Friday, January 30, 2009

My menu planning "method"

Crystal at Biblical Womanhood is sharing her menu planning ways today for Frugal Friday.

I thought I would post our menu planning "method" here too, since I didn't always menu plan, and it saves us a lot of time, money and frustration!

When Daniel and I first got married, I did a lot of choosing of our meals based on what was cheap or what sounded good. Although we ate okay, I had too many nights where I came home from work worn out and was dissatisfied with what we ended up eating.

Time went on and I started shopping different stores and got better deals. Grocery Outlet was a regular stop for me. This discount store was full of suprises, but when I got to the checkout line I was often suprised that I spent more than I thought since everything was so cheap. Even so the occasional organic mark-down and overall good prices made me think that this was the best way to go.

A year and a half ago or so I stumbled into the world of the blogosphere and then finally into the world of menu planning. Resistance was futile and after a few months I began to seriously menu plan. Since then I have primarily planned our dinners (which I always make enough for our next day's lunch as well-or try to) and spend very little time planning the rest.

Snacks and desserts come from good coupon deals (couponing is also something that I've learned this past year or so and has saved a ton of money, but not so much time!).

Breakfasts typically are homemade things like pancakes, muffins, quickbreads, scones, waffles and the like. Ensuring I have the basics of flour, baking powder/soda, vanilla, eggs, milk, butter etc. allows me the freedom to change our breakfasts quickly to suit our morning needs/wants that week.

I also check our coffee supply since that is something my husband and I both enjoy. Usually I can pick up a bag every couple months at Costco with Walgreen's sales on the cheap stuff supplementing the rest.

When choosing our weekly dinners, I use a variety of strategies:

The first is a quick scan of the weekly grocery ads (Albertson's, Safeway and Fred Meyer are my nearby stores).
~Next I look at foods that we either have a surplus of or need to be used up. I also scan the pantry and fridge for inspiration and check out our supply of basics, such as onions, potatoes, rice, beans-looking for things that we might be running low on. That doesn't always mean they get added to the list, it just gives me an idea of what to focus my menus on.
~Finally, I glance at resources such as our dinner's list, which is primarily simple, low cost meals that we enjoy, other blogs that eat similarly to us, as well as sometimes a cookbook or two. Since I have been doing all this for awhile, it all usually takes less than 30 minutes.
~The very final step is sketching a list of 6 meals, plus pizza night (every friday!). Usually I check our calendar to see if we'll be having company or going to a friend's house for a meal and incorporate that info as well.

For meals we like to have at least 1-2 mexican food nights: enchiladas, tacos, beans and rice etc. One night is pizza of course, We try to have one-two nights of pasta, one of potatoes and I try not to do the same meat on two nights in a row. Usually one night is soup and bread, which is tasty and cheap! We often do several vegetarian nights as well. Some of our favorites are polenta with cheese and marinara sauce, baked potato bar, beans and rice and of course many soups can be vegetarian as well. We both enjoy Indian, Thai and Chinese food, so when I can find a recipe for one of those that fits in with ingredients we can get inexpensively I incorporate that as well.

Although I thought menu planning and sticking to the plan throughout the week would be a creativity-killer (I rarely stick to recipes!), it has taken a lot of stress and brain work out of the evenings. I also am able to start meals in the morning, before the afternoon rush when I am chasing a cranky toddler, finishing up last minute tasks before Daniel gets home and at my most pregnant-exhausted. We also eat a bigger variety of foods, not to mention more fruits and veggies, for less money than previously.

Here is a link to our menu plans to see what I end up with.

Did I miss any steps in there? How do you menu plan? Does it save you time/money?


Brooke said...

i actually enjoy menu planning. i do it monthy, although i does change a little, due to different plans that pop up.

i do one ground beef meal, one chicken meal, one meatless meal and pizza one night. the other nights are a grab bag.

Libby said...

Thanks for telling me what types of diapers you use. I don't know anyone around here who uses them, and I like getting some more info! I follow a similar method for our menu planning, and I just discovered "couponing" this last year too. I've really been enjoying your site.


Susan said...

Hi Rachael! I see you are conquering the mountain of menu planning- that is one of my weekly challenges!! :) In regards to your comment on my blog about freezer cooking, if you don't have a freezer to stock up, you might look into the idea of making up various dry mixes that can be stored in your pantry. Like you can do your own pancake mixes or granola and such. Then when you're ready to use them, you just have to add the wet ingredients. That might be a little bit of help anyway!

Frugal Homemaker said...

Thanks for visiting my blog and taking the time to leave a comment because now I've found yours. Very nice. Nice post about meal planning. :o)