HOW IT ALL STARTED
I can think of 6 reasons why I create a weekly dinner menu, but first let me give you a little background on how cooking dinner became important to me. I’ll also share my planning tool that you can get when you subscribe to my blog.
I’m the baby in my family, but I was raised as an only child. My two sisters were a sophomore in college and a senior in high school when I was born in September of 1963. They were 20 and 17, and my mother was 40. It wasn’t common for women to have babies in their 40’s back then. I wasn’t an “oops” baby, or at least that’s what I’ve been told. I guess my parents weren’t ready to embrace the empty nest and for that I have always been thankful.
By the time I was born Mom had 21 years of cooking experience under her belt. She made cookies, cakes and pies from scratch. I loved the frosted Halloween cookies that she cut out into ghosts, witches and pumpkins and decorated with colorful sprinkles. We were even featured in the Medford Mail Tribune in a story about baking cookies with children.
LIKE MOTHER LIKE DAUGHTER? YES AND NO
Family and friends thought of her as an expert; a gourmet cook. My parents hosted elaborate dinner parties for their friends, serving fancy dishes like Coquille St Jacques in scallop shells. Mom would plan the entire menu and cook everything from the appetizers to dessert. When I was old enough she employed me to help her serve. I walked among the elegantly dressed guests offering a delicious selection of appetizers, brought plates filled with perfect portions of food to the table and then cleared them away at the end of that course. She used the china she inherited from her mother and had special soup bowls and spoons. The compliments flowed from the 4-5 couples lucky enough to be included that evening. Sometimes she sent out invitations in the mail, but most of the time I remember her calling friends on the phone. There weren’t any kids at her dinner parties because none of my parents’ friends had children still living at home. Her example of a dinner party is something I’ve never followed, but I do love to entertain and have friends to our home for dinner. Over the years our gatherings have been organized through email or texts. We usually include the entire family and they bring something to contribute to the meal. We use our regular every day dishes, and the meal is served buffet style. Even though our dinner parties are more casual, socializing with friends over a good meal has continued. I learned that dinner was important whether it was a special occasion or a regular family meal.
Me and my mom delivering a homemade blackberry pie to a friend. Food was something we shared with others.
CONTINUING WITH A FAMILY TRADITION
As I grew up I saw my mom spend a lot of time in the kitchen on a daily basis. She made breakfast, packed my lunches when I went to school, and always had a home cooked meal for me and Dad at the end of the day. My dad came home for lunch and she’d have it waiting for him when he got there. She didn’t use Hamburger Helper, Rice A Roni, or pull a TV dinner out of the freezer. She collected recipes and tried new things. Dad and I were Mom’s guinea pigs. When she was planning a dinner party she tried new recipes on us first. I learned from the best so, it’s easy to believe that I would follow in her footsteps when it came to preparing a meal for my family at the end of the day.
WHICH CAME FIRST THE GROCERY LIST OR THE DINNER MENU?
I remember that she made grocery lists and cut recipes out of newspapers and magazines. She had cookbooks that she used and marked up with her notes. There were also meals she just knew how to make like fried chicken with mashed potatoes and a salad, or pork chops with apple sauce and steamed broccoli. Surprisingly, I even liked her liver and onions with lots of ketchup! However, I don’t recall seeing her write out a weekly menu. I recently asked her how she planned our dinners before going grocery shopping. She reminded me of the newspaper ads she would look through each week. She looked to see what was on sale, clipped the coupons, and planned around those items, but she didn’t write a weekly menu down on paper. This is where our system is different. It was probably my experience as a teacher, where I made and followed plans all day, that made me feel like I needed to be organized and have a plan at home as well. So, I make a weekly menu first and then make a grocery list. Like Mom, I do all the shopping, and most nights of the week I cook for my family.
Keep reading and you will find the 6 reasons why I create a weekly dinner menu. However, let me focus on my number one reason first.
THE FAMILY DINNER
Sharing dinner together is what I learned from my mom. Our process may be different, but preparing a meal and coming together at the dinner table has remained the same. For my family, eating dinner together has always been important. It hasn’t always been possible, especially when sports interfered with the dinner hour, but it was something we have done most nights of the week.
Our last dinner together before the boys head back to college after winter break.
THE WEEKLY MENU
I started creating a weekly menu soon after I was married. I was scribbling notes and lists on bits of paper until my wonderful husband created a menu and shopping list template using our old Apple Macintosh computer. It was a tool I could print and fill in each week before going to the grocery store. We lost the file for this planning sheet years ago when we made the switch from the Macintosh to a PC. However, I’ve been able to keep making copies and I’ve been faithfully using this wonderful tool nearly every week for 25 years.
Above is the tool I use to plan menus and make a grocery list. It lost its complete heading long ago, and the food categories don’t match what I purchase most frequently. Just this week I finally gave it a new look and updated it with more current shopping preferences.
GET MY MENU PLANNING TOOL
Subscribe to my email list and I will send you a pdf of this revised menu planner and shopping list. You will also receive a blank version so you can fill in your own categories and customize it to fit your needs.
6 REASONS WHY I CREATE A WEEKLY DINNER MENU
- The family dinner is important and planning the week out keeps me organized. There’s no trying to figure out what to fix for dinner at 5pm. It keeps us from falling back on take-away meals.
- With dinners planned out we eat more healthfully. I find it is easier to stay true to my nutritional values while shopping.
- I make better use of ingredients and have less waste. How often do you buy something, use part of it and then find the remaining portion has spoiled before you found a use for it?
- I can shop once for the whole week. Ever since I quit teaching 18 years ago, Monday has been my shopping and errand day. My menu starts on Monday, but in the blank version you can write the days of the week in any order that fits your schedule.
- Over the years of trying recipes from magazines, cookbooks, and websites we’ve had our share of variety. Planning a menu has made it easier for me to follow recipes from different sources. I’ve found dishes we love, and those become favorites that make it to our table again and again.
- I’ve learned a lot about cooking through the experience of following recipes. As a result I have developed a passion for experimenting with ingredients and flavors. Now, more often that not, I find myself “winging” it in the kitchen. I’ll leave some days blank and, when I get to the store I can make choices based on what’s on sale and what’s in season. If there’s a new local product I’ll buy it and then figure out a way to use it. When I get home I fill in the blanks on my menu so I don’t forget my ideas for that meal.
SOME CONFESSIONS FROM ME
That all sounds great, doesn’t it? I have to admit that there are times throughout the year when trying to decide on a menu for the week is difficult. I get tired of making food decisions, or nothing sounds good. During those times my menu doesn’t look like much when I head to the store on Monday. That’s when I really rely on my experience to buy what grabs my attention and then come up with a way to fix it. We also have a great grocery store here in Portland, called New Season’s. I love their meat market. They have a good selection of quality meats and they have a variety of them that are already prepared in a sauce and just need to be cooked. It’s pretty easy to come home with some marinated chicken skewers, throw them on the barbecue, and make a salad to go with them.
WHAT ABOUT YOU?
I’m curious to know how many others plan a weekly menu? How do you plan your dinners?
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