Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Menu Planning, Part 1

I'm a big fan of menu planning. I've used the menu planning method of grocery shopping for most of my adult life, and can't even begin to comprehend how people go about shopping without a menu plan! Generally,  I make a two-week menu of dinners the night before I go grocery shopping, then make a shopping list from that menu plan. I can take note of nights when Mr. Breadwinner is off work (so he can grill), nights that we won't be home, or yoga nights, when I need a meal that can be thrown together before yoga and will still taste good when we get home two hours later. I usually include two or three leftover nights, as well.
Of course, small trips to the store happen in between those big shopping trips, for things like milk, eggs, bread, and some produce. I do try to plan my meals so that the produce that goes bad the quickest is used in the first week, and the things that keep longer are used in the second week.
My menu planning methods vary according to mood and the balance in my checking account! One of my favorites is to use the monthly menus from Woman's Day magazine. It may not be the cheapest, but the recipes are usually pretty good, and fairly seasonal. The meals are all enough for four servings, which is perfect or us. The boys split an adult serving, Mr. Breadwinner and I each eat a serving, and one serving is left that is either my lunch the next day, or Mr. Breadwinner's packed lunch for work.
Next in line is the "whatever I feel like cooking" method. Probably cheaper than following the Woman's Day menus, but kinda boring. This menu plan usually involves the normal standby dishes: meatloaf, spaghetti, baked chicken, tacos...not foods I want to eat all the time (well, maybe the tacos; we eat lots of tacos).
Then there is the "shop the sales" method of menu planning. Grab the grocery store ads, see what proteins are on sale, and plan the meals around those. I do this a lot, but the sale prices of meat don't seem very cheap anymore. I used to only buy meat when it was $2/lb. or less. Now, I have to look for $3/lb. or less. Side veggies are the (usually seasonal) veggies on sale. The downside: there is only so much chicken I can consume before I start clucking.
Finally, at the dirt cheap end of the spectrum is my least favorite: the "shop the freezer" method. No matter how carefully I plan, something ends up not getting used the previous shopping trip, or something was on sale for a price I couldn't pass up, and it ends up sitting in the freezer taking up space. Which is fine, because when times get tough, I can usually put together a week or two of meals without having to buy a lot of meat from the store. Let's face it, meat is probably the most expensive part of the grocery bill. These menus usually include lots of pasta, lots of bread, and more than usual numbers of ground meat dishes, lol.
If you don't usually plan your meals before grocery shopping, why not give it a try? You might find that you save yourself some time and money!

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