Menu4Moms™ is not just another menu planning website, but an entirely different way of thinking about cooking. Our menus are based on the Secrets of a Busy Cook and will help you not only get control of your meal planning, but also save time and money. Please review both this page and the Busy Cooks Pyramid before using the Busy Mom Menu and Frugal Mom Menu.
Each week the Busy Mom Menu and Frugal Mom Menu are sent on Tuesday for the following week (the menu sent on Tuesday will be for the Monday-Friday starting 6 days later). The menus are in a PDF file attached to the email; the file is also available in the member area of the website for approximately 10 days. It is important to save the file to your computer since it is only available online for a limited time. Each menu includes the menu plan, recipes, and grocery list for Monday-Friday.
The grocery list is included in the menu plan each week and is also available in Shopping List format in the member area for those who choose to use the free Shopping List software (Windows only) which allows you to edit the grocery list on your computer and print the list with items listed by category.
Busy Cook’s Pyramid
The Busy Mom Menu includes cooking meals for the freezer, planning leftovers, quick and easy recipes, fast ingredients, and the use of tools and techniques to make your dinner hour low stress. In addition, the information found below will explain some of the terms and ingredients that you will find on some of the menu plans (mostly the Busy Mom Menu), such as “1 lb. cooked chicken (from freezer)” or “1 onion, chopped and sautéed (from freezer)”. You may also wish to review the FAQ. The Frugal Mom Menu is beginning to include some of the building blocks from the Busy Cook’s Pyramid as well.
As you use the menus (particularly the Busy Mom Menu), you will notice that we encourage you to stock your pantry regularly. Although we will include reminders for stocking your freezer, you should make an effort to stock up when you find the deepest discounts rather than when we suggest it. For more information about keeping a stocked pantry, see The Well Stocked Pantry series.
Planning ahead is the best tool you have in the kitchen. You will find that by starting whatever you can in the morning or early afternoon, your dinner preparation will be smoother and less stressful. You will see that our menus save money by using homemade items rather than prepared, store bought equivalents. Refried beans are easy and delicious when made from dried black beans, and you can make 4 times the amount (or more) than one can of refried beans for the same price. If you have never cooked from scratch you will find ample notes and suggestions to help you. We also offer recipes for homemade biscuits and pie crusts as well as seasoning mixes and condensed soup alternatives. Using these saves money and the homemade versions are much better fresh and homemade. The menus may not specify a homemade version so keep in mind that these alternatives are available to you (for example, a recipe may call for cream of chicken soup; you can either purchase the soup or use the alternative found below).
Most weeks feature recipes that use quick and easy ingredients like chicken from the freezer. This is the primary way that we save prep time in the evening. When a recipe calls for ground beef, instead of browning one pound of ground beef, buy 5 lbs. and brown all of it, freezing the extra in 4 freezer bags. When you need cooked chicken for a soup or casserole, instead of cooking just enough for that recipe, boil or grill 3-4 extra lbs. for the freezer. When we cook a ham, we dice the leftovers and bag them in freezer bags in 1-2 cup portions for later use in cooking beans or soup. Here is a wonderful recipe for cooking chicken in bulk. Have grilled chicken for dinner the night you cook it, then chop and freeze the leftovers in dated freezer bags.
Grilled Marinated Chicken
- 4 lbs. chicken parts of your choice
- 1/2 cup red wine vinegar
- 1 cup soy sauce
- 1/2 cup vegetable oil
- 2 tsp. oregano
- 1 tsp. basil
- 1 tsp. garlic salt or Adobo
- 1/2 tsp. pepper
Place marinade with chicken in a zipper bag and marinate overnight. Grill chicken until it reaches 160° at the thickest part, or until white all the way through and juices run clear. If you do not have a grill, you can bake the chicken in the oven. Serve 1 portion of the chicken for dinner and chop and freeze the rest for use in soups, casseroles, and stove top meals.
A good way to start stocking your freezer is to buy 10 lbs. of ground beef when it goes on sale. Brown 5 lbs. as described above, and with the rest make this mixture: 5 lbs. of ground beef, 5 eggs, and Adobo seasoning or salt and pepper. You may add some bread crumbs if you wish. Shape patties for hamburgers (freeze on a cookie sheet individually and then bag once frozen), then take the extra meat and divide it equally between a meatloaf and meatball shapes for the freezer. Individually freeze the meatballs on a cookie sheet (cooking them first saves time later), then put into dated freezer bags. This will give you 5 lbs. of cooked beef for casseroles, tacos, enchiladas, soups, and more, as well as homemade patties for hamburgers (2 meals), a meatloaf, and meatballs (2 meals).
If you are just starting Menus4Moms™ you will need cook this meat as you encounter it in recipes in the menus since you won’t have it in the freezer. It will be listed as “cooked chicken/beef/etc (from the freezer)”. Go ahead and take the time to add a few pounds of whichever meat you are cooking for a meal to your list and when you cook for the dish, cook all of the meat and freeze the extra to stock your freezer. If you consistently do this, you will always have cooked meat in the freezer for those days when prep time is at a minimum. The best way to store your freezer meat is in quart-sized freezer bags. Vacuum sealers are a good investment and reduce the risk of freezer burn. Thawing is also quick and easy with vacuum sealed bags – just thaw the bag in a bowl of cold water.
Occasionally you will see taco-seasoned ground beef mentioned also. The same principle applies: instead of seasoning one pound of ground beef for tacos, cook several pounds and freeze the extra in one pound increments.
