Friday, October 19, 2012

31 Days: When Menu Planning

I love to menu plan. I think it goes along quite well with the simple and minimal lifestyle we lead. When I menu plan I don't buy what I don't need. I will never have a pantry full of food that goes bad before I get to use it. And menu planning helps stay within our grocery budget, most months anyways. :)

I (right now) menu plan every two weeks. And then I grocery shop every two weeks. I do go in between for milk, eggs, yogurt and fresh produce. I always run out of those quickly. I used to plan weekly then I went to every two weeks and then I planned monthly. At this point in time planning every two weeks is good for us. It's hard to do major grocery shopping more than twice a month. I also found I'm likely to stick to my list if I do major shopping twice a month. I may go back to the other ways as our family evolves, but I'll cross that bridge when I get there.

I'm not going to say that menu planning is always a breeze. It definitely isn't! There are some weeks when I struggle to menu plan. I don't know why, I just do. I want to try new things but right now finding the time to spend the time on certain recipes is the problem. With two little ones at my heels, standing over the stove for more than 15 minutes is tough stuff. Even weekends are hard to spend extra time on meals. I want to spend that extra time with Daniel and not so much in the kitchen.

Over my four plus years of menu planning I've figured out what works best for us and how I can plan without going over our budget. Here are my tips for sticking to our budget and making meal planning work for me.

Plan the same dinners for two weeks in a row.
I just recently started doing this and it's made my life so much easier! I also love freezer cooking and this goes along with it. By doubling our dinners the first week I have the second week's meals already made and can easily reheat.
Check our deep freezer list.
I keep a running inventory of what's in our deep freezer hanging on our refrigerator. I try and use our leftovers within a month, if possible.
Check our refrigerator and freezer.
I used to have an inventory sheet for our fridge freezer as well but I had foods coming and going so often it was hard to keep a good inventory. And it's just as easy to look in the freezer as it is to look on a sheet of paper.
Check our pantry for baking and staple items.
I bake just about all our breads from scratch (sandwich bread, breadsticks, rolls, etc) so I always need flour. And sugar. Checking the pantry is essential for sticking to our grocery budget. Yes, I've had 3 bottles of ketchup (I make our own barbecue sauce and ketchup is the base) in the pantry at one time. And when I've bought a bottle and didn't need it I think of the $2 I wasted on something I didn't need. It makes me mad. I'm trying to get better about checking our pantry.
Check breakfast and lunch menu ideas.
Planning our breakfasts and lunches is new to me. I read about it on a blog and loved the idea. I struggle with varying our breakfasts and lunches around here; because of that I end up serving the same foods over and over again. Planning these has helped make meals easier and less loud when the girls are hungry. :) I have a permanent (for now) menu plan for breakfast and lunch posted on my fridge. I can easily check this list with what I have available in the fridge and freezer and buy what I'm low on. I've noticed this has helped our grocery budget as well.
Do we want to try a new recipe?
I love recipes so trying new ones are always on my list. This is where our 2 week menu varies. If I want to try a new recipe I actually look for two new recipes. I do this in case the first recipe I make isn't good and not something I'd want to repeat the following week. Oh yes, it's happened a lot in this house. I wrote about one here. I will stick with a theme on those days though. If I want to make a new lasagna one week I'll make a pasta dish for the next week. I do this so I can use some ingredients in both dishes.  For instance, I had to buy an 8 ounces can of tomato sauce for a recipe but I only need 4 ounces of it in one of my recipes. I'll either double that recipe or find something else that needs 4 ounces of tomato sauce. No, nothing goes to waste in our home. :)
Check our calendar for events outside our home.
We don't have too much going on outside our home these days. And frankly, we like it like that. When we do have somewhere to be it's usually dinner with our parents or dinner at our church. Sometimes things pop up after I menu plan but I just move things around or roll them over to another week. When we already have events on the calendar I work them into my menu plan. I always bring something with us to events so having it on the calendar means I just add my ingredients to our grocery list. Bada bing, bada boom! If you have events outside your home, once a week planning may work better for you. If you have events that pop up you will be better off planning once a week so you can roll your planned meals to the following week. This ensures nothing goes to waste. When we were first married planning once a week worked for us because of this. We could be more spur of the moment because we had no kids to plan around.

When it comes to menu planning do what works for you. Play around with weekly or monthly menu planning. I really go back and forth depending on what stage of life we're in. I'll be posting our lunch menu next week. Check back for that!

How do you make menu planning work for you?

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