Feature Friday: Getting Dinner Organized

Howdy all. Sorry this is a little slow in getting posted. It’s just been one of those days! 🙂
But I wanted to quickly share with you a menu planning calendar that I came up with. This can help relieve that stress of always wondering ‘what am I going to make for dinner tonight?’.
Just take a few minutes to sit down and plan your menu for the week (or even your whole month if you’d like!) and then you don’t have to worry about it each day. 🙂 And if some meals need extra ingredients from the store, just add them to your shopping list and then you know that you’ve already got everything it takes to make all your meals that week/month.
Another method that may work better for some people is to go ahead and write the meals down for the week, but then feel free to switch the days up. So it’s more like having a pool of options to pick from. You know you’ve got the ingredients for the meals on the list, so you can just pick whichever one you’re in the mood for. Then just cross it off and then next day you pick from the remaining meal options until you’ve used them all.
This is also helpful for keeping track of what meals you’re making and how often (refer to List #4) and for remembering which ingredients/items need to be restocked.
Anyway, it’s a pretty self explanatory calendar. “M” is for Main Dish, “SD1” is for your first side dish, and if you’re super ambitious in the kitchen and like to have two side dishes, there’s a spot for that one too (“SD2”).
Just click on the image and save it to your computer or there’s a pdf file at the end. Enjoy.

And here’s the PDF file for anyone who would like to just use that: Monthly Dinner Menu

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Organization Lists: Tips, Tricks & Forms

After last weeks bombardment of lists and information, I wanted to give you some tips & tricks, or things to consider when making those lists that may help make it easier. I’m also going to give you some blank forms to use that will hopefully help to get you started as well (if you haven’t already :)).

So let’s see… I’ll break this down by lists.
List #1: This is pretty self-explanatory. We’re just taking our recipes we gathered and doing that multiplication I talked about in the ‘Multiply and Replenish’ post. I decided to switch my breakfast and lunch meals to a monthly multiplication system (in addition to the dinner meals) because I felt like I could get more accurate numbers of how many times I actually eat/make a meal. But if you’re using a weekly rotation for breakfast and lunch (and even dinner for that matter), your list might look more like this:

Another tip you could try to get more accurate numbers is to use decimal numbers. If you looked at the FS Organization Lists .pdf file for the meals, you’ll see that in some places I put a (.5) for the amount. That doesn’t mean I’m making half of the meal. It means I only make the meal about half the time of whatever system (weekly or monthly) I’m using. So, looking at the example above, if I had a (.5) for the times per week that I make hashbrowns, that means that I make them every other week, instead of 1 time a week. Or the same thing for months. If I had it for .5 times a month, that means I make it every other month. That helps keep amounts a little more realistic for those meals that you really don’t make ‘that often’.

List #2: This one is also pretty self-explanatory. But like I said, it’s a bear! So my tip for this one is to take your time! Do this one on paper first so that you can do it while you’re watching tv, or while you’re outside relaxing in the sun. You could just take all your recipes, keep them in their original form, and do the math right on the recipe cards or books and that would save you from having to re-write all the ingredients. However, that would make for a lot of papers, recipe cards, books, etc all over the place and trying to keep track of all of that and keep it organized is more of a nightmare for me than to actually write the ingredients over again. Doing them all in one list makes List #3 a lot easier as well. So that is why I opted for making a List #2. You choose what is better for you.

