Say the words, “Menu Planning” out loud and you are sure to get a reaction. The reactions run the gamut from huge (usually vocal) proponents, to nay-sayers, to those who feel guilty because they think they should do it, but just don’t. I’d say that I am on the proponent side, but that I’m not obnoxiously vocal about it (at least I hope that I’m not).
Menu planning isn’t something that I just decided to start one day. The need evolved as my location, lifestyle, and marital and parental statuses changed.
Now, there is no going back.
4 Steps to Menu Planning
- Start with your calendar. Plan meals around events in your family’s schedule.
- Inventory the freezer, refrigerator & pantry – and make meals using the food you already have
- Assign meals to each day
- Create your grocery list comprised of what you will need to make the meal you just chose
Each week, I sit down at our computer, and do these four things. Honestly, I don’t enjoy the process that much. Some people may think it’s fun. I’m not one of them. But as much as I don’t like the process, I love the end product. The ends more than justifies the means.
The benefits of meal planning are many and vary among families.
Benefits of Menu Planning Include:
1 – Eat meals at home as a family on nights when there is something else going on
Because I start our meal planning with our schedule, on nights when we have somewhere to go, I plan the meal accordingly. Usually something in the crock-pot so that we can eat as soon as we get home. If I didn’t do this, we would eat fast food all.the.time. And as much as I want to do that, I really don’t want to do that.
2 – Save some serious moo-lah
Or at the very least, it allows us to afford pricier items.
After meal planning, I make a list of what we need to make that week’s meals. I go through what I call our “masters” list, which is just the staples we always have on hand, and add anything that we are out of. The items on this list are the only things in my cart when we check out.
In the grocery store, I am a woman on a mission. I find what I need, and only what I need. For time’s sake and our budget’s sake, I don’t do any perusing. It’s not unusual to skip over half of the aisles in the grocery store in any given trip.
If my mentality isn’t “What do I think looks good to eat this week?”, I’m far less likely to make impulse buys. (Disclaimer: In the interest of full disclosure, I must admit that my one weakness to this is the ice cream section. Ice cream ends up in our cart much more often than it occurs on our list).
There are, however, some foods that aren’t cheap that we really like to eat, and buying groceries this way justifies us spending the money on them. Because I don’t buy food we don’t need, we have a little extra to eat the things we really love like steak, salmon, LOTS of fresh fruits, and Edy’s ice cream.
3 – Helps with not letting your deep freezer become a black hole
Each week, I try to have at least one meal that comes from our deep freezer. If I didn’t plan for it, we would only accumulate food in there and never take it out. Not at all the reason deep freezers were invented.
4 – It adds variety to meals
If it’s something that I really like, I could eat the same thing for days on end. And when I was single, I did. I would make a pan of lasagna and that was my lunch for the next two weeks. I’m not joking.
I do our menu planning electronically on an app called Pepperplate.com (more about that later), which stores all of our meal schedules. If I feel like I’m falling in a rut, I can look back and see how many time’s we’ve had BLT’s in the last month. Sometimes, it’s not nearly as often as I think it is, and other times, well, let’s just say that it’s a good thing I checked.
5 – Spend the day looking forward to eating supper, instead of spending it dreading 5 PM and the inevitable standing in the kitchen trying to figure out what to make
I don’t make food that we don’t enjoy eating. So instead of peering in the fridge at 5:10, trying to make a decision and feeling like I’m wasting precious evening time, I get excited at 4:50 because that night we’re having fill-in-the-blank and everything’s there for it, I just have to cook it. (Which, I admit that I enjoy. I know that this is not the case for everyone).
6 – You have to make the decision at some point
For me, this is the ultimate reason. Even when I lived in DC and heated up frozen pre-cooked chicken breast to add to Pasta Roni (yes, I am ashamed to admit that that was a “good” meal), the 3 minutes I spent trying to decide on that was miserable.
When people ask me about meal planning, what I always say is that unless you starve yourself, you have to make the decision. It’s not one of those things that goes away if you don’t think about it. So, if you have to make the decision, why not make in advance? This allows you to take into consideration all of the factors listed above and any others that make a difference for you, and make the most out of what is going to be a part of your day – no matter how much you wish it wasn’t.
For the month of June, I will be sharing more about the benefits of and tricks to meal planning. Whenever I’ve talked with people about this before, they always had questions. I will be collecting any questions that come up on my Facebook page and answering as many of them as I can at the end of the month. Whatever you’re wondering regarding meal planning, shopping and prep, let me know.