Midwest is Best

A midwestern guide to all things homemaking

Archive for the month “March, 2013”

Menu Planning

Today is March 28th.  It should be well into spring by now.  Instead we are still struggling to hit temps in the 50s.  I know that warmer weather is right around the corner – I can just feel it in my bones!  As such, I’ve been thinking a lot about spring cleaning, organizing, etc… Spring just brings that out in everyone.  And for some reason, it seems like for the last two weeks all I’ve done is talk about menu planning.  I can’t help it!  It keeps coming up in every conversation.  Anyway… menu planning is something that I’ve loosely been doing for about 9 months but I’ve really buckled down since January and have a few tips to share.

There are many benefits of menu planning.  For me it has decreased our grocery bill, wasted less meat/produce, and brought some sanity back to dinnertime.  I really enjoy cooking and baking but not when I’m scrambling to figure out something to feed us – let alone something healthy.  While I love menu planning – I’ll be the first to admit that I take “detours” almost every week 🙂  Sometimes, I forget to let the chicken thaw out or misjudged the amount of something and now have to substitute. Menu planning can be as flexible as you want it to be 🙂

First, I would strongly suggest creating a template of a menu that can be reused from week to week.  (There are several cute idea on Pinterest  (see pics below) – however, I was lazy and just did a boring Word doc).  After you create your menu – be sure to post it somewhere that you will see it every day.  I put mine in my home office but you can use the refrigerator, cupboard door, or on the counter.  It doesn’t matter where you keep it – just make sure you can see it every day. 

menu 1

Some day I’ll upgrade my menu planning doc to something like this!

menu 2

Great way to incorporate the menu and grocery list in one!

As you sit down to create your weekly meal plan, be sure that you have you calendar in front of you.  Create meals according to your schedule. Do you have a yoga class every Thursday night?  If so, choose something quick and easy that night like tilapia fillets and steamed veggies.  The fish will thaw out in about 5 minutes and usually takes no more than 10 – 15 minutes in the oven.  Or create a crock pot meal the night before and just turn it on before you leave in the morning. Then your cooking is done for you before you even walk in the door. Use your calendar to your advantage.  It took me several weeks before I realized I should stop trying to make a large meal on Tuesdays.  I usually have Mary Kay training or facials on Tuesday evenings so I don’t even get home until 8:30pm.  Now, I know to have something ready to go that takes little-to-no prep and cook time on Tuesdays!  (Live it, Learn it :))

As you create your menu, plan to use your fresh produce up as quickly as possible. I usually get groceries every Monday morning.  So as I plan my menu, I try to plan to use my fresh produce up on Monday – Wednesday.  (I should clarify – when I say produce I mean produce that “turns” fairly quickly and doesn’t have a long shelf life.  For example, strawberries, mushrooms, romaine lettuce, etc).  This will help you decrease your waste significantly.  Again – a lesson that took me several weeks to learn.  I would constantly buy mushrooms (because I’ll put them in just about anything) but I would wait until the end of the week to use them and by then they were “questionable”. (Shhh… don’t tell Aaron :)) But now, I know to use my frozen veggies or potatoes towards the end of the week and use the berries, salads, etc at the beginning.  Again, this works for me because I get groceries on Monday but if you are a Thursday shopper then you can use your fresh produce all weekend and aim the frozen goods towards mid-week.

Another lesson learned is to plan “big-ticket” items towards the beginning of the week.  “Big-ticket” means something that can be made into several meals.  For example, roasted chicken, pork tenderloin, or even a large batch of cooked ground turkey.  Plan you “big-ticket” menu item towards the beginning of the week and then use the leftovers to create other meals on the following days.  Last week, I made a few pounds of ground turkey.  I’ve turned it into stuffed peppers the first night, corn and turkey quesadillas the next day (literally just using the filling from the peppers in a flour tortilla shell), and then used the rest to top a homemade pizza on Friday night. Or you can also throw something like that into some pasta sauce and spaghetti noodles – easy peasy!  By doing this, I significantly cut down on the prep/cook time throughout the week.  As I mentioned above, I love cooking but I am a busy gal and most of my meals take less than 30 minutes of prep/cook time.

