I was going to title this, “How to plan a menu”, but there are probably a bazillion equally valid ways to go about this…so, this is how I plan my menu. If my method helps you out, great, but if something else works better for you, that’s great too.
I don’t plan our breakfast or lunch meals.
We generally have cereal for breakfast, which needs no planning. For lunch, my husband eats leftovers, and the kids and I eat leftovers(if necessary) and also bread and yogurt and fruit. So, all I have to plan are seven dinners since the rest of our meals are pretty darn predictable.
I plan ahead to give myself some lead time.
I plan my menu on Wednesdays, and my weekly plan runs from Saturday-Friday. This means that I’m always planning a new menu several days before I actually need to. This is handy because then if I’m a day or two late with getting it done, it’s no big deal, and, well, I just like being ahead of things.
I use sale fliers.
Wednesday is the day that the new sale fliers come out where I live, so before I sit down to start planning, I get the ads from the stores that I frequent. I try to plan at least some of my menu around what’s on sale, so I look at these before I start picking my meals. I have my main store(Weis), and then there are several other stores whose ads I peruse(I generally only look at the front page of these other ads, as it’s where the stores advertise their cheapest items). Usually several of the meals I choose are inspired by store sales.
I also try to take a peek through my fridge…
to see what needs using, and I plan accordingly. If I haven’t come up with seven meal ideas from the sale ads and the fridge, I rely on my stash(more about the stash in another post) of previously purchased food, which resides in my chest freezer and on a shelf in my laundry room.
I use this planner from TheHomeSchoolMom.com
but if you are adverse to the idea of having that written across the top of your menu plan, there are tons of other similar things out there on the web. I also print out a grocery list that I wrote up on Word(you can see a picture in this post). It’s very simple…instead of listing every item I might ever buy, I just wrote down categories in an order that matches the way I go through the store(produce first, then seafood, the toiletries, and so on).
Armed with my sale ads, my menu planner page, and my grocery list, I sit down at the table and begin. To assist my feeble memory, I made a word document that lists all the meals that I make for dinner. These are divided into categories, like Soup, Salad, Chicken, Ground Beef, and so on. This means that if I see that ground beef is on sale, or if I know that I’ve got ground beef in the freezer, I can easily jog my memory and come up with some meals using that kind of meat. I choose main dishes first, based on sales and what I have in the fridge or freezer. Operating this way ensures that I rarely have to pay full price for my main dish ingredients and that saves me a lot of money.
After I choose the main dishes, I go back and fill in with side dishes. I try to include fresh produce with all of our meals, and to do this cheaply, I plan around the produce sales and fill in with produce that is a bargain all the time(more on that here). Of course, as I go along, I write down all of the necessary purchases on my grocery list.
Depending on how inspired I’m feeling and how much time I spend looking for new recipes, this process can take anywhere from 15 minutes to an hour. When it takes me an hour, the time is still well worth it because it saves me way more time than that over the course of a week. Then there are the financial benefits. Even if doing this only saves us $20-$30 a week(which is quite feasible, considering that doing this keeps us from eating out), that still means that in essence, I’m getting paid $20-$30 of tax-free income for the hour I spend planning(and even more per hour when I have a more efficient planning session). And that’s well worth it to me.