Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Weekly Menu Planning for Singles, Couples, and Working People

Spend an afternoon perusing family-oriented frugality blogs, you’ll discover there are a few recurring themes. Among them: yard sales, thrift store shopping, a widespread love of free shampoo, and of course, weekly menu planning.

Menu planning, it’s argued, will streamline evenings in the home. Ma and Pa are saved money, time, and mounds of frustration because they know what the brood’s having for dinner days ahead of time. There’s no scrambling in the kitchen or supermarket, since both shopping and cooking are refined to a science. Kids (sometimes) get to have a say in what they eat, too, which makes the whole thing a family activity rather than merely a parental chore.

All in all, it’s a fantastic strategy. Even better, EVERYBODY can use it.

See, while weekly menu planning for non-families is a rare topic around the blogosphere, it’s just as monumentally helpful for post-collegiates, office workers, struggling singles, and young couples. It even offers extra benefits, mostly involving time management. Like:
  • You’re saved from 8pm post-work dinner freakouts, because dinner is ALWAYS planned.
  • Ingredients are guaranteed to be on hand.
  • Cooking goes much faster, since you go in knowing how to prepare a meal (by instinct or through print-out recipes).
  • You eat healthier, as home-cooked meals are generally much more nutritious than calorie-laden takeout or heat-and-eat dinners (Hot Pockets, Hungry Man, etc.).
  • Grocery shopping goes waaaaay faster. You go in knowing exactly what you want, and don’t have to blow an extra half-hour wandering around. Case in point: last night, using my weekly menu plan, I did all my shopping in 59 minutes, door to door, WALKING. In that time, I hit two stores, the further of which is about a half-mile away. Woo!
  • Extra trips to the grocery store are mostly eliminated.
  • You can plan for leftovers for office lunches. This is huge, personally speaking, because turkey sandwiches get tired 40,000 times in a row.
  • You always have food for those bag lunches (the night before, no less), saving you $30 per week, or around $1500 per year.
  • For budgeting purposes, you can pretty much estimate the cost of your bill to the dollar.
  • There’s less food waste, because you’re buying only what you need.
  • It allows for variety during the week, since you’ve got all the ingredients on hand anyway.
But how to begin? How do you organize this stuff? How do you create a weekly menu and grocery list without it taking a billion, gazillion years?

The answer: I don’t know. Everybody has their own system, based on what works best for them. But here’s what The Boyfriend and I do currently:

Create a new word document
This is what you’ll be typing, cutting, and pasting to. It’s much easier than writing everything down, and at the end, you can print out the grocery list, weekly menu, and recipes all at once.

Make a quick grocery list of what you need

What groceries are running low? What foods do you eat regularly from week to week? This is my most recent list:

Deli ham or turkey (for lunches)
Fruit (for breakfast and lunch)
Meat (general)
Yogurt (for lunches)

Brainstorm the dinners you want to eat this week

New dishes? Old favorites? Seasonal experiments? Whatever you’re in the mood for, list ‘em here, with special attention paid to food you need to use up before it goes bad. This is also a good time to take a cursory glance at your local online circulars. Entire menus can be built around loss leaders (biggest bargains).

This week, our dinner list includes:
For the sake of convenience, cut and paste each new recipe IN ITS ENTIRETY into your document. That way, you can print it up and consult it when you’re cooking.

(Note: I cook a lot of new dishes for both Serious Eats and CHG, so chances are your list will be a lot less complicated.)

