For those of you who actually read yesterday’s post and were waiting for today’s edition, I apologize; I’ll share more of my secret tomorrow! I just had to participate in Works For Me Wednesday!
I know it sounds a little crazy, but I plan our family menu for a whole month at a time. In the last few years I’ve had several friends ask me how exactly I do that and why, so I thought I would go ahead and chronicle it here. I’ve debated whether or not it falls into the kitchen organization theme of today’s WFMW; I decided that it did, because shopping monthly helps me keep my pantry under control! I find I don’t accumulate as much junk in my pantry, because I don’t have as many opportunities to buy things that I won’t use!
First, I am sure that I save a ton of money by shopping for a whole month at once. While I do head to the grocery once a week for milk, produce, and the occasional loaf of bread, I only shop the isles once a month. During my weekly trips, I usually only have work around the edge of the store – most stores have produce and dairy on the perimeter of the store and everything else in the isles in the middle. By skipping the isles I skip tons of temptation!
Second, planning for a month at once means I only have to plan once a month. I hate trying to figure out what we’re having for dinner, and I hate having to dig through the pantry to see what we have. I only have to do it twelve times a year!
Now before you go all crazy on me. Let me explain!
I don’t actually plan out what we will eat every night of the month. I don’t always stick to the menu. I’m not a food-nazi; I do the monthly menu so that we can enjoy dinner more.
Here’s how I do it:
Each month we sit down and I start a menu on one side of a piece of paper. I usually do it at dinner, so I can get help. I always start the list with “pizza – 3/4,” and “breakfast – 1.” We eat pizza three or four times and breakfast (pancakes or waffles, turkey bacon, and/or eggs, and or smoothies) once just about every month. I also write down anything from last month’s menu that hasn’t gotten made and still sounds good; if something on last month’s menu doesn’t sound good, sometimes I figure out what else I can make with those ingredients and write that on the list.
Then everyone gives me their requests for the month. I’m always surprised that the kids come up with some really creative and nutritious ideas. And when they don’t, and they all request something that is less healthy that what I find ideal, it’s okay. I can spread those requests out over the month…or just leave them on the list long enough that they forget. ;)
I’ll finish off the meal list with menu items that either use up things left in our pantry or things that sound good to me.
Finally, at the bottom of the menu I make a little area for special events. Are we providing snacks for our prayer group or having a game night at our house or taking a meal to friends?
Then on the back of the piece of paper I write the grocery list. I make the grocery list directly from the menu. (Examples: If Chicken Pot Pie is on the list, I’ll walk around the kitchen/pantry to make sure we have everything we need to make it. Anything that we don’t have goes on the list. If the item is something that has fresh ingredients, I’ll note that on the list – I don’t buy all of those ingredients at once. I save some of those for the weekly trips. So I might circle “vegetable stir fry,” put the rice on the monthly list, but wait until week four to buy the fresh veggies, so they don’t spoil before we can eat them.)
Then I go shopping. One really, really full cart will feed all six of us for a month, not including all of those fresh things I’ll buy weekly.
Once I’ve done the shopping, I post my menu in the kitchen.
And here’s the good part: Each night I have a list of things to choose from; I know that I have the items in the house for each of those dishes! Then each night as I fix and serve a dish from the menu, I simply cross it off.
I’m sure you’re wondering what do I do when I get to the end of the month and don’t want to make the last few things on the menu. Well, that does happen, but after doing this for years, I’ve learned to plan more realistically. Though sometimes I just use those ingredients to make something else. Here’s a couple tips to keep it practical:
-Our menu almost always includes the following: Pizza-4, breakfast-1, fish-4, something Mexican once or twice/month, and something Italian once or twice a month. In the summer, we have lots of grilled food; in the winter I make soup a lot. Think about the things that you eat over and over; those are a great place to start planning your monthly menu.
-I usually only plan for about 20 meals/month. We have at least 4 leftover nights per month, and we go out to eat about once a week. The other 2 or three meals might be stuff that is made with whatever is left in the pantry or a craving that I had mid-month. (But even if I dash through the store to pick the ingredients for one meal, it’s not like I am shopping for a whole week. I find I can be relatively more restrained.)
-Each month I try out a new recipe or two but no more. I also make sure that my menu includes a good mix of things that are easy to fix, things that take a bit more time, and things that can be made in the crock pot (oh that blessed machine!)
-Finally, don’t forget to look in your pantry to see what needs to be used up when you make your menu!
I hope you find this helpful. I know it all sounds a bit overwhelming, but it’s completely do-able. In the long run, it really is less work, not more!
For bunches more great tips, head over to Shannon’s place at Rocks In My Dryer. She hosts Works For Me Wednesday every week, and it’s great!
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