One of the questions I’m most frequently asked by friends & readers has to do with meal planning — How do you do it?! So I decided that I’d spend a little time and tell you how I do it! But first, lets start off with the why! There are 3 good reasons why everyone should meal plan:
1. It saves money. If you have everything planned and go to the grocery store with a list in hand for exactly what you need, you cut down on those ‘Oh this looks good, I’m sure I can use that in something this week” purchases.
2. Grocery shopping is easier. That list I mentioned in #1 means easier, hopefully quicker trips to the grocery store = more time to do other, better things.
3. Cooking gets easier. No standing in front of the fridge & pantry for twenty minutes trying to decide what to cook/eat.
But there are a lot of different ways to approach meal planning.You could have a set rotation Monday’s = Breakfast for Dinner, Tuesdays = Tacos, Friday = Pizza Night, etc. You could even develop a set menu that you rotate monthly. I think everyone approaches meal planning slightly differently. I’ll begin with my personal strategy and methodology. And readers, feel free to chime in with your strategies, tips & tricks! So here’s my meal planning strategy:
Check the Grocery Ads. I always start by looking at the ad for my local grocery store. Our grocery store ad comes in the mail but is also available online so if its not something you normally do, go check it out now! How does the grocery ad help? For starters, buying stuff on sale saves money. Second, it greatly helps narrow down the WHAT to eat question. As an example, this week our grocery store has the following items on sale that caught my eye:
$0.97 Large Red Bell Peppers
2/$1 Large Haas Avocados
Buy Butter Lettuce, Get Free Romaine
What catches your eye is not necessarily what catches mine. So now what? What do you do with these things? Sometimes it comes straight to me and other times it needs more work. Bell Peppers = Stir Fry. Avocados calls for Mexican – I don’t know what yet. Butter lettuce = lettuce wraps. Romaine = Salad for side dishes.
Now its time to Make a Meal Plan & Grocery List. I typically grocery shop on the weekend (Saturday mornings preferably). When I’m making my plan for the week, I assign meals to days (so I don’t forget any days) but the reality is that we rarely eat our meals on those assigned days (with the except of seafood which we eat immediately). So based upon the grocery ad inspiration I start with this off the top of my head (look I’m half way done and all I did was look at the Grocery Ad!):
Sat: Stir Fry & Brown Rice
Sun: Enchiladas with Chips, Salsa & Guac
Mon: Lettuce Wraps
Tues: ____ & Salad
Fri: Dinner Out w/ Friends
Then I fill in the gaps, based upon what sounds good to me or via inspiration. Where does my inspiration come? A lot of places. When it comes time to fill in some days, sometimes its just whatever I might be craving like Fried Rice. Or sometimes, I have to dig around to find something that sounds good. For that, I usually have a few go to sources:
(1) My cookbook collection!
(2) Web resources. My first stop is always Epicurious.com — I don’t think I’ve had a single Gourmet magazine recipe go wrong for me. Its a great starting place for inspiration if nothing else. Here are some other web resources that might be useful to you:
(3) Bloggers. I have my list of favorite blogs where I might go look for a new recipe that looks good or go back to Google Reader and find some of the recipes I’ve previously saved from my fellow bloggers. Don’t regularly follow blogs? Use google’s blog search feature. I prefer this over blindly googling for recipes because I tend to get my commentary from bloggers about a recipe. Another great blogging resource is Jane’s Blog, This Week for Dinner. She posts her menu weekly and calls her readers to share their menus so there are lots of menus in one place if you need some ideas!
It usually takes me about 15 minutes to plan a menu for the week and then I don’t have to worry about it again! Breakfasts and lunches are easy. I simply make sure we have cereal, milk, and cereal bars since those are our go-to items. I always put fruit on the grocery list as well. And we either eat sandwiches for lunch or leftovers so lunchmeat and/or PB are items I always check for before heading to the store.
So, menu planning in a nutshell. How do you plan your menus?