I learned menu planning from my dad when I was probably 10 years old, and still use the same method to this day. The idea is to do a bit of planning and shopping on the weekend, so that during the week you have everything you need to cook home cooked meals. Not only does it make weeknight cooking easier, it’s a lot more cost effective as well. You’re buying a week’s worth of groceries once, rather than going to the store every night to pick up what you need for that particular meal–likely buying duplicate items or not using up food you’ve already got.
The method goes, once a week you pick recipes to make throughout the week. I do this on Saturday after a visit to the farmer’s market. Select a balanced mix of vegetarian, chicken, beef, pasta meals as well as a variation of ethnic flavors. Also think about how the ingredients you’re buying can be used up throughout the week. If one recipe calls for a little cilantro, it would be frugal to find another recipe that also calls for cilantro so you can use it all up.
Write the recipes in the upper right hand side of a piece of paper, and then write all of the ingredients in a list on the rest of the paper. Before heading to the store, go through the fridge and pantry and cross off any ingredients you have. Then head to the store and buy everything you need to cook for the entire week. When you get home, tear off the upper right corner with the recipes on it and put it on the fridge.
This is a great way to involve the kids as well. Today, I typically bring my 3-year old son to the store with me. Since I have a detailed list, I can manage him as well as doing the shopping; he gets experience behaving himself in public and doing an activity with mommy. As my kids get older, I’ll ask them to pick the meal we’ll have for dinner that night from our list, and later ask them to pick meals for the menu that they’re going to cook.
The weekly menus that I’ll share here are born from my weekly menu planning that I do at home. I’ll typically share 3 dinners per week for weeknight cooking. Between having leftovers, going out, and sometimes just wanting or needing to cook a box of macaroni and cheese to keep our sanity, 3 great home cooked meals per week feels like a great accomplishment.
Interested in hearing from others. What kinds of menu planning techniques do you use?