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Monday, May 5, 2014

A month of dinner menus for our house this May

There's simplistic beauty in a patch of lettuce in the garden.

For the home-cook, what could make the daily event of dinner prep as encouraging as a menu plan for the entire month? 

All of my ingredients and time constraints for the month of May have been taken into account. I'll be drawing mostly from our stock in the garden, pantry, fridge and freezer. For produce, May is still in pre-summer mode, here. Our garden will be producing spinach, watercress, mustard greens, lettuce, pea tendrils, chives and rhubarb in abundance, but not much else for now. So, I'll be relying on freezer produce from last summer, as well as canned pumpkin, canned pineapple, and canned tomatoes (in salads, chopped and drained).

I also have given myself 2 nights per week as easy nights, either as meals using primarily leftovers, or, having my kids cook, or, making a simple breakfast-for-dinner supper. Doing so allows me full afternoons to devote to various projects.

I don't strictly follow my menu plans. I almost always make the main dish, but the sides may change, depending on what I have. For example, on May 2, we had the marinated lentil and barley salad, French bread, fruit jello (rhubarb jello), but instead of garden greens, onions and garlic, I added watermelon (picked up at the produce stand) and a bed of watercress to the servings of lentil salad (for the "greens").

If you menu plan, do you deviate very much from your plan? Or do you stick to it pretty closely? Do you menu plan as a way to simplify your work? Or do you menu plan to save money? 

So here you go. A month of May menus, simple and frugal-style. 

week of May 1 through May 3

1   ham and green pepper pizza, garden salad (or cole slaw if garden lettuce not ready), rhubarb sauce (double batch for fruit jello)

2   marinated lentil salad (double batch for May 5), French bread (make/freeze 2 extra loaves 1 for garlic bread on May 18, 2 for crostini on May 12), sauteed garden greens, onions and garlic, fruit jello

3   turkey, cranberry and cream cheese sandwiches (turkey and cranberries from freezer), sweet potato fries, rhubarb squares (freeze half of the rhubarb squares for Wednesday)

week of May 4 through May 10

4   bean-vegetable soup (double batch for Thursday), rolls from freezer, rhubarb crisp

5   pocket sandwiches (pocket bread filled with leftover lentil salad and shredded lettuce), fresh fruit, brownies (double batch brownies and freeze half)   

6   meatloaf muffins topped with marinara, mashed kale, garlic and potatoes, green salad from garden 
7   leftover soup from Sunday, rolls, cole slaw, rhubarb squares (from freezer)

8   waffles with fruit topping   

9   pinto bean, rice, grilled peppers/onions, corn salsa, and cheese burritos (double batch rice for tomorrow), green salad, leftover brownies
10   grilled whole chicken (shred leftover chicken into 2 containers, freeze 1 container), oven-roasted potato casserole w/ chives/cheese (make extra large for leftovers), pumpkin souffle (canned pumpkin)

week of May 11 through May 17 (Mother's Day on Sunday)

11   Mother's Day (kids make dinner)  leftover chicken in BBQ sauce over buns, carrot sticks, leftover potato casserole, blackberry-rhubarb pie

12   chicken noodle soup, made with chicken carcass from Saturday and veggies from garden, crostini, leftover pie

13   spinach souffle, brown rice, fruit salad, tossed green salad

14   bean patties (double batch/freeze for May 20), corn bread, carrot sticks, cole slaw

15   French toast with fruit topping

16   frittata, brown rice, pumpkin muffins

17   hot dog cook-out -- dogs in buns and 2 salads-- pasta salad (w/ chopped, canned tomatoes, olives, garlic greens and any green vegetables from the garden), spinach salad with rhubarb dressing

week of May 18 through May 24 (Memorial Day weekend begins on 24th)

18   tofu garden lasagna, green salad, garlic bread

19   polenta squares (double batch) with marinara sauce/cheese, lentil-barley salad, steamed spinach

20   leftover bean patties, leftover polenta squares, green salad, roasted carrots

