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Wednesday, September 24, 2014

How I Menu Plan

I have been doing some form of menu planning ever since we got married, a little over seven years ago.  But my menu planning has evolved quite a bit since those days (think a list of three or so "helper" dinners, split between beef and chicken, with a random recipe thrown in).  Here's what I do now.  This might seem complicated, and it kind of is, but I know myself enough to know that if I don't write everything down, I'll miss something or forget to buy something, so this is what works for me right now.

The first thing I do is figure out the breakfasts, lunches, and dinners we will be eating for half of a month (the top half of the page above).  While I'm doing this, I check out our family calendar so I know if we have any appointments or special plans that might affect the food prep for the day.  Like Sunday lunches, for instance.  I know that we don't get home from church until lunch time, so I usually plan leftovers or sandwiches, or I know we'll end up going out to eat because the food isn't already done.

Once the meals are filled in, I list some of the repeated ingredients at the bottom of the page, and the amounts needed for each recipe they appear in.  This is the most recent addition to the menu plan, and it has helped me a ton in making sure we don't run out of eggs or cheese especially, but also all the other ingredients. It also lets me know if I'm going to end up using too much of a pricier ingredient, so I can adjust the menu if I need to.

After I list the repeated ingredients, I use another page to do my weekly prep lists.  This list is all the veggies I need to chop for each meal, meats to portion out, and extras to make, like granola or birthday cake.  Anything with a star next to it means something I can do right away and freeze.  I love this method of freezer cooking, because it means 2 hours or so of work in the first couple days, and a lot of "dump and cook" meals later on.

The third page of my menu plan, which I didn't take a picture of, is the actual shopping list.  I divide it into sections like the store - produce, meat, dairy, etc.  I copy the totals from my repeated ingredients section, and then add everything else I'll need.  We almost always have a second smaller grocery trip about a week in to get some of the fresh produce and eggs, so I write that down right away too.

It's complicated, yes.  It's not fancy and electronic, but I'm definitely a pen and paper list girl.  But this is what works for me.  It means we have food for every day planned out, plus the same rotation of snacks we usually have around.  It means I know what has to be done, and when.  And it saves my sanity when I can't remember where I put my shoes, much less how much cheese is supposed to be in tonight's dinner.

How do you menu plan?

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