This is a repeat post from a year and a half ago. Since it is that time of the year again when we get that itch to be better organized, I thought I'd share my system for planning our weekly meals. Sometimes I do fall off the menu planning wagon but the minute I pick myself up again I feel so much calmer as dinner rolls around. This entry took place on Bainbridge Island as we were preparing our house to sell. Menu planning was essential to my very busy week. Enjoy.
I'm a bit guilty of being considered dangerous in a grocery store. I shop with my eyes and if not kept in check I can end up buying anything that looks appealing. My stomach tends to guide me from aisle to aisle if I am left to my own devices without a focus. Realizing the risk in this, unless we want a second mortgage just to cover our food bill, I decided to not only have a detailed shopping list, but a weekly plan of our meals. Otherwise I'd come home with a dinner plan of an appetizer of chocolate covered vintage cheese, reese's peanut butter cup soup for the main course and Pamela's chocolate brownies for desert. Not that I like chocolate or anything.
Seriously though I do need to eat
before going shopping or else I buy so many things that just look
scrummy. This weekend I sat down and grabbed a few recipe books to plan
my menus. My goal was to use three cookbooks only. If I am faced with
too many choices my 20 minutes of planning menus for the week can
become three hours. Especially if I am hungry and every recipe sounds
My small Betty Crocker collection on the far left.
Except for two of these book that were purchased new, the rest are from thrift stores or yard sales.
My fav classic three cookbooks (ignoring the chevy's book).
The reason I rely so heavily on meal planning is that it save us money. If I go to the store without a list, I buy food that I shouldn't be buying. If I get to 5pm and I haven't had a thought toward dinner then we tend to eat something not so wholesome or worse we order a meal to go. And I have such a weakness for chicken korma at the local curry house.
When I began to plan our meals I wanted to keep them as simple as possible. I adore simplicity. I didn't want to open up a cookbook and have endless possibilities. The more choices that I have, the harder it is for me to choose. I came up with a sort of weekly cheat sheet. I picked one type of dish for each day of the week.
Monday - Rice
Tuesday - Pasta (gluten-free pasta)
Wednesday - Beef
Thursday - Soup
Friday - Seafood
Saturday - International
Sunday - Roast
When I open up my cookbook and I need a meal for Monday, I have a smaller number of recipes to choose from. I'm only just starting up meal planning after a summer break so I'm not quite sticking to this idea yet. As I get used to meal planning again, I will gradually pick a similar theme for our menus.
At the moment much of our free time is spent painting the inside of the house. This means dinners are usually staple, well loved meals that are easy to prepare and quick to clean up. With some recipes I'll write down the page number and the name of the cookbook. Thursday's meal is a new recipe so I added the page number and it came from the recipe book The Vegetarian 5-Ingredient Gourmet. Monday and Tuesday meals are staples and I can find them easily so I added only the name of the cookbook.
Breakfast and lunch meals are just for me. Cerys eats oatmeal every morning with maple syrup and Keiran eats cereal or boiled eggs. Dave eats something at some awful hour in the morning so I tend not to see him or worry about him. When I am really organized I also plan the children's evening snacks. Here's an example from last spring:
Monday - nuts & raisins
Tuesday - carrots & dip
Wednesday - apple slices w/ peanut butter
Thursday - crackers & cheese
Sat - frozen berries
I had found that the more meals I had planned for the children the less they argued with me. If they made a complaint, I would just say sorry it's on the menu planner. I somehow got away with that explanation and they would eat their snack/meal in peace and I would smile knowingly when they weren't looking.
As we look at our money with a careful eye there are small steps anyone can take to save money in the kitchen. These are my five favorites:
-Start buying in bulk (especially when food is on sale)
-Create a Pantry - this can be anywhere from under a bed, in the garage, in a closet or even a couple shelves above a door
-Start planning your meals week by week. Try to buy what you need for the week unless items are on sale and you can stock up.
-If at all possibly, grocery shop one day a week. If you need to stock up half way through on dairy & fruit, try to run in and get those items only and if you are like me avoid both the chocolate & sorbet aisles.
-Start a price book so that you can keep track of the cheapest prices for your items you normally buy. With food prices changing often it is important to keep the price book current. Take it with you grocery shopping and make changes as you shop.
I love to buy food, I love to cook and I love saving money. These three can be combined and still provide a very pleasant, apron wearing, kitchen experience without too much stress on your wallet.