21   turkey and dumplings (turkey from freezer), spinach salad with rhubarb dressing

22   black beans and rice, garden salad, blueberry muffins (blueberries from freezer)

23   pancakes topped with rhubarb coulis

24   hamburgers, oven fries, sauteed spinach, cookies

week of May 25 through May 31 (Memorial Day weekend ends on 26th)

25   Asian chicken-noodle salad, (chicken from earlier in month, pea tendrils, green onions, garden vegetables and whole wheat spaghetti noodles), grilled pineapple

26   Memorial Day: hot dog cook-out -- dogs in buns with 2 salads --  potato salad, tossed green salad, rhubarb lemonade, s'mores

27   quiche, brown rice, fruit salad, sauteed greens and garlic

28   baked ham, sweet potato fries, green salad, plum kuchen (using frozen plums)

29   ham and baked beans, cornbread (double batch for tomorrow), creamed spinach, rhubarb sauce (double batch for tomorrow)

30   ham and eggs, leftover cornbread, leftover rhubarb sauce

31   vegetable pizza, pasta salad w/chopped canned tomatoes, olives, green veggies from garden and garlic greens, leftover kuchen



  1. You are so organized. The most I've ever planned ahead was for a week.

    We do pancakes for dinner a lot, too. My family isn't big on leftovers. Any ideas to make them more "kid friendly"?

    1. Hi Kath,
      A couple of the more kid friendly things that work for us with leftovers --
      Have a s'morgasbord night, where everyone gets to choose from the leftovers.
      Freeze in single servings for take-and-go lunches.
      On Saturday afternoons, when everyone is home, I get a few containers out and leave on the counter for the snackers.

      Hope those suggestions help.

  2. Your lettuce looks so big. I planted seeds in a pot, but they are still so tiny.

    You asked about menu planning for money savings vs. simplifying work. I menu plan as a way to ensure we don't waste what I've bought. I plan our menus 1 week at a time, and am like you, in that I always make the main entree, but change up the side dishes as items need using or our moods dictate. Sometimes a head of lettuce just starts to wilt days before I had planned on using it, or berries begin to go soft the day after I buy them, and these items have to be moved to immediate days.

    For Kath, I second a smorgasbord dinner. My kids think that is the greatest, as its the only time they get to choose how much of anything goes on their plates.

    1. Hi Jacqueline,
      That's a good point, making sure that you use up what you've bought.

      My kids always loved s'morgasbords for the very same reason, the only chance to choose their dinner!

  3. Hi Lili!

    My mouth is watering from looking at your salad greens. My in-laws were here over the w/e and they brought up asparagus fresh-picked from their garden ... yum!!!!! My m-i-l apologized for bringing us too much--like that could happen!!!!!!!! We can always freeze it if we have to!

    I notice that you make double-duty out of your whole chickens--I think, in response to Kath's question above, that my favorite way of dealing with leftovers is to use pre-cooked chicken in other recipes such at BBQ chicken sandwiches (and to save the broth for soup). I often freeze the chicken leftovers and then have it a week or 2 later so it doesn't "feel" like leftovers. We also like the occasional smorgasbord. And I am fortunate to have a husband who likes leftovers for lunch.

    I think I've told you before that I am not a great menu planner--I have a good idea of what I want to serve each week and I plan from there, using up freezer items and buying sale items. I typically will do 1 or 2 more labor-intensive main dishes a week and 1 or 2 super-quick dinners (and the rest are sorta in-between, work- and time-wise). I find balancing out how much time I spend cooking keeps me from getting burned out in the kitchen (which leads to eating out or take-out, which leads to increased spending ... ). However, I have a confession to make ... after having had guests 2 weekends in a row (including for a family wedding which my kids were in) I'm feeling pooped and since it's my birthday .... I picked up subs from Subway today (we have my son's baseball game tonight so no time for a restaurant meal). That is definitely not the norm for us, which makes it all the more fun!