Menu planning has also helped me create a much healthier lifestyle for our home. I’m no longer struggling to find healthy options.  By planning out my meals, I can methodically include healthy sides such as steamed cauliflower (Aaron’s favorite), sweet potato wedges, side salads, or quinoa.  I can also monitor how many “cheat” meals I am creating.  For example, we love doing a homemade pizza on Friday nights.  Yes, it is healthier than a greasy Casey’s pizza but pizza is pizza… just not that healthy!  I also have drastically reduced the amount of pasta meals we eat.  Pasta is great because it is quick and easy but no matter how you cook it – it just isn’t that healthy for you.  By menu planning, I can keep pasta-based meals to just one per week.

In addition to the health benefits, our grocery bill has been reduced as well.  Your menu plan automatically turns into your grocery list.  We waste less produce now, buy less pre-packaged foods, and reduced our “doubling-up” (Raise your hand if you also have 5 jars of red pasta sauce because every time you go to the grocery store you are convinced that you used your last jar…).

These tried-and-true tips have really helped make cooking dinner enjoyable again.  Do you have any tips that help make dinnertime more manageable?


Home Styling

Last night, Aaron and I had a great dinner at his parent’s house.  It was great for several reasons:

1. I didn’t have to cook!
2. It tasted really good and had a homemade pie to go with it!
3. We sat in their family room which has large windows on three sides.  With the snow falling down all around us – it felt like you were sitting in a snow globe!

Anyway, Aaron’s mom and I got to talking about home interiors.  She explained to me how they came to own most of the furniture they have in their home.  They favor Ethan Allen for its traditional lines and great quality but were able to furnish most of their pieces through auctions rather than paying the big bucks and buying directly from the store.  As we moved through the house, it was really neat to hear how each piece had its own story behind it.  Some had been refinished others were perfect as is.

As I went home that night, it really got me thinking about our own home interior. We’ve been blessed to live in a house that had been in their family for several generations.  As such, many furnishings came along with it.  Aaron and I really haven’t had to purchase too much.  We have some wonderful Ethan Allen couches that we snagged off of Craigslist (they were a steal!) and a table in the kitchen that is a hand-me-down from my folks, but most of the other furniture was already there.  Side note – we have a fairly modest house so tons of furnishings aren’t really needed.  Also, we have a lot of practical storage needs due to our photography studio and office also being located in our house.

As we chatted away last night, I realized that Aaron’s parents had a good eye for items that fit into their home.  They know their decorating style and see how each piece they come across will fit in (or not).  Aaron and I haven’t really defined a style for ourselves yet (I suppose because we haven’t really needed to). But being the Pinterest junkie that I am, I have pinned plenty of interior shots that speak to me.  And I know that we’ll have some definite rules of thumb when picking out pieces in the future.

1. Purchase real quality wood furniture.  Aaron is very handy at painting and staining.  I figure with quality wood pieces, if we get tired of one finish we can try out something different.

2. Aim for lighter, antiqued looking wood.  I’ve learned the hard way that dark wood furniture and living in the country don’t mix well.  The dark finish shows EVERY speck of dust while lighter wood is a little more forgiving.

3. Look for pieces that are slightly abused.  Aaron and I are (relatively) young.  Which means any furniture we buy from here on out has a whole lot of living to do with us.  I want furniture that can take getting a little nick or scrape.  Those beautiful glossy finishes are ruined with the tiniest of scratches.  My furniture needs to be able to take on a little character.

4. Mixture of textiles.  If there is one thing I’ve learned from the decorating blogs I follow (Centsational Girl is my favorite) it is not to underestimate the importance of adding texture to any room.  I favor more natural textures so I lean towards seagrass and wicker over wrought iron and stainless steel.

5. Elbow grease goes a long way.  Aaron’s mom revealed to me that she had made her own family room pillows and several other fabric pieces throughout their house. A light bulb went off – I have been searching for the perfect sofa pillows for almost 2 years now.  I’m just not happy with anything I find in the store!  Here’s a great thought – why not make my own?  (Though I’m sure I’ll have to get a little assistance :))

I found this great blog post that is about finding your own personal design style.  I haven’t started on it yet, but it looks great!   You can check it out for yourself by clicking here.

I’ll leave you with a few images of home interiors that I favor.  Hopefully, as Aaron and I work on some of our bigger house projects we can start to define our own style! (New carpet and whitewashing our wood-paneled living room is on the honey-do list for this summer!!)

living room

What a beautiful, casual living room. So inviting!


Great for a casual eat-in kitchen!

living room 2

Wonderful mix of textures! Plus, it will age beautifully!


Great place to do some catching up on emails!


If my bathroom looked like this, I wouldn’t ever leave! Love the antiqued wood console!

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