Make a rough menu

Based on what you have in the fridge, what you’re planning for the week, and what you usually have, create a weekly menu. Take care to note when you won’t be home for a meal. Yours can be simple or complex, but I might start off pretty low-key until you get the hang of it. Here's ours:

Lunch: sandwich, leftovers yogurt, Kix, fruit
Dinner: Spinach Rice Casserole with leftover Irio

Lunch: Leftover casserole, salad, fruit, yogurt
Dinner: The Boyfriend OUT; Me - Chickpea and Bread Soup w/asparagus

Lunch: Leftover soup and/or casserole or sandwiches, fruit, yogurt
Dinner: Both OUT @ comedy show

Brunch: Brunch Clafouti
Dinner: Both OUT @ friends’ house for dinner

Brunch: Omelets, toast, and fruit
Dinner: Spiced Chicken Breast w/tangerine Sauce and Cauliflower-Honey Soup

Lunch: Leftovers, crackers, fruit
Dinner: Pasta with veggies

Lunch: Sandwiches, popcorn, fruit
Dinner: Turkey burgers with rice and frozen veggies

(Note: 90% of our weekday breakfasts consist of cereal [or homemade whatever], so we don’t list them. Also, we keep our beverages limited to coffee, beer, and water. This way, we’re always awake, tipsy, and hydrated, just the way we like it.)

Add additional ingredients to the grocery list
Now that you have a concrete menu, add your new needs to the foods you listed in STEP 1. Mine are at the bottom here, for the recipes I plan to make:

Deli ham or turkey (for lunches)
Eggs (for Clafouti and otherwise)
Fruit (for breakfast and lunch)
Meat (general)
Yogurt (for lunches)
2 15-oz. cans chickpeas (for Chickpea Soup)
4 cups beef stock (for Chickpea Soup)
2 cups low-sodium chicken stock (for Cauliflower Soup and Tangerine Chicken)
3/4 a baguette (for Chickpea Soup)
9 or 10 ounces fresh spinach leaves (for Casserole)
1 1/2 cup fresh fruit (for Clafouti)
4 boneless skinless chicken breast halves (for Tangerine Chicken)
1/2 cup tangerine juice (for Tangerine Chicken)
2 tangerines (for Tangerine Chicken)

Go through circulars (thoroughly this time)

Now that you have a general plan, comb your online (or paper) circular for sale items corresponding to your list. If you have coupons, this is a good time to see if there are any good discounts.

One more thing: if you see something you love but don’t need on mega-sale, go for it. For example, I don’t NEED red peppers this week, but I use them frequently for salads, pastas, and whatnot. So, I’ll probably pick up a few because $1.99 is a good price. If beans were on sale, I’d be all over that, too. But they’re not. Boo.

This week, this was on sale from my list:

Chicken Breast - $1.69/lb (for Tangerine Chicken)
Bananas – 2lb/$1 (for breakfasts/lunches)
La Yogurt – 2/$1 (for lunches)
Oranges – 8/$2 (for breakfasts/lunches)
Red Peppers - $1.99/lb (for whatever)

Cantaloupe - $0.99/ea (for breakfasts/lunches)
Blueberries - $1.99/6oz (1-1/2 cups for Clafouti)
Eggs – 2/$3 (for Clafouti and otherwise)

Finalize the list

Okay, stocks weren’t on sale. Neither were tangerines, chickpeas, baguettes, cold cuts, or spinach. So now, I assign them to a grocery store that I think will have the lower price.

In the end, my list looks like this:

Chicken Breast - $1.69/lb (for Tangerine Chicken)
Bananas – 2lb/$1 (for breakfasts/lunches)
La Yogurt – 2/$1 (for lunches)
Oranges – 8/$2 (for breakfasts/lunches)
Red Peppers - $1.99/lb (for whatever)
2-15 oz. cans chickpeas (for Chickpea Soup)
2 tangerines (for Tangerine Chicken)
1/2 cup tangerine juice (for Tangerine Chicken)

Cantaloupe - $0.99/ea (for breakfast and lunch)
Blueberries - $1.99/6oz (1-1/2 cups for Clafouti)
Eggs – 2/$3 (for Clafouti and otherwise)
Cold cut ham or turkey (for lunches)
4 cups beef stock (for Chickpea Soup)
2 cups low-sodium chicken stock (for Cauliflower Soup and Tangerine Chicken)
3/4 a baguette (for Chickpea Soup)
9 or 10 ounces fresh spinach leaves (for Casserole)

(Note: I get cumin in bulk from an ethnic grocer on the walk home, so it’s not included here.)


