Tuesday, May 3, 2011

How I Menu Plan

A little while ago, Christine suggested I do a post on how I menu plan. I actually have a pretty elaborate system, but it evolved gradually over the two years of our marriage and it still is evolving. I will walk you through this week's menu plan and you will see the method behind my menu madness!

1. Go to kroger.com and look at the weekly ad. Write down anything that is a good deal that we like to eat. Meat and produce deals are the starting point of the menu plan. This week chicken breasts were 99 cents a pound, ground turkey and turkey tenderloins were BOGO. There were other deals but they weren't that great. I find it hard to buy as much beef anymore, because it really has gotten expensive. For produce, strawberries, green beans, watermelon, spinach, and sweet corn are on sale for a good price. We tend not to buy a lot of packaged foods, and my pantry is pretty well stocked, so the only other things I wrote are cottage cheese and Nutri-Grain bars, both for Anthony.

2. Look in the fridge and see if there's anything leftover that needs to be eaten. We'd cleaned out pretty well before our trip to Pittsburgh, so the only stragglers are a half of a ham steak, bacon, carrots, a few stalks of soon-to-be-limp celery, and some lunch meat that's still fine. Write these items down next to the deals.

3. Quickly check the pantry for things running low, and the shopping list notepad on the fridge.

4. Now for the actual menu planning part. I have a binder that I keep in the kitchen that's kind of my housekeeping Bible. The Binder could be an entire post of it's own, but one section is labeled Cooking. In here I have several pages each with a different heading: Freezer Inventory, Quick & Easy, Slow Cooker, Friday, Sunday, Ryan's Favorites, Potlucks, and Desserts. Each page has several Post-It notes, each with a past successful menu and in which of my cookbooks each recipe can be found written on it. Using my binder menus and cookbook collection, I create a menu plan using up all the leftovers and guided by the weekly specials and our schedule for the week. There's a pretty familiar pattern by now. Generally I incorporate one or two new recipes, one from the Ryan's Favorites page, one from the freezer inventory. This sounds complicated, but I'm so familiar with the contents of my binder by now that sometimes I don't even need to look in it to know what I want to make, and not everything happens every week. This week I'm adding to the freezer stash, but not subtracting from it. It's like figuring out a puzzle, but there aren't really any wrong answers.

This is this week's menu:

Monday: Tuscan Soup (throwing in ham and celery), Cheese Batter Bread, Peanut Butter Sandwich Cookies
Tuesday: Basil Turkey Burgers, corn on the cob, watermelon salad
Wednesday: Chicken and black bean burritos, chips and salsa
Thursday: Chicken/bacon/strawberry/spinach salad, rolls
Friday: Black bean soup (double for freezer), bread
Saturday: on the road
Sunday: Buca de Beppo for Elizabeth's graduation

Can you find the leftovers and weekly specials?

I don't plan breakfasts or lunches. Breakfast for Ryan is cereal and coffee most mornings and for me something more. Lunch is leftovers or a sandwich.

5. Go through the recipes and write down any ingredients I need to buy. Write down any other perishable staples we need (milk, fruit for lunches, eggs, etc.).

6. Organize the list by categories (produce, meat, etc.). So helpful when shopping with a curious baby!

7. Go shopping!

Coupons are conspicuously absent from this process. I used to clip them all the time and had them all organized and everything, but the amount I saved was so little for the time invested that I've pretty much given up on coupons for groceries. Anything you could use a coupon for I would almost never buy, or if I did the generic version was just as good and still cheaper even with double coupons. Or else I'd be tempted to buy something just because I had the coupon! Ryan tells me coupons are just a way they convince you to try a product in the hopes you'll become a loyal customer. I still go through the paper for them, but only clip ones for toiletries or the foodstuffs we actually buy. This week the only coupon I used was for the Nutri Grain bars. (Plus on sale! Bonus!)

There you have it, but I imagine everyone has their unique method. Having a plan saves me time by not having to scramble for an idea for dinner, and money from not wasting food and taking better advantage of sales. My way seems really long, especially all written out like this, but it really only takes me about half an hour without interruptions! Now, how do you menu plan?


  1. I totally agree about coupons! Every few weeks, I sit down, determined to cut some out. But I'll find one, MAYBE two for a product I would ever actually buy. And as you said, the generic version is always cheaper than the brand name with a coupon anyways! The only coupons I use are for department stores, not the grocery store!

    I don't menu plan. Despite this, I think we eat tasty and varied meals, and we don't waste any leftovers. BUT. But. The biggest problem is that I very very rarely try out new recipes this way! I purposely keep on stock the ingredients I know I will need for many of my tried-and-true dishes. But anytime I see a tasty new recipe (mm - like those turkey burgers you posted!), I'm always missing a few things, so just file away the recipe into my recipe binder where it sits, collecting dust for years. Sigh.

    I like how you try to do a couple new things each week. I'd like to try planning things out in advance, so I can do that as well. Also, knowing what was for dinner each night - as small a thing as that is - would give me a small sense of peace and order that I am probably lacking....

  2. Oh yeah, department store coupons are great. Just the opposite there; always use those! The turkey burgers were ok. If you do try them they could use a little more zip. :)

  3. Wow... impressive! I would love to be so organized! Of course, I'm working out of the house 44 hours/week, and *if* Chuckie comes over for dinner its usually decided the day before, so I just get some chicken out of the freezer and make that with a veggie and pasta or rice. Boring, but it'll get better some day :) It will be so nice to be able to plan meals come July!