Friday, December 6, 2013

Menu planning

Before this year, I had varied success with menu planning.  I liked it in theory but I wasn't real consistent in my execution.  In January I cracked down on it and now wonder what I ever bought at the grocery without it.  There are a million ways to do this but here's mine:

I menu plan 4 weeks at a time, basically covering one month.  I try to do this towards the end of a month with the intent to do my big grocery run around the 1st or 2nd of the month.

I start by opening my Excel and changing the dates.  What day I start my plan depends on how the calendar dates fall.   I have it set-up that I only need to put in a date in the first box and the rest autofills.  I add in any plans I know we have that will affect supper.  Then I print it off.  That is my starting point.

A few years ago I went through my cookbooks and made 4x6 note cards with ingredients and references for some recipes I was likely to make.  I go through these cards and my Pinterest food board to pick out things to make for the month.  I sometimes ask Matt if there is anything in particular he wants added (when I remember).  Then I start penciling them in.  I try to follow a beef, chicken, vegetarian rotation.  We will also eat the same thing for multiple days until it is gone (I don't like making things that only cover one night) so I plan for leftovers a day or two after I make something.  When I'm done my plan looks like this, without the days crossed off:

I also try to alternate new recipes with tried and true favorites.  We like to try new things and to have variation but new things all the time stress me out a bit.  It's nice to also have things I know I can make somewhat quickly.

As I go through recipes and pins, writing them down on my menu, I write down any ingredients I'll need on a scrap piece of paper.  Order doesn't matter, just need to get everything down.  If I'm not sure if I have it I'll write it down with a question mark to check.

Once I have my menu plan filled in and my ingredient list I start on my grocery list.  When putting together my actual lists I also bring in the wipe-off board that hangs on our fridge.  That's where we write down things as we are running low, things that aren't accounted for in our menu plan (see above: oats, mustard, mayo, almonds, etc.).  I only menu plan suppers so this is mostly breakfast & lunch stuff.  (For lunches Matt usually does a sandwich or the occasional hot dogs.  I generally eat meatless lunches so it's PB or soup of some sort.)

I take my ingredient list & wipe-off list and start my actual shopping list, grouping things as they are in the store.  I've been to Aldi enough times to know the basic layout and will write out my list according to that (I don't like wasting time by backtracking).

I also make my Target list.  We probably do 75% of our grocery shopping at Aldi.  Most of what we buy elsewhere (mostly Target) are things Aldi doesn't carry.  Since our Aldi and Target are right next to each other I try to do them on the same trip.  Go to Aldi first to buy everything I can there and then fill in at Target. 

I am usually amazed at how little we need to make our suppers for the month.  We don't really buy freezer meals or boxed meals.  We always have to go to the store more than my big shopping trip (milk, produce, cold meat, baking supplies, etc.) but this covers most of our suppers for the month.

My menu plans aren't perfect, they never come out just right.  I keep to the same order even if we get off a few days.  If we don't make everything as planned in a month then those meals are the first I add to the next month's plan.  I usually pull forward 1 meal to the next month.  This flex also covers the 2-3 days not covered by my 4 weeks/month plan.

I don't like stocking up on things and really prefer to have empty cupboards at the end of the month. (besides things like baking supplies, spices, condiments, etc.)  I think it was September that at the end of the month we were completely out of meat - no cold meat, frozen chicken breasts, ground beef, nothing in the freezer.  I was so proud. =) 

Menu planning had completely changed how I grocery shop.  We eat what we have and don't have things sitting in the cupboards for months, years.  I know we always have something for supper and just have to consult my plan in the morning to see if I need to thaw beef or put something in the crockpot.   I think menu planning saves us money, cupboard space, and makes us eat healthier since we usually aren't starving enough to resort to fast food.  I definitely recommend figuring out a meal plan system that works for you.


Erin Heckber said...

This is something that I really want to start in January. I am finally getting the energy to organize all of our cupboards so it is organized the way that makes sense (I can't believe that it has taken me so long!)

But this is a nice way of organizing! I can't wait to start planning for January! now if my stomach just cooperates with the menu... lol

diana said...

I've reorganized our cupboards so many times, especially in the past few years. Seriously at least a twice a year activity for me. I know DD doesn't menu plan but I really like having everything figured out for the month!!