Katie is a stay-at-home mama of one little munchkin and a part-time nursing student. Just 2 semesters to go, and did we mention it’s free?! She’s been blogging since 2005, and she shares fun & thrifty talk for a well-managed home at her latest project, Frugal Femina. Katie lives in a little cabin on a farm in Kentucky, where she tries her best to practice what she preaches.
I have always loved to cook, but I first started seriously planning my menus for the week when I came across Menu Plan Monday, hosted by Laura at I’m an Organizing Junkie. Let me tell you, it has been one of the best things I have ever done. I used to just buy foods I liked at the grocery and worried about making them into meals later. Now I have a whole new system!
Not only does menu planning save money and trips to the store and keeps me from throwing away ingredients that went bad because I didn’t use them in time, it also makes me feel a little more organized and prepared for the week ahead (something I can always use!). And it helps us spend more focused time as a family at the dinner table because we’re not eating in the car or in a crowd of people. Bonus!
As Cathy puts it, I am the CFO of my home, and menu planning helps me do my job better. I have also found that Xon likes to look ahead at the week’s menu and see what I have planned. What can I say? He likes food. We have a joke in our family that as soon as he takes his last bite at lunch, he’ll be asking what’s for supper. 🙂 Participating in Menu Plan Monday also is a great resource for new recipes and feeling a sense of community and support. If I’m in a rut, I know I can turn to my menu ladies!
Xon is busy with church-related activities all day Sunday, and that is when the new sales start in my area, so I do all my shopping for the week after church on Sunday. I usually plan out my menu on Saturday. If I’m really good, I’m a week ahead on my planning. (Ok, that has really only happened once. 🙂 ) I post my menu on Monday, and at the end of the week, I take a look back and post about my shopping trips that week.
So how do you plan a menu? Check out a few of my tips to help you get started:
Some people plan for a whole month at a time, but I find that to be a bit overwhelming and just stick to a week. I plan out breakfasts, lunches, dinners, and snacks–although many of those will be the same from week-to-week. (For example, for lunches I always write in “leftovers,” because we always have plenty of leftovers from dinner the night before.)
I don’t go so far as to say “We’re having X on Monday, X on Tuesday, and X on Wednesday.” Rather, I write out my ideas for the whole week, and I use whatever meal I feel like cooking/eating on a particular night. If something comes up and we don’t use a meal that week, I’ll just carry it on over to the next week.
When I first started menu planning, I took a detailed inventory of my refrigerator/pantry so I knew exactly what I had. Now I can keep this list in my head, and I’m more aware that I have 4 bottles of free barbecue sauce in the pantry that I need to use up at some point! (This is true. Kraft has had some great deals recently!) And there are actually services that will create a menu for you based on the ingredients you have on hand. Check out the Resources section below.
I check my calendar as I’m planning my menu so I know when we won’t be at home, when we need to take a meal to church, etc.
Most of the recipes I include in my menu plan are new recipes that I’m trying for the first time. That’s just something I enjoy at this season of my life. But I try to include a good balance of easy vs. hard recipes so when I’m tired, I can just throw something in the Crock Pot and forget it.
I try to include a couple of beef dishes, a couple of chicken/fish dishes, and a meatless dish or two. Since I’m planning ahead, it’s easier to make sure we have balanced meals.
Match up your coupons with your store’s sale that week to get the free/cheap items, and base your menu plans on those. Once you have a stockpile built up, you can pretty much buy only the best deals. You can always freeze them for future use, too. I usually have some sort of free item we got recently that we can make quickly in case another meal didn’t work out–like hot dogs, peanut butter and jelly, my free Jennie-O turkey dinner, etc.
Write out your shopping list in the order things are found in the store so you don’t have to keep going around and around and around.
Making sure everyone has had a nap and has a full tummy doesn’t hurt when you’re shopping! I don’t get sweaty and frantic and make silly decisions in the store when Bradley is well-rested and content. I remember well the deer-in-the-headlights look I had when I first started taking a newborn to the grocery. It was not pretty!
I try to double a recipe every now and then and throw it in the freezer for those times that I just don’t feel like cooking. I also host a carnival each week called Baking Buddies, where I either bake something for the freezer, or do something to get ahead on the cooking for the week–such as browning some meat, cutting up vegetables, etc. Feel free to join in!
Menu planning doesn’t mean you can’t ever eat out. I just build it into my plan. I always write in “Dinner Out” on Sunday evenings. Since Bradley and I are busy shopping all day, we reward ourselves with a yummy meal at Zaxby’s afterward. I especially love their sweet tea with lemon! Xon calls it liquid candy. 🙂
Save your menu plans. You can use them again.
Overall, remember that a menu plan is just a guide. It’s there to give you options to make your life easier and less stressful. My music professor in college told herself, “I control the syllabus. The syllabus does not control me.” If you want to make a change, go for it. If you’re too tired, sick, whatever, that’s ok. You are in charge!
If you’d like, you can check out my past menu plans here.
Let me know if you have any menu-planning tips to include, and check out a few resources below.
All Recipes – Search recipes by specific ingredients.
A Year of Slow Cooking – Watch how Stephanie uses her Crock Pot every single day!
DinnerTool – Search recipes by specific ingredients, meal plans, grocery lists, make-ahead meals, etc.
e-mealz – You may have heard Dave Ramsey talk about this subscription service. They put together meal plans for you and give you the grocery lists, too.
$5 Dinners – Erin creates recipes that cost $5 or less. Really!
Foodbuzz – Search a large collection of recipes.
Frugal Femina’s Printable Menu Planner
Frugal Femina’s Recipe Box
Meal-Planning Chart – A basic chart to write down your ideas.
Meal Planning Mommies – All kinds of meal plans, recipes, and pictures from Sarah, Katie, and Alisha.
Menu Plan Monday – Hosted by Laura at I’m an Organizing Junkie.
Menus4Moms – Weekly meal plans and much more.
Mommy Snacks – Andrea has come up with a spreadsheet of recipes she has collected.
RecipeZaar – A great collection of recipes.
Relish! – A meal-planning subscription service.