Saturday, August 28, 2010

Running Foodie Kitchen: Menu Planning

Happy Saturday! I've been working a series of posts about how my kitchen works: menu planning, grocery shopping, pantry and freezer staples, etc. and am excited to share this first post with you!

I know some people turn their noses up at menu planning, but it is 100% imperative for me! I read a lot of food blogs and have cook books on my nightstand, and if I don't plan ahead what I'm going to make, I would never get through all the new recipes that I come across!

I'm also not a "fly by the seat of her pants"-type cook. I use recipes almost all the time and I might have minor kitchen freak outs if I don't have a certain ingredient that a recipe calls for.  If I don't menu plan, the times that I'm out of ingredients happen a lot more frequently.

So, here's how I do it!

Every weekend, usually Sunday morning, I sit down with my coffee and cookbooks in front of my computer and menu plan. This might seem a little "old lady," but, like I said before, it's necessary for me. Menu planning has some other real benefits too:
  1. It saves money! I go to the grocery store once a week with a specific list based on what I am planning to cook. This reduces impulse purchases and encourages me to reduce waste by only buying what we will need for the recipes that week. It also helps me to buy in bulk when possible, which allows me to double some meals and freeze half for later. Finally, it allows me to plan my meals around what I know will be on sale that week or on what we got in our CSA box on Friday.
  2. It saves time! I don't have to run frantically to the grocery store at inconvenient times, trying to find that one last ingredient that I need. I also don't waste time in the evening trying to figure out what the heck we are going to have for dinner. I just pick from one of the recipes I've already decided on (I don't plan day-by-day, I just plan for the week).
  3. It's healthier! On the weekend I have time to look at each meal and make sure that it will be filling and healthful. This helps me avoid last-minute, unhealthy, desperation meals. I also am able to investigate ingredient alternatives to make traditional meals more healthy!
I typically plan for about 4 meals per week and one treat (cookies, granola bars, scones, frozen yogurt, etc). There are only two of us, so inevitably there are leftovers. We eat leftovers for dinner occasionally, but we usually take leftovers to work for lunch. Teachers don't get a full hour for lunch, so buying lunch is out of the question unless you want to eat what the kids eat. We also enjoy eating out, so I typically assume that there will be at least one night a week where I don't need to cook. Finally, we generally enjoy Sunday night dinner at my parents' house. That is also the one night a week that we might eat red meat.

Once I have my recipes picked out, I go through the ingredients list for each one and make my grocery list. I used to just make a handwritten list, but recently I took a page from my mother-in-law and made a "Master Grocery List" which I have been using with a lot of success. I print a blank one each week and put it on the fridge so I can check off things as we run out (this is key!), then I add all of the recipe ingredients that I need when I sit down to menu plan on the weekend. Works for me!

If you'd like a copy of my master list, shoot me an email at meganrose.ellis[at]gmail[dot]com. I'll send you the Word document so you can edit it to your specifications!

Up next - grocery shopping! We don't shop at a traditional grocery store, so it's always an adventure!

Do you menu plan? What is your #1 reason for doing so (or for not)?