a "go-to" recipe in your box or pinned on pinterest? Make a list of those recipes and add them to your 20 meals. If you already know a recipe really well, you may as well stick with it rather than having to learn a bunch of new ones!
2. Practice makes perfect If you're eating the same meals pretty often, you'll become really good at making those meals pretty fast. And not only that, but once you've mastered a recipe you'll feel more comfortable making changes to it, adding something new, omitting something you feel like isn't working. Just because you cook the same things doesn't mean you can't have a little fun in the kitchen!
3. Consider what your family likes Don't pick meals your family hates. Obviously you want everyone to enjoy dinner. At the same time, there may be a meal or two that your husband absolutely loves that you don't care for and vice versa. Throw one or two of those in there. You might learn to like it. He might learn to like it or eventually you might agree to omit it altogether.
4. Practical over elegance Choose recipes that are fairly easy to make. Nothing with super complicated ingredients or ingredients that are hard to find. That will only make you want to never cook such a recipe again. The goal here is to find recipes that you enjoy cooking! For me, I generally don't make any dinner that takes more than 30, 45 minutes max (with the exception of a roasted chicken, which I do every other week). Some recipes may take a little longer the first couple times, but once you get used to them they will only take 30 minutes. Don't omit those recipes immediately. Give them a chance!
5. Stick to inexpensive and similar ingredients Don't choose recipes that call for ridiculously priced cheeses or an expensive cut of beef. Look for recipes with fresh veggies (and stick to the season if you can so they are more affordable), rice, beans, barley, veggies that can be bought frozen (Kroger has frozen veggies for around $1 a package), and items you can buy in bulk and use over and over again. We eat mostly recipes that call for chicken. I buy a big bag of frozen chicken breasts at Sam's Club and use that for almost every dinner. Aside from that, I buy a double pack of whole chickens. I roast it one day for dinner that night and then use the leftover chicken for the next 2 nights in other meals (think soups, tacos, quesadillas, enchiladas, pasta etc). Also consider doing a meatless or vegan meal a few times a month. These are substantially cheaper meals.
And please feel free to ask questions in the comments. I will be doing a Q&A post in the furture!