I used to be opposed to the idea of menu planning. I did not at all like the idea of being tied down and commited to a list of meals. Where is the creativity in that?
But I have learned that to be planless is not license to creativity, but rather license to chaos.
If there is no meal plan, there is no rhyme or reason to grocery shopping. Trips to the store are far too frequent. Money is wasted on last minute purchases. The grocery store becomes a dreaded place.
If there is no meal plan, the temptation to eat out or bring home fast food is given into far too frequently. Money falls like sand through the fingers with every order placed. The family's health is compromised with every burger eaten.
If there is a plan mapped out, there is one scheduled trip to the store. All ingredients are purchased on that day (unless you're like me, and forget them, even when they're on your list), and the temptation to eat fast food is much easier to turn down.
But sometimes, actually planning a menu can be overwhelming. Here's how I generally plan a weekly menu (or try to, when I don't save it all for the very last minute, when I should be heading out the door)...
1. Check Inventory:
I look through my freezer, refridgerator, and pantries and make a list of the major things I already have on hand. I do not list spices and the main cooking staples, like flour or sugar... just the main bulk items of a meal. This would include meats, dairy products, dry pastas, eggs, produce, canned goods, etc.
2. Check Sales/Coupons:
After checking what I already have on hand, I scan through the grocery ads to see what is one sale. I try to find items that fill in the gaps with what I already have on hand. For example, if I have pasta on hand, I'll look for items that would complete a pasta meal... spaghetti sauce, italian sausage, ricotta or cottage cheese, etc.
I also like to check out Money Saving Mom to quickly find the good deals at my Kroger store for that week. Sometimes there are items which I can get for free or a little of nothing that I don't nessecarily need to complete a meal with what's on hand, but at the price, it's a good time to stock up.
Cassie, from Pursuing Godliness, also recently introduced me to Soutern Saver, another great site to find good grocery deals. I like the way they have their grocery deals listed.
I am not a big time couponer. I do not clip every coupon I come across. I do not gather as many coupons as I can find for one particular item. I just like to keep my eyes on the deal websites and print or clip the coupons I need to create the deal. I would love to get the savings of a die hard couponer, but I just don't have the time for all the work it takes. Maybe when the rest of my life is organized. BAhahahahahaha!
3. Write out the menu:
Once my investigating is done, I have a pretty good idea of what meals I can make out of all that I found. I then assign which meals are for which days, loosely based on this theme schedule (changes with every school quarter). The schedule below is just for dinners. I don't really plan breakfast and lunch too much, other than make sure we have stuff on hand.
Monday (Aaron's school night): Fast and easy
Tuesday (Aaron home): Meat as the main course (or a main ingredient in a dish)
Wednesday (Aaron's school night): Fast and easy
Thursday (Aaron's school night): Fast and easy
Friday (Aaron home): Something new
Saturday: Leftovers, stir fry, or pantry pickin's
Sunday: Crockpot meal
Worksheets to Make the Process Easier
Of course, I have nifty little papers to use for this process.
There are, of course, a LOT of neat menu list options... Google reveals more than you'd ever want. So, if these do not fit you, you might search for some others.
This week's assignment is begin a menu making system. As the weeks go on, revise it to your needs and make it your own. If you already have a system going, share with us. You rmethod may just inspire someone else.
Continue working through your routine. I am finding that I need to focus on just a little at a time. As I get the morning routine going smoothly, I'll begin to add in the afternoon and evening. Taking it small is the only way this is going to work for me. And thats ok. We have a entire year, after all, to make changes.