    1. Happy birthday, Kris!!! May your day be filled with wonderful surprises.

      Freezing some of the leftovers to have later in the month is a great way to make leftovers seem not so leftover-y. I think you've found a good balance for yourself, a couple of labor-intensive meals countered with a couple of super easy meals in a week. As much as I love cooking, I do get burned out from time to time, if I feel like all I'm doing is cooking.

      Again, have a super happy birthday!

  4. As always, you menus look great. I notice mashed kale. How do you do that?

    1. Hi live and learn,
      The kale is shredded and mashed into potatoes along with garlic and sometimes sour cream or cream cheese. (So mashed potatoes with green bits.) It's one of the ways I get us to eat those leafy greens, and actually enjoy them. ;)

  5. Monthly dinner menu planning, keeping our commitments in mind as I do, saves me a great deal of money, helps me to avoid food waste. Pre-planning reduces the stress and late afternoon rush. This works for me, may not for everyone. : )

    1. Hi Carol,
      Good point!
      That late afternoon rush is even more pronounced in a household where the cook also works outside the home (as you do). Having dinner in a crockpot or at least items thawed and ready to go could be the difference between having a home-cooked meal or getting take out, for some families.

  6. We can't afford take out, for both health as well as financial reasons. I much prefer my home cooking. Helps my dollars stretch much, much further, in the process! Planned over, homemade turkey stew full of veggies, including some leftovers, topped with herbed-cheese dumplings was on the menu tonight. I was busy getting tomorrow's dinner ready, so this was a blessing to have already prepared, on hand. : )

    1. I know what you mean, Carol. Home cooking is simply better for our family's health and take out just isn't a possibility right now. And I've grown fond of my own cooking.
      You are definitely one of the more organized people I've encountered! And that will go a long way towards your financial goals, I am sure!

  7. I do meal plans a month at a time, too. I can stock up on the non-perishables in one shopping trip, and buy fresh stuff weekly. I used to over-buy produce, so the menu plan has almost eliminated waste. We usually cook two meals for weekdays that will last all 5 days - love leftovers because it means a night off from cooking. We can alternate the two meals or do variations in the side dishes as you do. Then make another nice meal on Saturday when there is more time. We both like knowing what we will be having for dinner that day - none of that old conversation: "What do you feel like having? I don't know; what do you feel like?"

    1. HI anexacting,
      monthly menu planning would definitely simplify grocery shopping. As you said, you can stock up on the non-perishable stuff all in one swoop, which makes a lot of sense. Most of the time, I don't use the entire package of a non-perishable in one meal -- like a box of pasta, or a bag of dried beans.

      I had totally forgot about those sort of conversations. Ours used to be, "what do you want to do this weekend? I don't know. What do you want to do?" Usually revolving around going to the movies or eating out. File that under "stupid conversations", along with "you hang up. No, you hang up. No, you hang up." LOL

  8. I try to plan our dinner menus in advance, by the week, not month (I could never get that done!) But a lot of weeks I totally forget and don't realize I forgot until about Tuesday, when I'm asking myself what should I make tonight. Life is chaotic here most days, with 3 small children at home and I just can't get somethings done. Any advice for a frazzled mom on dinner planning more than a day ahead?

    1. Hi Kira,
      Oh, wow, once upon a time, I was you! I had 3 small kids at home, the oldest I was homeschooling and the two youngest, twins, were into everything! I'll tell you what I did then, and maybe someone else has suggestions.

      I kept a notebook and pen on the kitchen counter. And as I worked, if I thought of something to make for dinner the next week, I'd write it down as I thought of it. Then, the day before grocery shopping, I'd go through the store ads and finalize my menu and list, while the kids had their nap/quiet time.

      Not only did this simplify meal prep, but it really made grocery shopping easy. Instead of wandering each aisle, wondering what we'd like, I was a mom with a mission, to get what I needed and out of the store. So while it took time to make up the menu, I more than saved that time in both meal prep and in grocery shopping. That was incentive enough for me.

      Hope this helps, and maybe someone else has a suggestion or two. Life does get easier as the kids get older. :)


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