List #3: Alright. Last week I told you that when you’re combining the amounts for a certain ingredient (which is the purpose of this list) to be sure to convert them into a matching form. i.e. convert all of your sugar measurements into teaspoons, tablespoons, or cups so that you can actually add them together. The easiest way to do that is with a measurement converter. Here’s a link to an online measurement converter, so you can easily convert tsp to Tbsp to cups or to whatever you want.
The other thing to think about when deciding which measurement form to use, is what is the measurement form used on the actual product you buy? So, for example, salt. A canister of salt lists a serving as 1/4 teaspoon and then tells me how many servings are in the canister. So I can easily figure out how many teaspoons are in that canister. This being the case, I may want to put my ‘total salt number’ on this list in teaspoons so that it’s easy to know how many canisters I need to have. A serving of sugar is also listed in teaspoons on its’ bag, as well as things like baking powder, baking soda, cornstarch, etc. Flour is listed in cups. Pasta is by ounces and/or pounds. Cheese is by ounces, however if you buy the pre-grated kind it almost always lists the amount of cups in the package as well. So just take that into account. Looking back at the example list I gave you last week, I would probably go back and change my ‘sugar’ total amount to be 720 teaspoons instead of 15 cups.
And on that same note, it would also be helpful to go ahead and put right on the list how many canisters, bags, boxes, etc of your item that ‘total number’ equates to. So, again, looking at sugar… I could put 720 teaspoons for the total number and then below that, or in a new column (which I think I’ll go ahead and create) I could put ‘2 (4 lb) bags’. (Obviously these are not accurate numbers… I go through a lot more than 2 bags of sugar in a year.) Doing that will make it a lot easier to do an inventory if I just know how many bags of sugar I’m supposed to have, or boxes of baking soda, etc versus trying to figure out how many teaspoons of everything I have in stock. Agree? Agree. Glad we’re on the same page. 🙂
Oh. And another tip… you may want to do an inventory more frequently than twice a year if you’re really not good at restocking what you use. Three or four times a year might be better in that case to help stay on track. 🙂

List #4: Hm… this isn’t a very tricky list. It’s pretty cut-and-dry. One thing that may help is to wait until the end of the day to mark your tallies for what you had. This may help keep you from feeling like you’re on a diet and having to keep track of every little thing that you eat. 🙂 Or if you’re really good at remembering what you eat… you can wait until the end of the week to mark the sheet. My memory isn’t that good, so once a day would probably be better for me. 🙂

Well, I guess that about covers the Tips & Tricks! If you find something that really helps you out in your process, please share it! These are all obviously only things I have discovered that have helped me. But I’m positive there are lots more brilliant ideas out there! So if you’ve got one, just leave a comment so others can enjoy it as well.

Blank Forms

And for those who would like them, here are the blank lists I’ve made for you to use.

Blank Food Storage Organization Lists

All four lists are on one Excel form. When you open the file, you’ll see 4 tabs at the bottom. Those are the four different lists. (Just a heads up… on List #1: FS Monthly Menu, the file is set to do the math for you. So just type in your ‘times per wk/mo’ and a ’52’ or ’12’ for the other column, and it will multiply it for you.) I also put an example on each page in italics just to remind you what goes on each page. Just delete them or type right on over them. If anyone needs it in a form other than Excel, let me know and I’ll see what I can do. Enjoy and good luck! 🙂

Food Storage: Organizing The Plan

Alright. It’s been two weeks. Do you have all your recipes?
Don’t beat yourself up if you don’t have them all yet. Just give yourself another week and dedicate some time to it. I’ve got mine pretty much done, but I think I’ll likely end up tweaking some of the numbers as the year(s) go on. But THAT’S OKAY! That’s one of the beauties of this  process– it grows with you! Don’t be afraid to start because you feel like your recipes or numbers are not exactly right or perfect. You can change things as you go. Just START with SOMETHING!

Okay, so that being said… we’re moving into the organization phase of our plan. (Woohoo!) Getting organized is one of my favorite parts of food storage. I love organization! Sometimes I start a new hobby just so that I can organize things! (Yes, I’m checking into therapy next week.) Part of my organization freakishness is that I love making lists and seeing everything laid out in front of me. For me it helps to eliminate confusion (or reduce it anyway). So, for this process, I have been working on making 4 lists. Each list kind of builds of the previous one and takes us to the next step of information we’re looking for. You may look at the lists and think some are unnecessary, or could be done in your head… and definitely feel free to do so if that’s better for you! But again, for me, I like to see it all laid out in front of me so I can easily reference different bits of information. I’m not done with all of the lists yet, but I created at least the structure of each one in order to give you a visual of what we’re doing. So here we go…

List #1: The Food Storage Menu List
This has each meal from our collected recipes listed, including how many times per month we will make it (I switched to doing all of my meals in a monthly format… it worked better for me that way. Sorry if that confuses anyone!!), and then how many times per year we will make it. (I actually did these lists in Excel so I could set the program to automatically do the math for me. If you’re good in Excel, I would definitely recommend using it to save some time. :))
Example:

