Thursday, February 16, 2012

I want to Menu Plan but I don't know how!

I can't tell you how many emails I get with this question or a similar one :)

It's a valid question and while I am no expert, I HAVE been  menu planning for the 14 years that I've been married, plus the other years that I did as a teenager when my parents had to travel somewhere and it was just me and my brothers and grandma.


Menu planning for me saves money, hours of stress about what I'm going to cook or "oh my gosh I forgot to thaw the meat", but most importantly, it helps keep me organized and my day running smoother.

Here's a couple of the questions I've been asked through email:

What exactly is Menu Planning?

One thing it's not, is complicated at all.  What it really means is that you plan ahead, a few days before you are going grocery shopping, you sit down and plan ahead for meals you're going to cook for the family.

Why should I Menu Plan, what will I get from it as opposed to just making whatever I feel like that night?

Couple things I find when menu planning:
- I save money because I buy what is on the list and not what I don't need
- There is a wider variety of meals on the table, I don't end up cooking the same things over and over
- Make good use of all the cookbooks I have stashed in my pantry
- Much healthier because I can cook from scratch and plan ahead instead of just grabbing take out

Do you Menu Plan for a week at a time, or a month, how do you do it?

I've actually mentioned this on my blog before, I Menu Plan and Grocery shop every two weeks.  Since we are military we get paid on the 1st and the 15th of the month, so it kinda started from there and I stuck to it.  I've tried the once a week thing and it just didn't work for us.

I find that it is doable and doesn't also become a chore or boring.  I can't imagine shopping once a month or planning menus for a whole month, I've tried it and again, just didn't work out for us.  But feel free to do whatever works for your family, do at least plan for a week in advance and see how that goes.

Do you use just cookbooks or do you get recipes elsewhere?

-- Both.  One thing I like doing is picking one cookbook and planning all my meals out of there for the two weeks or at least one week, this way I feel like I'm getting use out of all the books in my collection and I'm also keeping it all to one place so that I won't be scrambling to find the recipe later.

-- I have a couple of food blogs that I follow and I have them bookmarked in my Google Reader under a folder named Food Blogs.  When I'm planning my menus, I open up that folder and give a quick browse through the latest entries, sometimes go back a few weeks or so if it's a new blog that I just found and see what I like.  If I find a recipe I want to try, I open it in another tab and then bookmark it to my Favorites.  I have a folder in there named "Recipes for next week" to which I save the recipes for those two weeks, once I make them, I just delete the link.

-- I usually just plan for dinners because our breakfast and lunches usually revolved around the same things.  Breakfast cereal, toast, muffins, pancakes and waffles etc.  Lunches are sandwiches, leftovers, salads etc.

I want to Menu Plan but I feel overwhelmed and like it's such a chore, how do you overcome that?

One thing you can do is start by not thinking about it as a chore but merely part of the household running.  It truly does help out a lot especially on those hectic days which we all seem to have.

Another thing you can do is jot down a bunch of meals on a piece of paper, things you usually make or family favorites plus recipes you want to try etc.  Keep a running list of those and put it up on your refrigerator.  When you get ready to sit down and do your Menu Planning, just add those meals to the days, you can repeat the same menu every two or three weeks or whenever you wish, I do have meals that I make quite often.

Something else you can do is make Theme Days.  For example:

Monday - Crockpot Monday
Tuesday - Breakfast for dinner (my family loves breakfast for dinner, so I sometimes make bacon, sausages or biscuits and gravy...or pancakes, waffles etc)
Wednesday - Mexican (tacos, enchiladas, quesadillas, burritos etc)
Thursday - Pasta
Friday - Make your own Pizza night
Saturday - Casserole Night
Sunday - Soup Sunday (we actually did this a lot growing up, every night we had soup, sandwiches and a dessert.  My stepmom was able to feed a large family very inexpensively)

I also know that some Menu Planners use Google Calendar to help them out.  They set it up where they have a sub folder named "Menu Planning", click on the day and enter the name of the meal, then set it to repeat every two weeks.  Very helpful when planning, you can also remove the recipes and add new ones when you get sick of the just an idea.

