Meal Planning: My K.I.S.S. Method

Meal Planning:  My K.I.S.S. Method

For those of you who’ve never been K.I.S.S.ed, I should inform you that it’s an acronym.  In nursing, farming, the military, and many other fields, K.I.S.S. stands for: Keep It Simple, Stupid.  I find it handy to remind myself of this philosophy when I try to over complicate life.  Now, let’s get on to our post:

Many years ago, I worked as an Educational Interpreter for the Deaf.  It was a job I loved, and I met some terrific people.  However, one of the greatest perks was getting to attend high school a second time.

Imagine getting all the opportunities of four years of free classes, without the distraction of being a teenager.  Happily married with two kids, I had no crushes or romantic entanglements.  Being in my mid-twenties, I was immune to the ‘mean girl’ drama.  Best of all, I was exempt from the pointless busy-work and standardized test prep that fill the days of most school students.

I was able to study a foreign language, attend AP History and English, and finally learn a little Geography!  I learned so much more on this second trip through the hallowed halls of academia, than I did on the first pass!

One simple assignment still pops into my head on occasion.  The assignment was to write instructions for making a peanut butter and jelly sandwich.  Simple right?  Well, it is until you try it.  It’s surprisingly complicated to explain how to do simple things.  One of my students finally flung down her pen in frustration and asked, “Why can’t I just show the person?!?” 

I agreed and sympathized with her.  Demonstrating is often easier than explaining.  I want to walk you through the way I meal plan, because, explaining makes it sound complex.  I don’t want it to seem that way, since it’s really the easiest thing ever!

Unless there’s a special occasion, I don’t plan breakfasts or lunches.  Some families might want to do that.  Our family does better keeping certain foods on hand and rotating them seasonally.  We make special weekend breakfasts, but those use ingredients we always keep on hand.  So, the only meal I regularly plan is supper.

I also don’t plan side dishes unless there is a special occasion.  I serve what’s fresh from my garden (or from local farmers) or is in my pantry.  I keep fresh, frozen, and canned vegetables on hand.  So, I’m able to choose what sounds best at the spur of the moment. 

Although, we often eat the same sides each time we have a specific main dish.  Chicken fried steak, for example, requires mashed potatoes and cream gravy.  In summer, it also requires fresh sweet corn on the cob!  (No, really. In Texas, I’m pretty sure it qualifies as blasphemy to serve it without mashed potatoes.)

So, let’s make a meal plan.  I typically plan for two weeks, but you could certainly plan for longer or shorter periods.  Of the fourteen days I’m planning, I ‘ll work six nights.  We have guests that come biweekly, so I need to plan to feed ten to fifteen people two meals one day.  I love to try new recipes, so I’ll plan two new or time-consuming suppers.  I’ll also consider what’s in my fridge, freezer, and garden.  I’ll choose meals that use what I have on hand as much as possible.

Fresh from the garden!

I start my plan by making a blank list numbered 1 through 14, then I add labels to tell me what kind of day each one is.  I don’t bother assigning the days of the week or specific dates.  That’s irrelevant to me, because, I like being able to glance at the list and choose a meal rather than be told what I’m expected to make.  (It’s that rebellious streak, that so delighted my mother!)

14 days to plan:

Once my list is made and the days are labeled by type, I’m ready to start adding meals.  This is easiest if I have a general list of suppers from which to choose.  I wrote a post suggesting making a list of meals your family likes here.  Having twenty or thirty suggestions at my fingertips helps me avoid staring at a blank page or screen.  I also normally give a shout or text and ask my family if there is anything they’ve been jonesing for recently.  Then, I begin.

1-Guests: (I need two meals.) Lunch: Buffalo chicken and Supper: Mac and Cheese Buffet

For our ‘Gang Days’, I cook lunch and supper for at least ten people.  I like things that are tasty, fairly cheap, and require little hands-on time.  Our friends aren’t adventurous eaters, so I avoid unusual ingredients and cultural dishes.  I also don’t serve rabbit or other ingredients that might make non-farmy folk uncomfortable or squeamish.

2-work: Crockpot Pork Roast (I can start this before I go to sleep for work.)

3-work: Taco Soup (I can do this in the crock, or Grace can start it on the stove later.)