And that’s it. Now, after only 40 minutes of planning, I have an exact grocery list AND menu for the whole week. Plus, I’m guaranteed to save money on sale items, prepare healthy foods, and have plenty to bring to the office. And that’s good for everyone involved.

Readers, how about you? Do you menu plan? What’s your plan like? How might you change this one? Fire away in the comments section.

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Anonymous said...

I will have to try this, I have kids with food allergies and a husband that will not eat casseroles or ground beef. Though he'll try new things (thank god) like cilantro pesto or ginger glazed fish.

Some nights dinners are a chore. Planning it all on a weekend would make the week go much smoother. Thanks for the steps, I have no excuses now.

Marcia said...

These are some great tips. I use the pantry principle a lot. And I try to plan my meals 2-4 weeks in advance.

First, I look in my pantry. I have a family - if you are single, you might not have much in your pantry (I know when I was single, my fridge had beer, bagels, cream cheese, and jam...the jam was for my boyfriend/now hubby).

I figure out what I should use in the freezer/, I really need to use those poblanos I roasted and froze last year, and maybe that ground sirloin. And in the pantry, how about I make some cornbread with soup.

I only cook about 4 days per week, and I cook enough for leftovers. So we eat about 12 meals (5 lunches, 7 dinners - other two lunches are generally PB&J or "foraging" on the weekend). So during menu planning, I only have to come up with 4 meals.

Then, I add the CSA factor (pick up day is Thursday), how do I work in these 7 veggies (which does sometimes require last-minute menu changes).

Then each week, I look at what my recipes call for and shop accordingly for the fresh items. About 3/4 of the meals are "staples", but I do try to get in one or two new recipes per week.

Right now I'm budgeting $40/week for March (it will be $75/week for April). Having a plan is absolutely essential.

Anonymous said...

Wow, that's nearly *exactly* the same system as my boyfriend and I, only we do the old 'pen and paper' rather than on the computer. My only additions would be 1) in addition to noting when you're not there, we also note if we're hosting others and take their dietary restrictions and the extra portions needed into consideration when planning for that night. 2) in the months when the farmers' market happens (May-September), we go to the market in the morning and load up on whatever looks good, then go home and build a menu around that, and THEN go fill in the blanks from other places. That way we make sure to work in all the fresh, local, yummy produce.

Otherwise, identical!

To the previous poster: Like your kids, I have food allergies. Doing the planning this way makes things wayyyy easier, since the odds of having to rely on take-out/eating out/pre-cooked are reduced and I can cook what I want.

Daniel said...

Most of the people I know who struggle with this never really put a relatively easy system in place (like yours, for example) and then groove it into a habit.

The ironic thing is that it doesn't even matter what your "system" is! You can always tweak it or iterate how you do things down the road.

Great article Kris!

Casual Kitchen

rambling 80s baby said...

I love your blog and almost fell out my chair when I saw you had Irio on your menu...Being a Kenyan, I am pretty impressed!

Kitchen Vixen said...

I'm the same way, only I don't plan which grocery stores I'm going to hit- it's whatever works into my schedule.
I keep a work file on my desktop listing: What's in my Frig, My Freezer, and My Pantry. I always know if I'm out of pasta, or milk, and then I building a grocery over what I need, and what I'm going to use for recipes that week- VERY similiar to your system! I thought I was the only crazy!
During the warm season, I first shop at the market, and create meals around what's in season.

Liz C said...

Must be a personality thing (OK, it's a personality thing, I admit) but I hate being committed to a certain meal on a certain night.

The system that works for me is to sit down with boyfriend and son on Sunday night and come up with a list of six dinners. Some are from scratch, some are leftovers from the freezer. I usually only cook four weeknights, so that gives us the option to pick and choose.

Then I make my list. I do my grocery shopping on my lunch hour, so as long as I have a list in hand Monday morning, I'm good to go.

I have two other tools I use: my eating blog and my 'recipe purgatory', a blog I use as a recipe shoebox.

