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Menu Planning

October 27, 2009

Laura’s Blog Entry

This past year I took on a personal challenge: To go to the next level with my menu planning. I wanted to eat everything we were buying and not let anything go to waste. I know many people find it challenging to plan a week in advance, so I thought I’d share the way I go about it.

We are a shop-once-a-week family, as a rule. There are enough errands to do during the week. Heading to the store a number of times seems to put me over the edge. It just makes more sense to sit down and plan out the week ahead of time and make one trip.

So what have I found to be the most important step in making this menu planning endeavor successful? This may sound obvious, but first of all, I check the calendar. What is going on this week? Do we have any evening meetings or dinner events? That’s one less meal to prepare. Also, I look at what nights we will be getting home later. Those dinners call for something pre-made or quick on the menu. The rest of the nights can be meals that take a moderate amount of preparation. I have learned to be realistic about when I can put in more effort and when things need to be easy. This took a long time to learn but seems to be the key!

Our weekly schedule is pretty predictable. I generally cook dinner Monday through Thursday. Lately I have been trying to do leftovers or something simple on Fridays, to cut down on eating out. Saturday and Sunday we do head to a restaurant occasionally, but mostly grab take-out. This is what works for us. You might be the opposite and want to cook more on the weekends instead.

To come up with meal ideas, I rely heavily on Food Network for inspiration. I get so bored making and eating the same recipes over and over. I am constantly finding new things to make. It’s nice because as I watch cooking shows I can go to the website and quickly add recipes to my virtual “recipe box.” Then when the time comes to put together the week’s meals I have a head start. I also have a number of food blogs I check on a regular basis. (You can find ones I have written about in the past by searching through the “Food” category in the sidebar.)

For example, this meal was a big hit for us. Hot Sausage Burgers with Broccoli Rabe. Really liked the homemade sweet BBQ sauce. We got two dinners out of it, plus a few lunches. I made the sandwiches much smaller and served them on little slider buns.

During the school year it works best to have at least one crock pot meal for the nights we are chauffeuring Mari to and from dance. Or I might slow cook on a day when I know I can hole up at home and enjoy how it fills the house with yummy smells. I’ll follow this entry up with a crock pot blog. It’s a subject worthy of its very own entry!

So back to putting together a weekly plan…

Choose a day for shopping and try to stick to it. Food shopping usually happens on Sunday for us. I try to get a list together by late morning and then my darling husband takes it and magically returns with bags of food. I can’t express how grateful I am that he does this. I really could not bear to do the weekly shopping any more. I don’t mind the planning and the cooking. The bagging and the carrying was eating away at my soul.

Now it’s crunch time. Finalize what these meals are going to be! My method for generating the list is to first check for the new recipes I may have gathered online or from magazine that week. That is usually my starting point. I print out the ones that will be used. Then I flip though my recipe books and binders to fill in the blanks.

I put these binders together a few years ago and they are my saving grace. There is one for entrees, sides, salads, soups, and things like that. The other one is for desserts, baking, brunch, beverages, etc.  I organized them in categories that make sense to me. As new recipes makes the cut, they slide into a plastic page protector and filed away. I worked a long time to build a recipe arsenal to choose from. Plus experience has taught me what has good leftovers. If we don’t eat the leftovers, I consider that recipe a failure. I want to avoid throwing out any food. I see money just going into the trash when that happens.

I have a file folder where I place the recipes I’ll be using that week. Once I check those over and add any needed ingredients to my list I move onto our other food needs.

To stay on top of my pantry staples, I have a little list of regular items we buy – milk, bread, juice, lunch and breakfast items, etc. I give that a quick look as I make the weekly list and check my supply on everything. I am really bad at doing this by memory, so I have to have it written down.

My other tip is to put a blank list on the fridge and write down things as they are used up. Even Mari is trained to let me know when she wants certain snacks by writing it on the weekly list. I rarely run out of things since I began this method.

It takes some effort, but I feel like I am at a really good place now with this system. So how about you? What are some of your meal planning strategies?

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4 Comments leave one →
  1. October 27, 2009 1:43 pm

    We do a lot of those same things. Neat to see someone else doing the same.

    • October 27, 2009 1:55 pm

      Oh good! Sometime I wonder if I am a complete freak who makes things too complicated. It’s not brain surgery, right?

  2. September 13, 2011 6:13 pm

    You are amazing! You’ve now got me all inspired to organize my kitchen! I’m a HUGE recipe hoarder and love, love, love cookbooks and magazines. I’m currently addicted to Eating Well. They have an inspiring website too.

    • September 13, 2011 6:37 pm

      Ah thanks! It’s a good feeling to get those all organized. I need to add a few new categories to my binders: low carb, turkey and snacks. The recipes are piling up! Eating Well is a good magazine. I’ll check out their site!

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