4-work: Crock Pot Ranch Chicken (I can start this before I go to sleep.)

5-work: Pork Carnitas (This uses the leftover pork from day 2.)

6-work: Quiche (I can make this early, and the family can bake it for supper.)

7-work: Red Beans & Rice (Cajun Style) (Can be in the crock, stove, or w/canned beans)

My crockpot is my best friend on work days!

We do a LOT of crockpot cooking on work nights.  I try to have a mix of things for the crock and for the family to make fresh.  Most things I listed can be made in the crock or conventionally.  This helps if I forget or am late due to an emergency.  I also try to make things that will evolve into other dishes later in the week.  The Pork roast, for example, can become carnitas, pot pie, casserole, soup…

8-complex: Chicken Fried Steak

9-complex: Hasenpfeffer

These are two of our favorite meals!  Frying things is very hands-on and we limit fried foods, so I plan this meal as a ‘treat night’. A ‘complex’ night might be hands-on food (fried chicken), new recipes (I’m working on a recipe for rabbit with blue cheese and bacon.), meals that require a lot of sides (falafel), or teaching one of the kids a complicated technique (making gluten free ravioli).

10-Breakfast for Dinner (pancakes, eggs, bacon, fried potatoes)

11-Baleadas (Honduran tacos)

12-Oven Fried Fish Cakes

13-Pork Pot Pie (Uses leftover pork from day 2.)

14-Baked Beans on Toast, Welsh Rarebit, or Eggs Royale

If one of us has a yen for a particular meal, these remaining days are where it normally goes.  I also try to fit in ‘has-beans’ meals, ‘egg-centric’ meals, and ‘something-on-toast’ meals.  These are cheap, healthy-ish, quick, and we like them.  I know they’re a little unusual, but we never claimed to be normal!

“…being normal is not necessarily a virtue[.] It rather denotes a lack of courage.”-Aunt Frances (Practical Magic)
So, here is my final list:

14 days to plan:
1-Guests: (need two meals) Buffalo Chicken and Mac and Cheese Buffet
2-work: Crockpot Pork Roast (I can start this before I go to sleep for work.)
3-work: Taco Soup (I can do this in the crock, or Grace can start it on the stove later.)
4-work: Crock Pot Ranch Chicken (I can start this before I go to sleep.)
5-work: Pork Carnitas (This uses the leftover pork from day 2.)
6-work: Quiche (I can make this early and the family can bake it for supper.)
7-work: Red Beans & Rice (Cajun Style) (Can be in the crock, stove, or w/ canned beans)
8-complex: Chicken Fried Steak
9-complex: Hasenpfeffer
10-Breakfast for Dinner (pancakes, eggs, bacon, fried potatoes)
11-Baleadas (Honduran tacos)
12-Fish Cakes
13-Pork Pot Pie (Uses leftover pork from above.)
14-Baked Beans on Toast or Welsh Rarebit or Eggs Royal

I print a copy of this list and stick it in a convenient, but inconspicuous place.  I used to put it on the inside of a cupboard door, but I now stick it on the pantry side of my fridge.  This is handy, but doesn’t make the front of the fridge look cluttered.  (I hate clutter!) 

Each evening, I give the list a glance and choose a meal that suits our activities for the next day .  I cross off each meal as we have it, so I don’t forget and double dip.  My ‘work’, ‘guests’, and ‘complex day’ labels could easily be replaced with soccer practice, church, or football game.

This is the simplest way I’ve found to meal plan for my family.  I love the flexibility of having six different ‘work’ meals to choose, when the week starts.  I also love knowing something I really look forward to is on the schedule.  (Hassenpfeffer!)  The kids are usually happy and eager to help, because, they got to nominate their favorite meals for the fortnight.

I realize every family arranges things differently, and every homemaker has different needs and preferences.  If you don’t currently meal plan or you aren’t happy with your current system, I hope you’ll give this simple method a shot!  For us, it has the perfect balance of structure and flexibility!

And remember:

Of course, we know you aren’t stupid. I didn’t make up the achronym. However, let’s make it Keep It Simple, Smarty, shall we?

How do you plan you meals?  What is your must have meal this month?  Do you plan breakfasts, lunches, and snacks too?  Leave me a comment if you have a chance!  I love to talk with y’all!

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