When I find a recipe online I like, I post the link to my recipe purgatory and categorize it. When I make the recipe, I write about it on my eating blog. That way, I can always go back and find my modifications/notes.

Since I do most of my recipe-hunting at work (shhh... don't tell!) this way I can still access the info at home.

Here are links to my blogs, in case anyone wants to see how it works:

Eating blog:
(check out 'recipe' and 'Project Weeknight' tags)

Recipe Shoebox:

Sounds weird, but using tags on the blog is the best database I've found for keeping track of recipes I want to try.

(I know, compute, much?)

Liz C said...

p.s. Most of the recipes you listed for your week's meals just went into my Recipe Purgatory!

Jewel of Toronto said...

I'm really enjoying menu planning, just 'cause we always know what there is to eat. What we do differently:
1) only shop at one supermarket unless "ethnic" ingredients are called for
2) I keep a list of favorite meals on hand in case I am not feeling inspired
3) I plan to eat lunch out once a week as a treat
4) I don't designate certain meals on certain nights, just make whatever we feel like when we get home
5) on Sundays I make a big pot of (soup, chili, taco filling, etc.) so that we have something on hand if we can't be bothered to cook (leftovers are frozen in portions if not eaten)

It's now gotten to the point where I feel a little lost if I don't have a plan for the week.

kazari said...

I have always menu planned, whether it's been one of us at home, or two. At the moment it's a bit tricky because I don't know how many nights a week ryan will be home.
I do most of the things you talk about, but I don't assign meals to a day. Instead, I have four or five dinners planned, most of which could feed us both, but could equally provide a yummy lunch for the next day. Then I move them around depending on my whim, if he's home, and what needs to be eaten first.

Carrie said...

i meal plan for one (sometimes two) also.

my typical strategy is to pick 4 items to make a week (i make 2-4 portions of each) and freeze some of the leftovers. on the other 3 nights i either eat leftovers or have plans to go out and i eat the leftovers for lunch also. i try to pick one or two new recipes to try a week and then two or three that use items i already have on hand.

Meal Planning at

Meags said...

I like to be a little more complicated. :) I look through the circulars and The Grocery Game first, pick things we like, build meals out of those, and then make my "ingredient list". I check my pantry/fridge/freezer to see what I have (sometimes I'm pretty sure I have an ingredient but it never hurts to double check) and cross off everything I already have. I used to plan 7-9 meals at a time, but I realized that after leftovers and random dinners out at restaurants or with friends that it took 2-3 weeks to go through them, so I'm going to stick to 4 meals at a time. Anyways, I make my list, go to the stores that have the best deals according to the Grocery Game, and then do my shopping. I don't plan my meals by day of the week though because I would never follow it. I just write all of my recipes on post-it notes and then when I use it, I stick on my calendar, so I can see at a glance what recipes I have left. Like I said, it's more complicated, but it works for me.

carriekali said...

This dovetails nicely with the book I read last night: "The Food Nanny Rescues Dinner" (Palmer/Pletsch, 2008), by Liz Edmunds. Her system is to designate a theme for each night of the week: Tuesday is Italian, Wednesday is meatless, Friday is pizza (etc.)

Thanks for such a nicely written article on meal planning.

Erica said...

I make a worksheet. I wrote it by hand and photo copy it. I can fit 4 worksheets on one page of 81/2 by 11 paper(back and front). I have a box for the dinners I will make. A box for lunches and snack options. And a box for things I need to prepare ahead of time (put ingredients in bread machine, soak beans, compile slow cooker ingredients). I then have boxes for each section of the grocery store (fruits and veggies, dry goods, beverages, cold foods, frozen foods). This helps me not to skip over things in the grocery store. When I'm done shopping I put the list up on the fridge so I remember what I am making. Having a list of lunch and snack foods can help other members of the house hold 1) not constantly ask what there is to eat and 2)Not stare vacantly into the fridge letting cold air out.

Rebecca said...

Hi. What a great introduction to menu planning.