Here are some more tips on how I plan my meals:::

- Check my freezer and my pantry to see what I have available and what I can make using the ingredients on hand
- I let the kids and the husband pick different nights and make their favorite meals....whatever they pick is what goes, so I'll sometimes have a "Nicholas Night, Jasmine Night or Curt Night".  They love having their own night and picking what everyone else will eat.  When you have kids chances are you'll be making pizza or hotdogs or easy cheap meals.  I like it.
- Be flexible, just because I have Meatloaf written down for a certain day does NOT mean that I have to make it, if I look at the menu and would rather have the Fried Chicken for the next day, I simply switch the meals around.

Menu Planning Resources

Saving Dinner

Whichever way you decide to do it, just remember to keep it simple, keep it easy and not think of it as a chore.  :)

I find Menu Planning a lot of fun, it gives me the opportunity to try new dishes and to get even more excited about cooking.  For those that don't enjoy being in the kitchen, it can make it a little less stressful if you already know what you are making.

I hope this helps some of you out there who are just now thinking about Menu Planning, or have been trying but get discouraged.  I find that it's habit forming, but in the good kind of habit way, I honestly can't imagine not Menu Planning, matter of fact the very few times I haven't done it it was absolutely chaotic in my house.

Do you have any tips, advice, ideas for new Menu Planners?  Why don't you share them in my comments section, could very well be the push someone needed to try it out :)


SheDan said...

Before I got married I was really worried about being able to menu plan. Well, I have been married for almost 8 months now and have been absolutely fine! Here is what works for me... I pick about five recipes that I want to make, grocery shop for all the ingredients plus a few convenience things like hotdogs or what not. Then I write a list of all the meals available to make. Everyday I pick one and make it then cross it off the list. Leaves a lot of flexibility and with left overs this plan usually lasts us two weeks.

Kara said...

I've been using a menu plan for about 5 years now and it really does help so much saving money and avoiding the 5 o'clock oh no what's for dinner craziness lol. I made a 5 week rotating menu with easy meals that I know we will eat. About once a year I go through and rearrange and add/drop meals. I leave a spot open for new recipes and one for eating out, and every Saturday is leftovers. This simple menu works really well for our family and makes it really easy to do our grocery shopping once a week.

Rose said...

Hi! I seldom cook and if I do, I will plan my menu, i.e. what to cook, check the fridge for ingredients, list down ingredients and budget. So it is not complicated for me.

I am organised person, so whenever i go for grocery shopping I will list down my stuff either in piece of paper or record in my mobile phone's reminder.

Andrea said...

I plan a week at a time and the first thing I do is figure out what we are doing each night of the week. When there is a Boy Scout meeting, we have a crockpot meal so I don't feel rushed to finish dinner before its time to leave. If my son is spending the night with grandparents, I make a meal that my husband and I like, but that my son wont mind missing (its the only way I can serve mushrooms).

Unknown said...

I've only been planning meals for about six months now, since my husband and I got married. My Mom set a great example for us, growing up, in how to menu plan. My husband gets paid I've a month so I actually plan and shop for an entire month. I try to leave about a third of the food budget untouched though to allow for stocking up on breakfast/lunch/unexpectedly-needed items the rest of the month. I was very daunted by the task at first but recently sat down and planned our entire month of meals + our shopping list in about 45 mins! It was so encouraging to see it get easier. I now have a running list (in my head, and stored on previous shopping lists) of meals I am very comfortable making, and them I pick out a few new ones to try that month :-).

~3 Sides of Crazy~ said...

Great post. I think being a military family makes menu planning easier - it became necessary to make ends meet between paydays sometimes and still be able to make and serve nutritious appetizing meals.

Anonymous said...

I am a military wife and I make 9 different meals daily. I haven't gotten the hang of planning meals yet. I guess my problem is I don't really eat meat, my husband has to have meat, and my kids are picky and usually want something different. Most meal planning seems like everyone only plans dinner. My problem is planning for everyone for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. When I ask my husband he never knows what he wants. My kids will ask me for something then choose something else later. Wish it were easy as everyone else.