Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Menu Planning for Your Sanity

Ah, the ubiquitous menu planning post. It seems like every site claiming to have info about mothering, home-making, organizing, or any number of topics has their version of menu planning advice. Guess what...IT'S GOOD ADVICE! Things run so much more smoothly in my home when I have a plan for the week and the necessary food in the fridge, bought, defrosted and ready to prepare, and it definitely helps us to not eat out so often. Everyone does it a little bit differently and that's ok. You've got to find what works for you. I'm going to share my routine and it may give you some ideas for streamlining the process. It doesn't have to be painful and in fact can be quite quick and easy once you get the hang of it. Admittedly I still need to work on making this a habit, but I do have a system that works, when I use it...

1. The first thing I do every week is scan the sale flyer for each of the local supermarkets. As I'm doing this, I list for each store things that are on sale (read deeply discounted) that we use.

Even though I hope to eventually have a store of fresh grass-fed beef, pork and chicken and my own garden that will eliminate much of our need for grocery store items, there will most likely always be some things I rely on the store to provide.
2. Then, I look at a list that I've made of favorite meals (that needs desperately to be updated- time for a brainstorming session people!) and see what I can make using sale items and things we already have on hand. Those meals get put directly on our family calendar (I use google) and then I complete the grocery list with any other necessary items.

That's it. Using sale items to plan my menus helps reduce cost. (I don't do much couponing. See here to learn why I don't.) I try to make at least one new recipe per week and we use a running list that stays up on the fridge where we write down pantry staples and toiletries as they run low. Any time someone tells me that they need something, I tell them to write it on the list, because otherwise I won't remember! I just use a magnetic list pad for this that I can tear off and take to the store. Recently I saw a cute idea where a mom laminated a single page from a similar pad, or some scrap book paper and used a dry erase marker to do the same thing. This makes for a slightly greener option.

Another idea I've seen that I think is great is to use a bi-weekly or monthly rotating menu. I haven't gotten to this point and I think life might get rather boring if we did so it's not something I'm really working on, but it might work well for others. It certainly would streamline things a lot.

Something else you can do that helps immensely is to keep all of your recipes organized and in one place. Ok, I admittedly have several places, but they are (fairly) organized! I use www.allrecipes.com a lot lately and it's easy there with a free account to save and search all of your favorites. I also get a lot of recipes from various blogs. These I save in a folder on my bookmark bar in google chrome and pin what I can to pinterest. I also keep a (way too big) binder with magazine clipped recipes to try that are mostly sorted and stored in page protectors that are either full sheet or split into photo pockets for smaller clippings. Then there is my own cook book. Every recipe that has been labeled a keeper by the powers that be (read hubby and the kids) eventually gets typed up and added to the family cook book which is a red fabric covered binder. I'll go more in depth as to how this is all organized in a future post. For now I'll just say that my hope is that this will someday be a real family heirloom that can be copied and passed on to the boys and their families.

My cookbook shelf. Several there I really never use, and several gems too. The big red one on  the left is our family cook book. Hard to miss :)
In a couple of weeks after we return from our trip to Costa Rica, I plan to start a weekly menu post detailing my plans for the week. This will be my first weekly feature and will post on Friday so that those who work and do much of their planning and shopping on the weekend will have some fresh ideas ready to use. Hope you all enjoy it! If nothing else, forcing myself to publicly post a weekly plan will (hopefully) be incentive to make it a habit for myself! We all struggle with this but life is so much easier, and healthier when we do it!