I got into menu planning when I started to realize that I was beginning to hate cooking dinner; about 3 years ago. I didn't hate cooking--I just hated the WhatDoICookForDinner panic.

I use an excel spreadsheet. I've tried using something similar to Knock Knock's planning the menu pad and the Just Bento Weekly meal planner. What I have now is a hybrid of the two (it's always changing).

I stopped planning meals for 7 nights, and now plan for 5. That way, my weekends are more "forage for what you can" than planned. Since I always buy extra and have lots of leftovers -- it's not a problem.

Have you heard of Eating down the fridge? It's a challenge that starts this Sunday. I'm still debating whether to join or not; but I'm going to try to tackle my pantry of StuffThatDinnerForgot and see what I can come up with.

Love your blog.

Amber said...

I'll chime in that I use an excel spreadsheet (nerdy, I know) so I can track what I've eaten over time and go back and highlight stuff I really like and/or foods that pair well in a single meal.

Jayme said...

Wow, this is awesome! The hardest part for me is always just getting started. I get too caught up in figuring out who to organize everything. It's great to see what someone else does to use as a starting point!

Thanks so much for this info! I'm definitely going to try this out. :)

Kris said...

You guys, this is great. It's so nice to read all the different suggestions.

Rebecca, those are great sites. Does anyone else know of a solid online spreadsheet for this kind of stuff? Or a really good downloadable Excel doc? I can post it sometime this week.

Amanda said...

I've long been a fan of the menu plan--and it's always been just me & my husband here. No matter what process helps you get there, the main thing is to give it a try, and keep trying, until you find what works for you.

For me, I'm diabetic and don't eat certain things; my husband is extremely picky. I'm also a foodblogger, so new & interesting dishes are important to me, for my own sake as well as for the blog. I'm also a big eater--I prefer to eat several small meals. What I do is work out an excel spreadsheet. Rows are my meals: breakfast, am snack, lunch, pm snack, dinner, late-night snack; columns are the days of the week. Then I go through my pantry, fridge & freezer, making note of what needs to be used sooner; then I go to the sale flyers. From that point I can work out my meal plan and stick to my grocery budget. It's taken a couple of years to get it really ironed out, but it works.

Oh, and I recommend keeping a few go-to standby pantry meals at the ready. That way you don't have to resort to the drive-thru if you forgot to take meat out of the freezer to thaw for tonight's planned meal.

I Heart Kale said...

This is great, and basically reflects our process too. One additional thing we do when making the shopping list is that our template groups the stuff we need by section of the store: produce, perishable, dry goods, bulk and frozen. This way, we can see, while we're in each aisle, what else we might need there without having to scan up and down the list too much. Also, if we're pressed for time, we can just split up: e.g. I'll do produce and perishable, you do everything else.

Serena said...

I use Google calendar for meal planning - using the location for the location of the recipe (eg which cookbook, website, etc).
If it's an electronic recipe, I put it in the description.

Two extra benefits:
1) future meal planning can be helped by having a history - can't think of anything? just glance and what we ate a month or two ago

2) I can take into account the rest of our schedule (working late one night, going to a friend's house etc) in planning what to eat

3) I add freezer meals to some random future date to remind me of them - I can easily move them around to a particular date that week when it's closer. I also do that sometimes with recipes I read and want to try sometime.

I do have a family, so I tend to plan at least one big meal on Sat or Sunday (something that will make leftovers), one meal from the freezer, and two more - at least one of which will have leftovers for another meal. So we are usually only "cooking" 4-5 nights/week, but we are almost always eating healthy home cooked food!

Elizabeth said...

I menu plan, although I'm a little less regimented. I don't assign a day of the week for each meal, rather I sit down with a few cook books, decide what sounds good, and make a list of 4-5 meals I'll make that week. I let my mood influence what will be served on which day. I usually only plan 4-5 which leaves room for left-over consumption. I have found that I both spend less, and waste less. Both important benefits in my book.

Marcia said...

