What’s for Dinner: Menu Planning 101

I just don’t have time, it’s too hard to plan a menu, I never have the ingredients I need, these are several complaints I have heard from myself and friends as to why the food in the refrigerator  spoils and we end up eating out, getting take out or relying on convenience foods. The trick is to have a system in place, only buy what you need and to know your weekly schedule in advance. This will help you save time, money and your sanity. There are several ways to do this but I am going to share what works for me.

Pre planning, This can be the most time consuming of the process but is the key. I keep a spiral notebook that I use for everything that way I only have to look in one place for all I need to know. Mine has pockets which are useful to hold important papers and recipes, sale ads, coupons etc… I start a new page for each shopping week. I like to shop on Sunday nights or Mondays after the kids get home from school. This way I am guaranteed to have someone here to help put groceries away.

During the week ahead I look for recipes, I try to only use 2 sources of recipes per week to lessen the confusion. An example would be the new Food Network Magazine and My Southern Living Cookbook. I will go through these while watching TV, or  waiting to pick up the kids and use sticky tabs or post it notes to mark the recipes I want to use. Then I make my list of the ones to use and the page number or source where they came from. Other good sources besides cookbooks and magazines are Pinterest, Epicurious.com, or the Martha Stewart  Everyday Food App, for smart phones.

The next step is to make the actual grocery list. I set up my page like my grocery store is set up.

I then go through my recipes and add the ingredients that I need in the right categories, check the pantry to see what other things I need, as well as asking the rest of the household if they need anything. Then I shop. I make sure I also have my menu with me in case I need to make any substitutions if they are out of something or something else is on sale. I find with this system that now I only need to shop once a week which saves time and money.

The Menu Board: After I get home and unload all the groceries I write the weeks menu on a chalkboard in our kitchen. I try not to put any meats into the freezer because if you forget to defrost you are heading out for takeout that night and your whole meal plan is ruined. So I check the dates on the meats and try to use the ones that expire first earlier in the week. I also try to do the easier meals on the nights when we are busy, and add in take out for the nights when cooking is impossible, or on Fridays, I never cook on Fridays, but thats my own little rule.

The menu board helps me stay organized and eliminates the need for me to answer, “What’s for dinner ?”, a thousand times each week. I got mine at Ikea. And of course the last rule is be flexible, we are a family of four and things come up and emergencies happen but that is what the eraser is for. 

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