Today we are going to explore the art that is menu planning. Long ago, as in about three years ago, I did not plan my weekly meals. Is it possible to become a Type A personality over time? (Those of you that know me are probably thinking, when was she ever not Type A?! I digress...) I remember my husband and I going to the grocery store and thinking of ideas of what we wanted to eat that week while sitting in the car, in the parking lot, two minutes before entering the store. No list. No plan. Just going off the cravings of our hungry bellies. Isn't that the first rule of grocery shopping? Eat first, shop second! Alas, we were little lost and hungry ducks, wandering those grocery store aisles. "Oh! Let's have tacos!" "We have tacos every week. Let's have something else." "Okay, how about... pizza? or that one mushroom thing you made once." "What?" "You know. That one time." It probably goes without saying that we ate out often, wasted food that was bought unnecessarily on an empty tummy whim, forgot ingredients all the time, and spent far too much time, and in turn, money. Fast forward a couple years, and you will find me, newly self-proclaimed (or perhaps the word is recognized) Type A, with my paws on an organized grocery list and menu, (still) wandering at the grocery store. This method I have tweaked over the past couple years and is essential to keeping me organized. This in turn provides better, more creative meals for my little family and allows us to waste less, utilize more from our groceries, save time, and eat out less.
The obvious task to start with is planning your meals for the length of time between your grocery visits. For me this is about one week, give or take a day or two. This step can get involved as I usually look for new recipes to try. I find that finding fresh and creative meals keeps me motivated to spend time in the kitchen. If you know that new recipes aren't your thing, you can just use a rotation of your tried and true, fail proof recipes. If you hate the whole planning part, plan one month at a time and get it over with. Whatever works for you and your family is the right choice. One helpful tip is to locate the ad for the grocery store while planning. If I know that my favorite ground turkey is on sale, we may have chili. If I know that peppers are on sale, we may end up having fajitas. Another aspect that I try to bring into menu planning is what lunches will be during the week. My husband and I are not really sandwich people, so I try to make the meals with a decent amount of leftovers that reheat well early in the week, so we can eat them for lunches during the week.
While planning your meals, make yourself an (organized) list. I divide my grocery list into sections to make it easier for me to find items in the grocery store. Here I divided into "Produce, Meat, Cold, Dry." I often add an "Other" category if I have things like toilet paper, or plastic wrap to get. So if I write down Teriyaki Steak Stir Fry for Sunday, I look at the recipe and write down the ingredients I need in the corresponding columns. Key point here, unless you have made this recipe a lot, it is SO EASY to forget one simple ingredient. Do yourself a favor and look at the recipe. This will also give you an idea of the quantity of items that you need. For the steak stir-fry, I need two and half cups of broccoli, so I indicate that on the list. I also take the time and look in the cupboard/fridge/freezer to make sure we have the ingredients I think we have. How many times have you gotten home and said, well I thought I had that? (I still do it, but it's a lot less.) Having my freezer inventory has helped a great deal with this. While you are writing down your ingredients, you can also take this opportunity to find any coupons you may have to use. If so, indicate a "C" next to that item on the list. That way when you get to the store, you know to pull the coupon. You can make sure you have met the requirements of the coupon, and hopefully not forget any in the shopping trip.
Finally, I organize any prep work that needs to happen during the week. I work a few days a week, so I usually try to partially prepare my meals prior to those days. That way dinner can be a snap when we are under pressure (i.e. Penny is screaming at my legs that she wants "nigh nigh" and demanding to be held while I try to make dinner). So if I need to chop vegetables, I can already have that done. If I am making black bean soup one night, I'll make my black beans a day or two ahead of time.
The key thing to remember is that you need to find what works best for you and your family. Planning, any which way you go about doing it, is key to having more healthy, balanced and creative meals on the table, to eating out less, to wasting less, and to keeping more pennies in your wallet.
We thought our readers could benefit from a template, if you don't already have one of your own, for ease in menu planning. We have two different Meal Planners to choose from: one is all about the details and the other is more general. Click the Meal Planner you like best and a PDF will open so you can print as many as you'd like! Also, make sure to pin or bookmark this post so you can refer back to it later when you need to print more.
What methods do you use to plan out your weekly meals? Do you think you will start planning more now if you didn't before? For those Type A'er's out there, do you have any tips for us? Please share!