It's really fun reading everyone else's ideas. I'm pretty regimented, but I need a *little* bit of flexibility. I can't just say "I'll make these five things whenever", because I have to factor in the time with it. (If something takes one hour, then I do half the prep the night before.)

I've thought about going more regimented, with "Italian Monday, Mexican Tuesday, etc.", but the CSA makes that difficult (and I'm often making a Mexican main meal with an Asian vegetable). Or even "Soup Monday, Pasta Tuesday, Rice Wednesday", but again, too regimented.

Plus I'm totally anal about using the leftovers, which is why I have to plan almost to the day. I'd hate to wake up Friday to have to throw out 2 servings because I forgot to eat them. I'd much rather "drop" a planned meal if I have too many leftovers.

I also use my own personal food blog as a cookbook of sorts. It took me many tries to master pizza dough in my oven, and now I just search my blog to find it.

Ficbot said...

Someone on a message board I frequent had a great, simple idea---she cooks once a week, any recipe she pleases, as if she were cooking for eight! Then she freezes all the leftover servings and for the rest of the week, thaws them one at a time for dinners. After a few weeks, you'd get quite the collection of numerous different single-serve choices. I wish I had the freezer space (and tupperware collection) to make this feasible.

tws said...

Yo, CHG!

I like your system! As a young married, no kids, but both of us working-and-in-grad-school-and stressed-out-of-our-minds household, meal planning has become a necessity for reasons of sanity and budget. I plan weekly and thusly:

- I keep a big message board in my office that includes, among other things, what I plan for lunch and dinner each day (we really only plan Sat AM breakfasts) My board is a rip off of this one, done by an old friend of mine: The board also helps when hubby gets home - he knows what's for dinner and can start chopping onions or whatever.

- I also need to go to a few different stores to get what I need (a local produce shop, an ethnic store, and a supermarket)so I keep "standard" grocery lists (in ink on big index cards) for each of those places that includes the items that I normally purchase from those venues. These lists stay pinned to my board, so as we run out of groceries during the week, I add them to the list. I also add to these lists (in pencil) the items that I need specifically for next week's dinners. I plan to hit the produce place every week, and the other two stores every other week. The night before shopping, I take quick stock of what we have. If we still have some almond butter, for instance, then I'll scratch if off the list (in pencil)

I shop late in the week for the next week, and I update the board every Sunday night.

And that is how I stay sane.

JR in Boston said...

I too put all receipes into a word document for the week. Luckily, I live with my sister and we BOTH love to cook, so by doing this we both have access to the recipes so that whoever is home earlier can start the cooking...definitely a time saver and its SO GREAT to know exactly what you'll be having for dinner when you get home from a long day at work.

Anonymous said...

I would like to second the google calander planning. It is very easy to use and we can plan for then next week but also future date things and keep it inline our with work/social schedules. Plus if you run accross some recipie at work or in conversation you can look it up and add it. My wife and I usually plan the next week out and do our grocery shopping that same day. We keep a google doc of a grocery list and add to it when we need to during the week. We usually cook 2-3 times a week and have leftovers the rest of the week.

kmbarnhart said...

I do mine as a table in Excel becuase I started doing it to lose weight, so mine is a combo menu/food diary. It's actually this uber-geeky workbook. Page 1 is the menu. Page 2 is a list of common (or not-so-common) foods, with calories, fat grams, cholesoral, protein and carb counts. Pages 3-9 are for each day of the week.

I copy the info from Page 2 to the appropriate spot on the daily pages, which are set up to do the automatic calculations, based on numbers set for me by a nutritionist. So at any given time, I know exactly where I am for the day, which is handy if I'm hungry and want something extra. =.)

Although doing the menu takes some time -- especially the first few weeks as you get into the swing and figure out your own process -- I find that it saves me a ton of time throughout the week, reduces my "what am I going to eat?" stress, helps prevent me from making unhealthy food choices, saves me a lot of money as far as less eating out and buying only what I need at the grocery store, and I waste a lot less food.

