I heart menu planning.
Seriously. Because I love cooking so much, I consider it good times to sit down and think about what I'm going to make for the coming month.
Aside from the kick I get out of it, it also is SO helpful in keeping me organized and on budget. So, I've decided to share with you how I do my menu plans. This method may or may not work for the needs of your family. Regardless of the method you use, I encourage you to give menu planning a try if it's not something you do already. It also helps with the stress level because it reduces the craziness at the end of the day when you have to run around like a chicken with your head cut off wondering what's for dinner.
I only menu plan for supper. We mostly eat cereal, fruit and yogurt for breakfast and leftovers and soup for lunch so I don't plan them. I like to menu plan a month at a time, although some months get busy and I don't get it done at the beginning of the month so I end up going week by week. I find it to be more work that way.
I begin with an empty calendar template for the month. If you have a word processing program, you can probably find a template there. If not, just google it and I'm sure you'll find something. Next, I scan the month to see if there are any days that I know we'll be away, won't be eating dinner at home, will be having company etc. If we're away, I just put a line through the day. If I know we're having company I plan those days first and make note of it. I then spend some time curled up by the fire with my cookbooks to browse through and see if there are any ideas I want to try. I also have a list I add to through the month when I think of something I'd like to have or see a new recipe. Then I can try to incorporate them into the menu. Sometimes I don't have the time to do the recipe book search and those months usually are a little more boring. I usually add a step here where I ask the hubs if there's anything he would like to eat over the next month. Sometimes I get a response, sometimes I don't.
When planning my weeks I take a few things into account. I try to plan a crockpot meal on Tuesdays because I have class until 5 so I'm not home until nearly 6. That way I know things will be ready when I get home. I also try to put one or two meals in each week that I already have the ingredients for in my house. I put these meals near the end of the week. That way if something comes up during the week that I didn't plan for but I've already been grocery shopping I can bump out one of those meals and not end up with a pile of food that I don't have a use for. For example, tonight's meal is meatloaf, mashed potatoes, squash and peas. These are things I knew would be in the house regardless of my grocery shopping trip, so if we had been invited somewhere for dinner or something I could cancel this meal out.
I have a few staple meals that I make nearly every month like spagetti, stew, roasted chicken, soup and sandwiches and so on. I go through the calendar and put one or two of these meals in each week. By now, I have a Tuesday crockpot meal, one or two in-house-ingredient meals and one or two staple meals (which often overlap) on the menu. I'm left with a few days each week to be creative and add in the new recipes and ideas I've come up with.
When menu planning for the month, I have to be ready to be flexible. There are obviously things that come up week by week that I didn't plan for at the beginning and that's okay. I just use the monthly plan as a guide and then go week by week and make adjustments as necessary. I thought about including a sample of my monthly menu plan but I wasn't sure anyone would be interested in what we eat. If you are, let me know and I'll post one sometime. Next week I plan on writing about how I grocery shop based on my menu planning system. How do you menu plan? What works for you? I'd love to hear. Happy Thrifty Thursday.