Following last week’s post about Sticking to a Grocery List as well as my earlier post about our family’s attempt to get our grocery budget under control, I wanted to spend a little time on another approach we are taking. I’ve tried using menu planning in the past, but often after a few weeks I would get lazy and drop my planning. When we made the decision to really get serious about our grocery budget, I committed to using menus again. Now that I am not using them half-heartedly, I am amazed at the difference in both our grocery spending as well as my time spent in the kitchen.
Different people using different menu plans – it really comes down to what works for you as an individual. I have found that planning our menus two weeks works best around here. Here are several points about menu planning that have been working for us. I added the printed template I use under the Downloads tab- it keeps it neater than when I just write my menu out on paper, as you can see below. But, whatever works, right?
1. Make a master menu. I sat down and made a master list of our usual dinners – things we eat weekly or at least once a month. When I sit down to plan our two-week menu, I have my master list handy. I am familiar enough with these meals that I know the ingredients needed and time commitent of each.
2. Plan with your schedule in mind. It doesn’t make much sense to plan for a meal that takes an hour or more to prepare on an evening when I have somewhere to be at 630 PM. When I sit down to write down our menu, I keep in mind our days we spend with our homeschool co-op, which leaves me a bit tired and not in the mood for a prep-heavy meal. Likewise, we are about to have an evening committment for Kyri, and I won’t have much or any time for meal prep. On these evenings, I am putting either a dinner salad or a cold pasta salad that I can prep in advance. I am putting the more time-consuming meals on the weekend.
3. Build your grocery list with your menu. After I plan my menu, I first check the pantry to see what I have, and then I then go to my weekly grocery list and check off what I need for that week’s menu. I mentioned in my recent post about using a grocery list that I would often find myself without one or two needed ingredients for a meal, which of course then led to a midweek grocery store run and overspending. By building my grocery list from the menu plan for the week, I have everything I need to get through the week without needing a quick trip to the store.
4. Be willing to be flexible. On a couple of occasions, I have gotten a later start on dinner than I would like and have decided to swap a Monday soup for a Thursday stirfry, to save time. I still have all I need to make the postponed menu item, so it merely gets switched to the other day.
5. Plan for multiple meals. I cook beans in my slow cooker a couple days a week. If I am going to cook a 2 pound batch of black beans, I will plan for a couple meals during the week to use them in – black bean and quinoa burgers one night and a batch of chili or black beans and rice later in the week. This keeps food from accumulating in the fridge and being forgotten.
6. More information is better. On my menu for the two weeks, I do not just write out what I have planned for dinner. I also have a section to list prep items for each night’s meal. If I am making chili on a Tuesday, under Monday’s prep area, I have “soak beans overnight” and under Tuesday’s prep area I have “beans in crockpot. This keeps me from getting to 4:30 PM and realizing I have no beans for chili. I am trying to keep away from canned beans, so this is a needed reminder for me.