One thing I note on mine is my activity/exercise. For example, if I look at the menu and see that I'm going for a run after work, I know my afternoon snack needs to be carbs and protein and that the post-run dinner needs to be something that just needs to be re-heated so that I can eat as soon as I'm out of the shower.

When I'm really in the swing, I cook something on the weekend that will freeze in individual portions easily so that I can eat on it for 2-3 days, then freeze the rest to have on hand for future menus.

I save the menu to a jump drive that I carry with me so that I can access it at home and work, which allows me to stay on track with snacks and lunch at the office.

I should mention that I'm single with no roomie, so I probably have a LOT more flexibility than other readers of your blog. If anyone thinks

Judy said...

I have "Listpro" software on my work desktop and PDA, so I can plan my meals and the grocery list at the same time, usually Thursday afternoon at work. The PDA lives in my hand, so my grocery list is always handy. I am a devoted Aldi shopper too, although there are some things they just do not have, so I save those for payday weeks and a run to the "megamart." My list is divided between Aldi and Other, so I can add stuff to the megamart list as I think of it.

I assign meals to certain days, but I reserve the right to shift them around. I also have two teenagers who both cook, so I have been known to text them with "We are either having A or B for supper. Pick one, decide who is going to make it, and get started." (That was on a very bad day, though...)

We do tend to rotate the same things through our weeks, since I am on a permanent low-carb regimen and they are, well, teenagers who eat a lot. So we have meaty spaghetti sauce (on ricotta for me, noodles for them), chili, roast chicken with a starch for them, breakfast for dinner, etc.

mama snee said...

I have a 3 year old, and limited time/ concentration in the grocery store, so I have double-sided copies of a menu plan worksheet-- one side is the week's menu (3 meals each day) with a place to write down cookbook page #s, and the other side is the grocery list broken into EXACT aisles at our grocery store of choice. I can fly through the store and never double back when I know I need ketchup and coffee on aisle 7 and nothing else until aisle 10-- it's awesome!

I also keep a version of the list filled in with all my staples so I can use it as a pantry checklist before I shop. I also have the "Dirty Dozen" listed on my worksheet as a reminder to buy organic when I can.

I do a lot of recipe hunting online as well, and I've started printing them out and putting them in a 3-ring binder on the shelf with my cookbooks, organized by entrees/ soups/ salads/ etc. That way I can make notes, etc. and I'm constantly building a very handy reference of well-loved dishes.

GREAT ideas here, I'll be incorporating a few for sure!

kd said...

Thanks so much. I've been menu planning for a while now, but this goes into more depth and will definitely help me save money - which I need to do at the grocery store. I'm going to post a link to it on mine here in the next few minutes: Thanks!

Lisa said...

I have been doing this for a while and about a year ago I my husband thought there had to be an easier way to do this on the computer so he started working on a website called Plan to Eat. So instead of us having all our recipes all over the place, and having to create our shopping list from scratch every week, now we can just drag our saved recipes to a weekly planner and the website automatically creates the categorized shopping list for us. You can also share your recipes with just your friends. He initially just created it for our family, but we recently decided other people might like it so check it out and let us know what you think.

Paula said...

Love it...this is much the same as what I do. But you can save more $$ if you check the circulars and coupons first. See what's on sale that you and your family like/can eat, then plan the meals from there. I like to print my recipes on separate sheets of paper or cards, then the ones we really like go in a notebook for re-use. If we hate them then the recipes get cut in half for scratch paper.

I love the website, because I can search for a recipe using certain ingredients as key words, save the recipes in a file, and add them to the grocery list. Then I can add stuff to the list, or take it off if I've got it in the pantry, and print out an organized shopping list for myself. You can also add your personal recipes to the file for later use. Takes about 30 minutes and in my house saving time is almost as important as saving money! When my CSA boxes start coming next week I'll be able to work in those vegetables too.

My grocery bills are a LOT lower when I menu plan.

Lisa G. said...

Great article!

