Recently I was asked about getting started with menu planning. Sometimes, all it takes is a question to find out how many ideas you have about something and then it all gushes out of your mouth in a stream of menu-planning-mania.
If you are serious about saving money and making the most of your shopping trips, claiming good stewardship of your time and resources, menu planning is the ONLY way to go. It stops you from buying stuff that looks good at the time but sits around in your cabinet forever, stops you from making impulse buys, and in the long run makes your life easier. Who doesn't want life to be easier? Last year I shared my tips for making the most out of seasonal visits to farm markets, but this time I thought, what about meal planning?
Here are some initial points to get started:
Plan for one week at a time. Look at your calender and decide how many meals you’ll be eating at home, and what days might demand quick and easy suppers.
Start with your supermarket circulars if you use them and see what's on sale. Pay special attention to the front and back pages because those are you best bargains. The items that stores are losing money on go on the front and back pages. Start planning. Don't forget to plan for leftovers, snacks, and lunches to take to work. If possible, make extra food at supper so you can have it for lunch the next day.
Make sure you plan your menu right up to the day when you know you will be able to make it back to the store. You need to know when your NEXT trip to the store will be after this one, so you don't over-buy or under-buy.
In case life happens and you can't get to the store next time when you thought that you could, keep an "emergency meal" on hand. Maybe even two. These should be meals that are made from frozen and pantry items that won't go bad, so it doesn't matter how long you have them stored, within reason. These are your safety nets in case you can't get to the store, or in case you thought there would be leftovers when there is not.
Don't forget to plan for dessert, too. And breakfast!
I used to menu-plan for 2 weeks ahead. It really didn't work for me because I found that there was always the inevitable SOMETHING that I would run out of and have to go to the store for anyway. Also, if you cook with a lot of fresh ingredients like I do, things would go bad before I could use them. I find that I can get away with planning for about ten days. Just something to think about.
Common menu-planning mistakes to avoid:
1) Finding a recipe, putting it on the menu, getting to the store and discovering that the ingredients are expensive or out-of-season. Or else it involves a small amount of an expensive ingredient that you will only use once.
2) Putting something on the menu without checking to see which of the ingredients you already have and do not need to buy again. Make sure you "inventory your stock" before going to the store. Don't assume you have something-check!
3) Buying out-of-season ingredients when they are at their most expensive. (Example- this is a good time to buy potatoes, not blueberries.)
These are things that work for me, but everyone has different schedules and family sizes.
So readers, help me out. What would your advice be to the young lady who first asked me?