Here’s the full .pdf of this list if it will help anyone (since I’m only using the first pages of these lists as an example): Food Storage Menu List

List #2: The Recipe : Ingredient List
This one is a doozy! It’s where I’m stuck trapped still working right now. 😀 This has each recipe broken down into its ingredients, with the amount of each ingredient needed per meal, and then the amount needed per year.
So you’re essentially writing all your recipes out (minus the directions), and once you have the amount per meal written down, you take that number and multiply it by the number of times you’re making that meal in a year (this number comes from List #1). And you do this for each ingredient in the recipe. (Hopefully the example will help clear up those question marks I see over your head. :))
Example:

So if we look at pancakes, I’ve got all my ingredients listed along with how much of each ingredient I need for one meal. Then from List #1, I know that I make pancakes 96 times in a year. So I will multiply the amount of each ingredient needed for one meal by 96 in order to get how much of each ingredient I need for a whole year of pancakes. Make sense?
Okay moving on.

List #3: The Master Inventory List
This list is our ‘Grand Finale’ list. The main reason for the other lists is so that we can get the information on this list. On this list we’re combining all ‘same’ ingredients from List #2 in order to get our grand total amount needed of a specific ingredient/item and then we’ll list them alphabetically for easy reference. So, for example, I have sugar used in several recipes, and on this list I want to know how much sugar I need total for the year in order to cover ALL of my recipes that use it. For each ingredient/item, we’ll also list each recipe it is used in. Then, you’ll also see on the list that twice a year, we can do a total inventory of all our food storage items to make sure we’re fully stocked or to see how much we still need to buy. Ideally, once you take an item from your food storage, you should immediately write it down on your shopping list so that it can be restocked. But I know I occasionally forget to do that (or dear Hubby, bless his heart, frequently forgets as well), so this bi-annual “check up” will help me find anything that has slipped through the cracks and get me back on track.
Also, one tip about this list, when you’re combining the amounts for a certain ingredient, they may often be in different measurement forms (i.e. teaspoon vs. tablespoon vs. cups). Make sure you convert them into matching forms to be able to add them together. (I may take some time to explain this further next week.)
Example:

(And like I said, I’m still working on List #2, so this list is not complete and was just a quick draft I put together to use as an example.)

List #4: Monthly Meal Tracker
This list is designed to help us rotate through our food storage fairly accurately. It’s a list of each meal on List #1 (I just copied and pasted from one list to the other… for heaven’s sake do not type these all out again if you can help it! :)) with how many times each month we’re ‘scheduled’ to make that meal. Then there’s a spot to make a tally mark in the appropriate month for each time we make the meal. I don’t necessarily plan to follow my scheduled numbers spot on and make everything the exact number of times I’m supposed to (i.e. I’m sure I’ll eat soup more in the winter and less in the summer… same with oatmeal), but by using this list I can see if I’m really falling behind on any certain meal and need to start making it more. This list will also help me determine if I need to eventually tweak my numbers. For example, I have pancakes down for 8 times a month. But let’s say that after several months or a year, I find that I’m consistently making pancakes 10 times a month. Well, then I can bump that number up and reduce the number on a meal I’m not eating as often. And then I can adjust my other list numbers as well to reflect the new change and gradually adjust my food storage items. So you’ll really get a more accurate idea of what your family eats, and how often, as you keep a tally on this list.
You could also use this list as a basis for your shopping list, but I’ll explain that more when we get to that phase. 🙂
Example:

So anyway, there you have it! My organization of ‘The Plan’. …or at least the beginning of it. There will be more lists to come (seriously… I have list issues). Once this part has sunk in and that brain numbing dizziness has worn off we will then tackle how to go about actually collecting all this food. 😀 That will probably be in about another two weeks (I think it will take me that long to recover). So until then, good luck on these lists and don’t burn yourself out! Just do a little at a time and work on it when you can. I did a lot of this written out by hand initially so that I could work on it while I was watching the kiddos outside or something. And then I’ve just been transferring to the computer. Anyway, obviously do what works for you. But again, good luck. 😀