How many things in life do we plan for? Vacations, weddings, college and even retirement. In a lifetime we spend more on food than any vacation, so why don’t more people plan their meals at home? Shopping for food has become a necessity and one we are often ill prepared to do properly.
Menu planning saves time and money. If you know you have dinner covered for the next week, you won’t be stopping at the grocery store on the way home from work. Which means avoiding those impulse buys that quickly add up. I like to create a menu for the whole month, but doing it week by week is better for many people.
First, look at your calendar and see how many days you need food that is going to be fast to cook and can be eaten quickly. I love soup and grilled cheese, but it really is hard to get down quickly when you only have 15 minutes to eat. Nor does it travel well to a baseball game when you have to eat on the sidelines tonight. Casseroles are a 1 dish meal and fit this category well. Meatball subs are something that you can wrap and take with you if need be.
Second, determine how much time you will have to spend in the kitchen. If you need to go into work early on Thursday, a meal dumped in the slow-cooker that only requires 4 ingredients is easily managed by you or the kids. If you will be home all day it might be a good day to make up some extra marinara sauce for the freezer.
Third, look into your freezer and pantry and choose meals that you already have 60% to 70% of what you need. Shopping from the pantry means you are using items before they expire and hopefully bought while on sale.
Fourth, when you write down the items you plan on preparing, make a separate list of every single ingredient and how much of it you will need. I am referring to how many pounds of hamburger, or cups of sour cream are required for each recipe. The larger amounts are important so that you can buy in bulk and still come home with enough the week. Say you are going to make stroganof on Monday, baked potatoes on Wednesday and a sour cream cake for Sunday. You want to remember to buy a larger container of sour cream this time. In general I know what I have in the pantry, but if there is any doubt, I write the ingredient down and double-check before I finalize my shopping list.
Fifth, plan how you prepare you food. If you need half an onion on Monday and the other half on Wednesday, just chop the whole thing on Monday and save the tears. This includes lunches you need to pack. Peanut butter and jelly sandwiches can be made and placed in the freezer on Sunday and pulled out during the week as needed.
Sixth, consider cleanup as well. If it makes your life significantly easier to use a disposable pan to bake dinner, or paper plates to eat from then do it. I certainly don’t use them on a regular basis, but there are times when I know it is worth it to not have to wash dishes when we are done eating. If using one of these items means you will cook instead of using the drive thru, then use them. Many companies are developing products with this idea in mind. For example, Reynolds makes liners for the slow-cooker as well as oven bags.
If you have been inspired to do some menu planning of your own, please share what dishes you plan on preparing.