For quite a few years now, I’ve been a menu planner. It became my habit because we needed to save money by buying only what was needed at the grocery store instead of perusing up and down the aisles and filling the cart based on stocking the pantry with whatever was missing. It also began because I do not find shopping enjoyable. The less I have to do it, the better. True confession, don’t rail me for this, but I only go to T*arget about once per month–longer if I can help it. Staying away from stores helps us spend less money. If I don’t know what I’m missing then I won’t miss it!
I am going to attempt to explain to you how I make sure our family has enough to eat for 2 weeks at a time. It has a lot to do with lists. I have lots of lists on the side of my refrigerator.
First off, I have a continual list going of what we are out of or will run out of by the time I go shopping. Here is a sample portion of what is on my list right now.
The list goes on, but what I want to point out is that even though my list will be huge by the time I start my menu planning process, I do not buy everything on it. I will take a look at what NEEDS to be bought for the next two weeks and buy only those items. But I write the item down and transfer it over to the next week’s list because I don’t want to forget that we are out and will need it next time we want to cook with it. If I write it down, I don’t have to try to remember anymore, thus freeing up more brain space. That is needed! So there are items on my continual list that will not be bought this time around because they are not a priority. For example, if I am not going to make anything with chicken broth then why buy it? Or the bleach tablets for the toilet have been on the list for a few weeks because I have deemed them unnecessary temporarily–I can scrub the toilets a bit more often–in order to afford more food items.
Throughout the week leading up to grocery shopping, I am also making notes on a separate list of things I notice that I could make for the next time around. I’ve already noticed that I have what it takes to make steak quesadillas because I’ve got some steak already cut and in the freezer. Tortillas and cheese are always in bountiful supply at our house so that is a shoe-in for next week. I also add things that I think of that I haven’t made for awhile. Jotting these notes down throughout the week makes it so that I am almost done preparing for next week before I’ve even started. On my list for possibilites next week, I’ve already got down:
That’s 10 of 14 days already thought out. If my brain freezes at this point, I either dig into my recipe box or pull up the file I have on my computer that has listed all of the possible things I could make. I took the time to do this one day and it has blessed me a million times over. It takes the thinking out of menu planning.
A side note of another list that is on my refrigerator is similar to what I did above for dinners. I made a list of all of the possible breakfast, lunches and snacks. Again, it takes the thinking out of “what do I make?”
So I’m ready to make my menu for 2 weeks. Where do I start? The first thing I do is take a look ahead at our calendar to see how many actual dinners I will need to make. If we’re planning to eat dinner with friends or something of the sort, that is one less dinner I have to plan. I also take a look at how many nights we will be home and how many we will need to rush out the door. I try to plan more complicated dinners when we have the time, not when we’re rushing out the door to Aw*na or wherever. Can’t forget to double check whether I need to bring a certain food item to an event or maybe even take a meal to someone. I want to be prepared in advance for that.
Now that I know how many dinners I need to plan, I take a look around at what we have already available. That is how Pumpkin Soup and Tortilla Soup got on the menu. They are leftovers from another night that I stuck in the freezer. The frozen steak led to the Steak Quesadillas. I also try to balance our menu so that we don’t have too many pastas or too may soups or too many of a certain type–like Mexican food. I look to see that I have a have a lot of corn tortillas so what can I do with those? Basically I try to make up our menu based on what is already available, not just making up a menu from scratch with obscure ingredients I will have to specialty buy. That would cost more money.
So now that I’ve got a list of what I can make based primarily on what already exists in my pantry then I begin to make my real grocery list. I now map out my stores and list what I truly need from each store to make sure that I have what I need to make these meals on my list. Again, asking myself to only put down the items that are needed, not just fill an empty spot on the pantry shelf.
After I’ve completed the list of items I need to make dinners, I make sure that I’ve got what I need for lunches, any baking I’ll need to do, breakfast and snacks. Any other items, like tioletries will also be thought through in the same manner. Bar soap is on the list right now. Yes indeed, my husband will run out before the next cycle so that is a must buy this time, but even though I am near the bottom of it, I think I can get buy without buying laundry soap until the next cycle. Why buy it now if I don’t need it now?
Do I map out exactly what we will eat on each day? No, not really. I just keep the master list of meals available to choose from. This way I have the flexiblity to choose what I want to make that day, but because of that list and the work that I’ve done, I don’t need to start from scratch each day. I hate standing there in the kitchen and wondering what to make. Now I just consult my list and I’m off! I do have to say though that I do try to make the dinner decision the night before. That way I can pull meat out that needs to be defrosted or any other ingredient that needs prep work. It makes my job all the lighter when I think ahead.
Maybe planning out a menu for 2 weeks is a bit overwhelming to you, but it certainly can be done on a weekly basis too. To be honest, if I could get away with it, I’d shop for a whole month at a time if I could! What I hope you take away from this is that a bit of planning now will bless you later. It will save you money and you’ll take less trips to the grocery store, thus saving on gas. Savings on time and money all around! I’d say that would make one wise Mama. Now you’ll have more time to spend with your children and husband. I think they’ll like that. 🙂