Why and How to Menu Plan
3 Great Reasons Why to Plan a Weekly Menu!
1. Saves money: you shop based on what you already know you're cooking. Less produce goes to waste, because you buy mainly what you know you will use.
2. Saves time: We're always more effiicent when we shop from a list. Plus, you shop less, usually doing one large grocery run where you've purchased the ingredients needed based on your weekly menu plan. No more having to run by the grocery store every night.
3. Your familiy eats healthier meals: When you plan ahead (and not on a hungry stomach) you will make healthier plans, than when you are running into the store on the way home from work. This of course assumes that you are planning things that are made at home--cooking/preparing yourself--instead of grabbing take-out.
How we do it: Sometimes I sit down and preplan the whole month, and other times I just plan a week or two in advance. This is much less work than you think, because we (people) are very routine in our eating patterns, so you will want to eat things that are your favorites, including things that are easy to prepare, a lot of the time. A print out of the month-at-glance-menu-schedule is posted on the refrigerator, so at a glance any of us can see what's planned.
You'll find links to PDFs all my archived 2011 Menu Calendars here.
I have a couple binders of recipes that we use all the time. I like to photcopy from recipe books and then slip those pages into page-protectors that can easily be wiped off. This has been especially useful when our teenagers cook as they are messier (and the book is out of harms way!). As you will see on the calendar, our teenagers (age 18 and 16) both cook one night a week. They also trade off on dish duty, so the workload around cooking and cleaning is shared among our family. My husband Peter is a great cook too (he was a single dad for years) and depending on his schedule he cooks too, especially on weekends, or back yard barbequing.
Step ONE: make your menu. I use a calendar template from http://www.calendarsthatwork.com, the "landscape" format (it's a MS Word document). I name the file "Current Menu Calendar." As the year progresses, the file grows as I add each new month. Having all the months in one place makes it's super easy to copy and paste menus from a previous month into the new one.
If you've looked at the weekly menus [MENU PLANNING & RECIPES>Why Plan a Weekly Menu>Dorene's Family Menu] you will also see that Friday nights are always PIZZA (usually from Trader Joe's, but I occaisionally pick up other brands). One weeknight Caroline cooks something vegetarian, and usually Wednesday nights Sam cooks either broiled salmon, or some other fish or shellfish recipe. The point I'm making is that by making certain nights "routine" the planning time is minimal. For instance, you could have a pasta night, a sandwich/burger night, an entree salad night, slow-cooker night, etc. You'll be thrilled at how easy this is once you get going with it!
See additional considerations for the menu planning process: 1) working around eating styles, 2) working with weight loss (or) maintenance, and 3) working with inidvidual likes and dislikes, so you can take these situations into account as well.
Step TWO: pull your recipes and make your shopping list! Compare the ingredients your recipes call for with what you already have on hand; what you still need goes on your list.
Step THREE: Go shopping!
Step FOUR: Follow your menu! (Or utilize an "Emergency Meal"*, see below.)
Once you've gotten into this pattern, you will see for yourself that you are saving time, money and eating healthier. You've also reduced your stress, because you're organinzed and in a groove. If you try it, my bet is that you'll never want to go back to your old--grab something on the way home--pattern.
Check out my menus and recipes to jump start your own menu. Have fun!
*Emergency Meal: Because sometimes "life has other plans" I'm too tired, or it's too late to start a meal that takes any significant time. That's when I do something quick and easy to get the family fed. I will often enlist assistance (slicing cheese, cutting veggies, or setting the table) from either the kids or Papa, and that makes it even quicker. Some examples are: Nachos, Vegi-burgers, Soup & open face "grilled" cheese sandwiches.