Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Menu Planning

I like to be organized and have a plan. I feel much more productive and effective that way. I also like to make lists--actually I need to make lists. I have a hard time remembering things if they aren't written down. I have found that I do quite well having a meal plan for the week. I hate that 4oclock "what are we gonna eat for dinner" problem, so I solve it by setting aside some time on Sunday to plan the meals for the whole week. It keeps me from making lots of trips to the store and also helps me use up what is in the freezer/pantry. Having a plan also cuts down on those last minute decisions to eat out--so my family eats healthier and saves money, too.  I thought I'd share my process for menu planning since I've finally found a method that works for me.

First, I gather my menu planning supplies:
Grocery list (I do keep an ongoing one for when I run out of things, I just add them to the list as I go through the week, or Erik adds things he thinks we need)
Recipe Binder (I keep all my favorite recipes and found recipes here)
Menu spreadsheet
Menu planner sheet
New-Recipes-To-Try Binder

Sorry the picture is sideways.

This is my menu planner sheet. I found them at Target in the $1 bins. I love this. I use to just use a post-it note to jot down our menu to stick to the frig, but this is so much better. I have space to write down what we're eating for dinner as well as any prep work.

This is my New-Recipes-To-Try binder. I just took one of those 12 pocket expandable binders and labeled different types of foods, i.e. chicken, beef, pork, veggies, desserts, salads based on the recipes I clip that I want to try. I always have a lot and this way I can find what I'm looking for easily based on what I have in the freezer that I'd like to use up. I tend to make at least one new recipe each week and I love having them organized like this.

I don't have a picture of my menu spreadsheet, but what I did was basically list all the favorite meals that my family likes based on where they are in my recipe binder. I also listed cooking method, in case I am looking for a crock pot recipe as well as top 3 ingredients so I know if I have the main ingredients or if I have to get them. If we try a new recipe and like it, I add it to the spreadsheet. These are my go-to recipes that I know we all like.

After I've gathered all my supplies, I take a peek in my freezer, frig and pantry to get a feel for what I have on hand. Then I look at our plans for the week to figure out which days I'll have less time for meal prep, which days would be good to have a crock pot meal, which we might have company, etc. That way I know what types of meals to look for. For example, on Tuesdays the girls have gymnastics right after school and by the time we get home I don't have a ton of time for meal prep, so I usually either pick an easy prep meal or plan for leftovers.

Ah, yes, planning for leftovers. I always plan at least one night each week for leftovers. Most recipes I cook are for about 4-6 servings, and even though we are a family of 4, sometimes we don't eat that much. My youngest doesn't usually eat a whole serving. I have found if I don't plan a leftover night, I end up wasting food. It just never gets eaten. I hate to throw food away so we do leftover nights. Makes it easy for me, too.

As I jot down on the menu planner sheet each meal, I also look through the recipe and put any ingredient I don't already have, on my grocery list. I also jot down any prep work, like thawing chicken breasts, the day before that meal is planned. I look at the menu thing each night, so that way I am pulling thing out with enough time to thaw. I really hate trying to cook frozen meat!

A view of a typical menu plan for the week

My grocery list when I'm done with the menu plan. Notice it isn't entirely full. I try to keep my pantry stocked so usually I only have to get things that expire, like fresh fruit/veggies.

When I'm done jotting down all I need on the grocery list, I actually re-write it, organizing things based on where they are in the store. I always go the same route in the store, so this way I don't have to loop back over to the meat department after I'm all the way over in the bakery. It saves me time at the store.

When I'm done with the menu plan, it goes on the frig. Next to the now empty grocery list and my Costco list. This way its easy to see as I go through the week. I have also found it very helpful to have the whole week at a glance, sometimes I forget when I cooked something, and when it comes time to clean up leftovers I hate to eat anything older than like3-4 days. This way I can look and see that I made something on Monday and we can still safely eat it on Thursday. If it isn't on the list I know its from last week and it goes into the trash! Ew!

Next, I take the recipes for the meals I have planned that week (except the ones in my binder) and put them all in one central location, this makes it easy to remember which recipes I was using for each meal.

This is my Menu Plan/Recipe station. The menu list is up on the frig, with the grocery list and the recipes down below.

So, there you have it. My menu planning routine. I am lost without it! Hee hee. Today is grocery shopping day, so I am going to grab my organized list and go get 'er done!

How about you? Do you plan your menu for the week? And if so, what method have you found that works best for you?

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