Monday, September 28, 2015

How I Menu Plan (and a Free Printable!)

I've had a couple of people ask me of late if I could share my system for menu planning every week as they feel overwhelmed and don't know where to start.

So, I decided that I'd do a post on it for you.  And hey, I even made my first EVER printable for you to print off if you want (it's down below!).  Cool huh?

Now, if you look up menu planning on Google or your favorite search engine you are going to find a lot of blogs that tell you to menu plan around the sales are available that week.  This is not one of those blogs.

Menu planning that way, honestly, worries me as it means that most people don't have a week's worth of food in their house and are dependent on the store to make their meals for the week.  As someone who strives to have six months to a year's worth of food around in the house for fear of cash flow problems or something else going on the idea of just doing a menu around the sales at the store every week goes against the grain.

Oh don't get me wrong, I tried it when I started liking the idea of a menu plan.  And I'd fail miserably at it as my family would decide in mid-stream that we wanted something else for dinner in the middle of the week.  Next thing I'd know, I'd have food that went bad in my fridge and feeling awful that I'd wasted food.

Nope, my system now a days goes like this.

I sit down on Saturday and start to figure out my menu plan for the next week.  This revolves around what I have in the freezer and pantry first and foremost.  If I have no creativity that week I'll go for a system based on what I KNOW I have and just allow myself some sitting and staring off into space drooling time as I try to figure out more than a vague baseline for the menu to build from.

For instance my menu plan for this week started this way, due to my son being sick on Saturday so I was distracted.
Monday:  Beef or Pork
Tuesday:  Chicken (in crock pot) because I knew that we have an appointment to make tomorrow and we're going to be busy during the day.
Wednesday:  Pork in crock pot (therapy day)
Thursday:  Pasta
Friday:  Pizza (Thursday during the day I'll put what I have of my ripe tomatoes and put them in the crock pot to make sauce so I have them for pizza on Friday).
Saturday:  Leftovers or casserole (leftovers if we have them and I know I have the makings of casserole in the pantry if there are few leftovers to choose from in the way of meat)
Sunday:  Lamb chops
And that's it.  Side dishes are left to my imagination until I start working out the details in my head and the specifics can be left up to me looking through my cookbooks, letting my culinary imagination run for a while until I come up with something or hitting some of the cooking sites like All Recipes or something to see if I can find something to spark my imagination.

You'll also notice if you look at my meal plans some days of the week seem to be pretty consistent in what we are having.  That's because I know I'm busy that day (like right now Wednesday and Thursday and Monday are more likely to be crockpot nights as I know that I'm busy those days and might not have time to cook).

I've also tried to do the "set day of the week for this certain meal" type of menu plan too and had decent success with it.  Like I had a set day for Taco day for a while when I could get good deals on hamburger (Fridays) and such.  There's a reason why "Meatloaf Monday" has been around forever.  Some people just like to keep the same schedule week after week.  My advice though is you do Meatloaf Mondays do one week beef meatloaf, one week spiced turkey meatloaf, one week a Thai themed meatloaf or something just to break up the monotony.   It not only gets boring for you to cook when you make the same thing week after week, but it also bores the people who have to eat it.

Sunday rolls around and I sit down and look at the Fred Meyer ad for the week.  The only thing I do with the store ads is to see if there is something I need to stock up on or if there is a fresh ingredient I'd like to add into a dish on the menu plan that I know I can't substitute out with a pantry item.  Otherwise I just look for sales on the foods my son normally eats as he won't eat home cooked anything yet.

Monday and I have a pretty good idea on what I want the rest of the week to shape up like, but sometimes Monday is still up in the air.  Like this morning I really didn't want to eat pork, but I don't have much beef in the freezer so I was trying to figure out the details, but was at the store buying milk and found beef ribs on sale 50% off (read cheap for beef) and I grabbed them to make them into our main dish for tonight.

Usually once I get Monday done and cooking the rest of the menu plan starts to fall into place.  Once I get one meal figured out it's like the other meals in the menu start to come into my head on what would "compliment" that day's menu.  Side dishes are either seasonal items (like during the summer we have a lot of salads during the week) or pantry items (like you'll notice green beans used a LOT as a side dish with meat around here as green beans are one veggie both my husband and daughter will eat without complaint, so we have them a lot).  I try to do meals based on one meat, one veggie/fruit and one starch.  Meat is self explanatory, but starches we'll either have rice, potatoes or bread and butter/some type of toast around here for the most part.  Every once in a while I'll mix it up with stuffing or something, but those are pretty much our staple items.   But, if your family likes baked beans use those as your starch with dinner.  It all depends on what you like, so go with it!

On Tuesday I look at the Carrs ad and do the same thing as I do with the Fred Meyer ad.  If I want to have salad during the winter, for instance, I tend to schedule it for Friday as salad can go on sale cheap at Carrs on 5.00 Friday or I can stop by Fred Meyer for their weekly sales at that time or look for reduced salad to use.  Well that and my weekly shopping is normally done on Friday (pay day), so I just revolve fresh produce usage around that day.

So, there you are folks.  My "system" as it were.  Now onto how I actually STICK to a menu plan every week.

I've tried so many different  systems it's pathetic.  The home keeping binder.  Didn't work for me.  The weekly print out to put your menu on and on the same page write down your grocery list.  Didn't work as I never remembered to look at the menu because I couldn't see it easily or I'd forget my grocery list as it'd be up on the fridge with my weekly menu.  It just frustrated me.

This is the system that finally worked for me.

This, as you've seen on every weekly menu post is my weekly menu board.

And this is also my menu board...

It's a DIY dry erase menu board and it's so easy!  I finally found the original tutorial I used for mine (if you can call it that as it is THAT simple) HERE.  I found the idea originally on Pinterest and loved it, but I lost track of the link (I should know...pinned the pin!).  I made mine with scrapbooking paper from a kit I had and a thrift store 10x14 frame (thus why I have the blue on the bottom and top of the board) so it's nice and visible.

I LOVE this thing!  I hung it up on the wall in my kitchen, write my menu on it every week and it really does help me to stay organized.  If I'm not sure what I'm going to have for dinner that night, I just look over at the menu board first thing in the morning and I have my answer.  I'll even make little notes on the bottom for what my baking list is going to be if it is something out of the ordinary so that I remember it.  It was super cheap to make, keeps me organized, and if I get bored with the design I'll just switch out the paper and voila!  New menu board.  For a FRACTION of the cost that something like that would cost you if you bought one commercially.

In case you are one of those "write things down every week to stay organized" types on print outs, or if you want a nice template to stick in a frame to make your own dry erase menu I made this for you...

I even included some blue snowflake pattern that's found on vintage Corelleware (because, well it's me making it so I had to make it "me" ;).  I thought I did pretty well for my first attempt at a printable, if I do say so myself.

Just click on the image of the menu plan and it'll bring you to a new "page" where you'll view the image (since the above image is smaller than the original is, of course).  Right click with your mouse and save the file as whatever you'd like on your computer and print it off however you like.

Enjoy!  And good luck with the menu planning!  It really will help you to stay organized in the kitchen, keep better track of what is in your pantry inventory (more on that later) and make things a little less stressful on a day to day basis when it comes to the kitchen.

1 comment:

  1. I really like how you plan things. I am struggling with meal planning of late as my older daughter went to college and my husband started taking a class two nights a week. Younger daughter is very low maintenance, and unfortunately I have simply been hardly cooking at all. The upside is the scale likes me better. :) What makes it worse is I work at home and usually eat leftovers for lunch and there has been nothing to choose from! Must do better!