One problem I've run into is not knowing exactly how many leftovers I'll end up with. Sometimes we eat or more less at dinner, sometimes things get eaten as leftovers for lunch, where other times someone fishes something out of the pantry (I don't plan hubby's lunches, or mine for that matter, we just root around for whatever from leftovers or pantry staples like tuna & crackers). So I plan one night a week as "leftovers or something-I-can-make-from-all-freezer/pantry-goods". That way I have something planned if I don't have leftovers, but if I do, the ingredients for the alternate plan won't be wasted.

Carrie said...

Very useful post. I linked to it in my 30 Quick, Green and Frugal Meal Planning Resources list.

Britches said...

I just want to say that (once again) you rock my world. :) Thanks for this!

suerocks said...

Great post! and thank you to the commenters for sharing their methods and links!

I set aside time weekly to go through all the sales papers and clip/organize my coupons. I make a concerted effort to buy things on sale plus a coupon...I also track that with my budget planning and saved about $1,500 that way last year! 1/3 was from coupons, 2/3 from store sales, and I average a 35% savings per trip. (I'm proud of my stats and thought I'd share.)

Anyway, I haven't tried menu planning yet because I listen to my cravings. If I'm feeling pasta and red sauce, that's what I'll make, so I have been concerned that real menu planning will be destroyed by my desire for ziti.
However, I think I'm finally game for trying it. I've been collecting recipes thanks to this and other awesome sites but I never make them, and I really want to try some new things (Kale and Quinoa are top of the list.) Not to mention, we are planning a wedding (ok, I am planning OUR wedding. heh.) and I could use some more organization, save more money, and stress less over dinner. My fiance (his name is Kale, funny enough), doesn't care what we eat except for once in a great while, so I really have no excuses!

Like another poster said, it's hard to plan for leftovers unless I make a TON because sometimes Kale eats a lot and sometimes he doesn't. If there's only enough left for one, who gets to take the extras to work?? I usually let him because I go for lunch salads or light stuff most days.

My favorite thing to do is make a giant, work-intensive meal on Sundays. That's the best day to be creative since most days I get home from work/gym at 6:30pm, meaning we eat at 7 or 7:30. Not the best.

Anonymous said...

I shop for 5 diffrent facilities for work as well as my home. This is almost identical to the system i use other than that, on my lists, i put things in groups such as produce, dairy, canned goods ect. this way while shopping you get the things you need without wandering back and forth through the store which tends to end with you buying things you dont need

Pfeiffer Photos said...

Reading this it seems complex but I suspect if one sat down and went step by step it wouldn't be. My biggest hurdle is that almost all menu planning articles (and services) have chicken or turkey as staple meats for 3-4 meals per week. I know it's because poultry is cheaper than beef or pork but I am allergic to poultry, and any meat with poultry fillers. I'm not a vegetarian or vegan, and must have meat and protein due to hypoglycemia. My husband is a picky eater--meat and taters, carb fiend--and it's a challenge to incorporate veggies beyond starchy types in our meals together. We eat out far too much and it's BAD for our budget. We DO buy in bulk at Costco for all but produce and that means our freezer is usually stocked. Will try some of what you suggest here, thanks.

Pfeiffer Photos said...

Not all couples are young--we're in our 40s, sans kids, and we still have a habit of eating out too much. I can't eat poultry or meats with poultry fillers. My husband is a picky eater (not so fond of veggies). Makes cooking a chore for me for sure. But we love to eat, and I want to save money not burn it on excess food so will try some of your tips and see if it helps our budget.

Aggie said...

What a great well written post. Life is so much easier when I meal plan. This is a useful organized way to implement...thank you!

Turkey traveller said...

As a couple who work late, we often resort to the 'what shall we cook tonight' syndrome at the last minute also, so I found your tips on how to plan this better interesting.

I usually save online recipes I like to my favorites to avoid printing them, but there are some other great suggestions here too.

Fleeps said...

I have recently put a healthy, tasty 5 day family meal plan together for a mere £20.

TheMenuMom said...

Menu planning is a vital part of helping life to run smoothly even on our busiest days! There many different ways to go about it so research what works best for your life and family. Thanks for sharing!