For me, menu planning is a delightful pastime. I love getting cozy on my living room couch with a cup of tea in hand and browse through the local store ads, cookbooks, and my own notes and recipes. As I jot down a menu for the upcoming week, I couldn’t be happier. “Ah, this is the life….” I say to myself. I love being a homemaker and Menu Planning is one of my favorite chores.
I don’t always have the time to indulge in this relaxing pastime of mine, so most often I’m jotting down a menu quickly when I have some free time at work, while we’re driving somewhere with my husband, in the waiting room of the doctor’s office, etc. If all else fails, I will sit in the car and take 10 minutes to figure out my menu plan right before hitting the grocery stores.
The worst thing you can do is walk into the store for your weekly stocking up without a plan of attack.
Here are FOUR reasons why I think Menu Planning is worth your time and effort:
1. It will save you lots for MONEY.
2. It will save you lots of TIME.
3. It will save you from FRUSTRATION.
4. It will help you EAT BETTER.
Here are some things to consider when you are planning a menu.
1. Shop from your pantry.
Take a few minutes to look through you pantry, refrigerator and freezer and take note of the things that you already have and can prepare this week. This may seem boring, and feel dull and tedious, but remember, all those groceries were interesting and exciting when you were picking them out and brought them home last week or a few weeks ago. You did spend hard earned money on them, so use them up.
I like to spend at least one week per month, not buying anything new, but using up whatever I have. It’s really cool to see bare shelves and get creative.
Take a look at this chart with some shocking US food waste facts and statistics. I pinned this so I’ll have a handy reminder.
Let’s say NO to food waste and do our best to reduce our contribution to this sad state of affairs.
2. Cook perishables first.
One of the reasons that we end up wasting food, is simply because we don’t use it quickly enough. Make sure to use the food that will spoil sooner before you prepare the food that can be stored safely for a longer period of time.
For example, as a general rule of thumb, whenever I buy fresh fish, I always cook it the same day or the next day at the very latest.(Here’s a tip on how to store fresh fish).
Other food that spoils quickly: Fresh berries, herbs, lettuce, tomatoes.
DO you want another handy chart? This one from CookSmarts tells you the shelf life of some common ingredients and what you should used right away and what can last for weeks.
3. What’s on sale?
Pay attention to the weekly sales flyers that come in the mail. You can also look them up online, which is what I usually do. You will save so much money this way. If chicken is on sale this week, plan to cook some chicken this week, instead of paying twice as much money for beef, if it’s not on sale.
Focus on the ingredients that are in season, because they will taste better. Strawberries, tomatoes, etc. will taste very bland and watery when they’re not in season. We have very weird seasons here in Florida. For example, our tomato season is right now, which I’m SO excited about, and strawberry season is in the winter time also. Not only will the ingredients taste better, but they are usually cheaper too.
5. What am I or my family craving?
This is usually a natural thing for us to consider, and how most of us grocery shop. We stroll through the aisles and grab what looks good. This may surprise many of you, who think that planning a menu zaps all the fun out of eating and have the mistaken idea that being organized will force you to eat things you don’t feel like eating, and you’ll be compelled to eat rice, beans and tuna fish sandwiches, to save a buck or two.
Guess what? YOU’RE the one who is making the decisions of what will be on your menu, so you can decide to cook what you’re craving. I love to ask my husband or guests that are staying with us if they are craving any particular food and incorporating it into the menu.
6. Stay Healthy, Diversify and Don’t Get Into a Rut
Planning a menu is a fantastic way of keeping track of what you’re eating and try to eat healthier. As you are looking at your week’s menu all in one glance, it’s easy to spot “trouble areas” and notice if you’ve unintentionally been on a junk food streak. Have you ever realized a week later that all week you’ve been eating really heavy, calorie laden dinners, without meaning to? It’s easy to slip up if you don’t plan your menus.
When you’re planning a menu, you make sure that you are eating enough fruits and vegetables every day, include seafood at least twice a week, and keep unhealthy foods to a minimum. I try to restrict unhealthy dinners to no more than once or twice a week, but if we’re doing well all week, we don’t have to feel guilty and can really indulge in some Scalloped Potatoes, steak and a delicious slice of cake.
Some people might not mind eating the same things over and over again (my husband is one of them), but I love trying new recipes and like to eat different foods. Diversifying is not just to spice things up and make them more interesting though. It’s important for a balanced diet, so make sure that you’re eating enough grains, vegetables, fruits, etc. and are getting a good variety of vitamins and nutrients.
This is a good time to look at all those recipes you pinned and actually make them.
7. Consult Your Calendar
Make life easier for yourself. It’s so easy to grab fast food or spend unwanted money on restaurants if we’re busy and for lack of planning.
With just a bit of planning, you can avoid all those money and diet pit holes.
I’m a night shifter, so I try to cook enough food before my work nights, so I don’t have to cook on the days after a night shift. On Mondays, I always plan a meal that is great served as a leftover, or really simple dinner options, so I can have dinner on the table in half an hour or less. Planning a menu also helps me to plan accordingly and prep ingredients ahead of time whenever I can, unthaw ingredients in plenty of time, etc.
Look at your schedule. If you know you will be have a special occasion or a really busy day ahead of you, plan accordingly.
We let life “surprise” us and turn planned events into hectic emergencies, when in reality, we know when most of these times are approaching and just a little planning on our part could have made everything so much easier.
- Cook Once – Eat Twice – Many recipes are perfect to eat as leftovers, so cook up a large pot of Borsch and you won’t have to cook the next day.
- Make Ahead Meals – prep the ingredients, assemble the food ahead of time and all that’s left on your busy day is the cooking.
- Freezer Cooking
- Quick and Easy Dinner Options and Snacks
8. Plan an extra dinner and a few extra snacks
We all know how hectic and unpredictable life can be. When that happens, you’ll have everything on hand and will be able to prepare whip up something quickly without getting in a tizzy, having to run to the store, order out, etc. If your week runs smoothly and you don’t end up making the “extra dinner option”, no worries, just put it in your menu plan for the following week. I usually always have certain ingredients in the house for really quick food options, such as scrambled eggs, omelet, rice, pasta, chicken noodle soup, pan fried potatoes, baked potatoes, etc.
Don’t overcomplicate menu planning or you just won’t do it. Do what works best for you.
Sometimes, I just write down 7 dinners, buy the ingredients for those meals and don’t specify which days I’ll be cooking them.
As for breakfasts, lunches and snacks, we only eat breakfast as a family on the weekend, so I simply buy staple ingredients to have on hand to make breakfast or lunch. When it’s just me at home in the mornings, I eat somethings very simple, like eggs, oatmeal, sandwich with tea, yogurt, fruit, etc. and for lunch (which I don’t eat very often) most of the time I eat leftovers.
You don’t have to have a fancy shmancy menu planning notebook or special board where you write down a detailed plan for each day, outlining what you’ll be eating for breakfast lunch and dinner, unless that’s what works for you.
The most important thing is that you are making the best choices for your family and making life easier for yourself.