I started menu planning because I was tired of running to the grocery store every time I wanted to make dinner. A trip to get one item inevitably turned into a basket full of items, so our grocery budget was also constantly ballooning. Both of us work full-time and Charles is about to go back to school to get his Master’s degree in Electrical Engineering, so our lives are pretty busy. By only having to go to the grocery store once a week and having everything planned out for me, it streamlines the whole process. It took a little time to work out all of the kinks, but we are at a point now where it takes next to no time to plan a week’s worth of meals.
I start by looking over the coming week’s calendar. I take into account any nights that either one of us will have to work late, if we plan to have anyone over, if we are planning on going out, et cetera. We will occasionally meet up with colleagues for drinks after work, which will usually inevitably turn into dinner or eating enough appetizers that we aren’t hungry by the time that we get home. I also try to be realistic about how much I am actually going to cook. Would I prefer to make dinner every night? Yes. Is it going to happen? No. Knowing this ahead of time can prevent unused food from spoiling. On average, I plan out 6 meals.
Once I know how many meals that I am going to make, I ask Charles if there is anything that he is in the mood for. If there is, I’ll work that into the plan. I also try to start thinking about ideas over the previous week so I’m not stuck coming up with everything right before I want to go shopping. This is where my “idea” section of my menu board comes in handy.
Next, I’ll check the freezer/fridge/pantry for anything that needs to be eaten. We buy our meat in bulk, which is usually cheaper. This also allows me to spread out the meat purchases throughout the month instead of buying having to buy it all at once. I’ll divide the remaining meat into usable portions so I only have to thaw what we’ll use. I keep a running sheet on our freezer of quantity, type, and dates frozen. That way nothing gets lost in the back of the freezer only to be an unidentifiable mass years later. As for the fridge/pantry, I like to “shop” what I have before buying more. This again helps cut down on waste.
To minimize the amount of food that I buy, so I’ll pick meals with similar ingredients. For example, if I have to buy asparagus (which comes in 1 lb bunches), I’ll use ½ lb in one meal and ½ lb in another. This helps cut down on the amount of ingredients that I need to buy and prevents it from spoiling. I will also plan have at least one meal that comes completely from the pantry or freezer. That way if something comes up that prevents us from eating dinner at home one night that week it can easily be transferred to another week.
As for breakfast/lunch, I usually don’t put as much thought into those as I do dinner. We usually have an english muffin, smoothie, cereal, etc in the mornings. Lunches are usually either leftovers from the night before or I’ll make salads. Charles also likes to use his lunch to network, so most of the time he goes out. I’ll make sure to grab some fruit so we can supplement our meals with something healthy.
Once I have an idea of what we want to have, I’ll order the meals in terms of when food will spoil. If we are having fresh seafood, I’ll serve it either the day that we go shopping or the next day. For the most part everything will last at least a week as long as it is stored properly. We buy a lot of fresh fruit and vegetables so proper storage of them is a must. Conversely, I’ll also keep in mind of when food will be ripe. I rarely find avocados that are ripe in the store, so if I am using them in a meal, I’ll be sure to put them later in the week which will give them time to ripen.
As for the day that you actually go shopping, there are number of factors to take into account. I almost exclusively go grocery shopping at Wegmans because I find that their prices and selection are better than their competition. This also keeps me from having to drive around to a bunch of different stores to get the best deals. [Wegmans has no idea who I am, I just really, really love their stores] As for choosing the actual day to go shopping, I arrived at it by going a couple different days to see when there were less crowds and also factoring in when they got their deliveries of fish/produce/etc. You can usually find when they get their deliveries by asking people working in the different departments. I found that Saturdays are full of people running out to get last minute items for the weekend/parties and usually are pretty hectic. Sundays are full of whole families going after church, which again can get congested easily. Monday is typically a restocking day and even by the evening the selection can be sparse. Mondays are also the day that I’ve found that a bunch of seniors go shopping, which can be pretty crowded. Our store doesn’t get deliveries on Wednesdays, which is how I arrived at Tuesdays.
All items that I need to buy are written down on one of my grocery lists by order that I walk through the store. This way I don’t have to double back through the store because I forgot something. I also try to stick to the list, which helps cut down on spontaneous purchases.
So that sums up my meal planning. It took a while work out a system that worked for us, but hopefully my experience can help you start menu planning!