Freezer Onions and Peppers
The same principle of bulk cooking can be applied to onions and green peppers either individually or together. If your recipe calls for a sautéed onion, instead of sautéing one onion, buy a whole bag of onions, chop them all and freeze in casserole-sized servings. When you have these meal-sized portions of meat and vegetables, it is a cinch to throw together a quick meal late in the afternoon.
If you are just starting Menus4Moms™, you will not have sautéed onions in your freezer. Go ahead and use this time to cook a bag of onions and/or green bell peppers so you will have them ready in your freezer. These are also best stored in quart-sized freezer bags.
Adobo is a Filipino spice that is mostly made up of garlic salt. If you need a substitution, garlic salt is the best one although I would use less. Adobo is inexpensive (less than $2 for a large bottle) and can be found with the Latino foods at most grocery stores. If you can’t find it, you can make a substitute.
- 4 tablespoons salt
- 3 tablespoons onion powder
- 3 tablespoons garlic powder 3 tablespoons ground black pepper
- 2 tablespoons ground oregano
Put all ingredients in a jar with a tight fitting lid. Shake well and store for up to two months in a cool dry place.
Chili Spice Blend
- 7 Tbsp. chili powder
- 2 Tbsp. cumin
- 1 tsp. cayenne pepper
- 1 Tbsp. garlic powder
- 3 Tbsp. dried minced onion
- 1 tsp. salt
Combine all ingredients in chili spice blend and store in a leftover container, empty spice bottle, or baggie.
Cream of Something Soup Mix
Note: Choose the bouillon flavor based on the type of soup mix you would like to make and add dehydrated ingredients whenever available to complement the bouillon flavor. For example, to make Cream of Mushroom Soup mix, use vegetable bouillon and add chopped dehydrated mushrooms. To make Cream of Chicken Soup mix, use chicken bouillon and, if available, add pieces of dehydrated chicken. You may adjust the seasonings according to your preference, creating many varieties of soup mix.
- 1 cup non-fat dried milk
- 3/4 cup cornstarch
- 1/4 cup bouillon granules
- 4 Tbsp freeze dried minced onions
- 1 tsp dried basil
- 1 tsp dried thyme
- 1 tsp pepper
To make the equivalent of one can of condensed cream soup, mix 1/3 cup Cream of Something Soup Mix with 1 1/4 cup water and cook over medium heat until thick.
Cream Soup Substitution
- 2 T. butter
- 2 T. flour
- 1 c. milk
- Salt & Pepper to taste or other spices/vegetables
for flavor (mushrooms, celery, chicken bouillon, etc.)
Mix equal parts of butter & flour, stirring into a paste. Freeze in 1 T. balls or in the cubes of an ice tray. To make quick white sauce, simmer 2- T. cubes of the frozen butter & flour mixture w/ milk, then salt& pepper to taste.
Thanks to Holly from Menus 4 Moms™ Yahoo group for this suggestion.
We regularly cook a bag of dried beans and freeze the beans in their own juice to use in place of canned beans. Dried beans are easy to cook and can be done in a slow cooker. They are far less expensive than canned beans. If you do not have any beans in your freezer and would like to stock up, use this recipe:
- 1 lb. bag dried beans (black, pinto, kidney, etc.)
Rinse beans in a colander and check to be sure there are no stones or other debris. Place beans in a dutch oven (or slow cooker if you are using the overnight soak method) and cover with water so that the water is twice as deep as the beans.
Overnight soak: Leave beans in water overnight.
Quick soak: Heat to boiling and boil for 2 minutes. Turn heat off and cover, let sit for 1 hour.
Drain beans in a colander and rinse pot. Place beans in slow cooker and cover with water, making sure the water is twice as deep as the beans. Cook on high for 5 hours or low for 8-10 hours.
Drain beans, reserving liquid (place colander on a lg. pan or bowl then pour beans into the colander so that the bowl catches the liquid). Separate beans into 2 cup servings in freezer bags. Cover beans in each bag with some of reserved liquid and freeze flat.
- 4 cups self-rising flour
- 1/2 cup butter
- 1-1/2 cups buttermilk
Combine flour and butter, cutting with a fork. Stir in buttermilk. Add more flour if too wet, more buttermilk if too dry. When dough is rolling consistency, knead a few times and turn out onto a floured surface. Roll out and cut with a biscuit cutter. Bake half of the biscuits on cookie sheet at 475° until brown. Place the other half of the biscuits on a cookie sheet or other flat pan and put in the freezer until frozen. Before going to bed or early the next morning, bag the biscuits in a dated freezer bag for later use. If cooking thawed biscuits, follow normal cooking instructions. To cook frozen biscuits, extend cooking time. Serve hot biscuits with butter and jelly.
Healthier Biscuit Mix recipe
- 10 c flour (or whole wheat pastry flour if available)
- 3/8 c baking powder
- 1 tsp cream of tarter
- 1 1/4 c powdered milk
- 1 1/2 tsp salt
- 1/4 c sugar (or Sucanat)
- 1 lb of Spectrum (no transfat) shortening
Mix all dry ingredients together. Cut in shortening til mixture has a even, crumbly texture. Store in the freezer and use in place of Bisquick®.
Pie Crust Recipe
- 6 cups flour
- 1 lb. butter, softened (4 sticks)
- 2 tsp. salt
- 1 1/4 to 1 1/2 cups water
Mix flour and salt. Use a fork or pastry cutter to blend in butter until mixture is uniformly crumbly. Add water a little at a time and mix until mixture forms a ball. Add water as necessary to get correct texture.
Divide dough in half, then divide each half into 3 equal parts. Form balls and flatten to freeze. Put in individual quart-sized freezer bags and freeze.