Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Works for Me Wednesdays: Menu Planning for the Consistency Impaired

I always vowed I would not use menu plans, because a) how boring it would be to have it all set down what you would eat three Thursdays from now, and b) it's not as frugal (supposedly) as just shopping from the sales and cooking with what you have.

Sometime after D2 was born, however, my entire food-planning brain fried. I bought things that rotted in the fridge, and then didn't have the right ingredients to make anything I could think of to make. I started cooking too late in the day. I knew I needed to have something written down in advance or supper simply wasn't going to happen.

I finally realized something. Pretty much everything I buy falls into one of three categories: a) It never comes on sale, or doesn't come on as often as I need it (milk, eggs, certain health-food stuff); b) It can be bought in large quantities and stored or frozen when it's on sale (meat, cheese, bread, canned goods--the big-ticket stuff); or c) Something in the same general category comes on sale every week (produce). So menu-planning doesn't have to keep me from shopping the sales.

I sat down and wrote out a four-week plan of our favorite meals. I try to have most of them fit into what I call the "pot-and-a-bowl" category: a pot of main dish and a bowl of salad make a balanced meal. At most, I have to fix biscuits or rice on the side. This cuts down on dishes. Only the "pot" category is written down. I can then adapt the "bowl" in accordance with which produce was on sale this week.

I also wrote two overlapping menu plans, one for hot weather and one for cold weather, using the same basic ingredients. Thus on the day we would have white chicken chili if it was cold, I make a white bean and chicken salad if it's hot. This allows me to adapt to unexpected changes in the weather. And if I just can't stand the thought of what's on the menu, I have enough slack from stuff already stored to fix something else.

Now I only shop the sales for things I will actually use, and I hardly ever forget to take something out of the freezer in time to thaw. There's enough flexibility that I don't get bored. And supper actually gets to the table on time.


Barb, sfo said...

I like your 2-menu idea.
I menu plan but not for weekends. Instead I make a "weekend list" of meals to choose from--all easy, and all from things we already have in the house. If we're home for dinner on a weekend, we pick from the list.

Elizabeth said...

Hi, thanks for your comment on my homeschooling post! I'm learning so much about it from all different perspectives.

But this topic you have here, this interests ME a LOT! Despite having been a SAHM for over 7 years, I still have NO IDEA what to make for dinner most nights! If you don't mind my passing on a suggestion, I subscribe for free to a service called Menus for Moms. They email you a 7 day dinner menu each week, with a shopping list. At least one meal makes extra to use in another meal, and each week there is usually something to cook in bulk and freeze-sometimes meat, sometimes peppers and onions, etc. It is a great timesaver. I don't know how to put hypertext links in comments, so here's the URL:

Sandra said...

I've done menus for years now, they are a life saver.

Yes it could be boring, but I write down all the meals and if for some reason that day I don't feel like having what I wrote down, I just switch it with another day.

I no longer buy items that I don't need, I no longer forget to buy something and food doesn't go to waste. I actually have a food blog too where I post my menus and recipes etc. It's great :)

Thanks for sharing :)

Nettie said...

You are so organized! I usually plan menus for 2 weeks out, updated weekly. I just sometimes don't feel like making what I've planned or don't have time, or someone eats one of the ingredients. This way I have extra possiblities.

Amy said...

I am the menu planning queen. My menu plans actually went up onto our site (I have specific Aldi menu planners that are a hit) including a whole month of slow cooker recipes. I love planning meals, but love the flexibility that can be had with menu planning. I just buy stuff for the meals and then we eat whatever sounds good from those menu choices.

Janice (5 Minutes for Mom) said...

that is so great - like the hot/cold day options. i need to do some menu planning!

my wfmw is up too

Tess said...

this is a great idea.

Barb, sfo said...

Here's your letter from my "Ten Things" meme...U
(Scientifically chosen at random by my 4-year-old from the Big Bucket of Refrigerator Alphabet Magnets)

Lammyann said...

Menu Mom here... and I love that we can switch out if I cannot stomach the idea of what is on the menu a certain night... or if I haven't gotten my act together.
Great tip--
Thanks for visiting me!

Katherine@Raising Five said...

Very organized! You inspire me! I read somewhere that the typical family rotates the same 7 meals over and over, and that made me feel so much better about my feeble rotation. I don't plan by the day always, but I try to keep the ingredients for my main favorite meals on hand. Thanks for sharing and for visiting me today.

Sue said...

I also plan all my menus, but use a different theme for each night (with two nights left open for flexibility and using leftovers)
I then have regular dishes I use within those themes. Your idea also sounds interesting!
My WFMW is up :-)

Meredith said...

"Pot-and-a-bowl" planning--I love it!

Kathryn said...

It works for my sister and I as well...we don't waste nearly as much food. We post our recipes and menus on

I'd love to see your menus.