People keep asking me about my menu’s. It seems that menu planning is not the norm and it really wasn’t for us either until I was on Maternity leave 2 years ago. It became highly organized and effective around the time I went back to work. To sum up my reasons for menu planning I’ve put together 10 reasons I make a dinner menu. I’m sure there are more but these are the first 10 that came to mind so here you go:
- Eliminates the 6:00 Scramble – When I was working this was especially important. Depending on the season I got home from work anytime between 5:30 and 6:30. Trying to figure out what we were going to eat then prep it, cook it, and serve it seriously cut into family time with a little one that needed to be in bed around 7:30. Having a menu at least made the evening feel a little more liveable.
- Saves Time – This kind of goes with the above. It saves time after work but also in shopping, prep, and lunch making. I know what I need at the grocery store so it saves time there. I know what needs to come out of the fridge in prep saving time gawking with the refrigerator open, and leftovers go into containers for lunch saving time there too. All in all I figure it saves me a few hours a week of shopping/prep/lunch making.
- Saves Money – We all like to save money and food is often a significant household expense. Having a menu and thus a plan when going to the grocery store allows me to pick up only what I really need and in the right quantity so I’m not overspending on items that we “might” feel like eating. This was the MOST noticeable benefit when I started to get REALLY organized. I figure it saved/saves us about $200/month on our grocery bill.
- Reduces Food Waste – Again I’m not buying a bunch of stuff that I think we “might” eat or “might” need. With a well done menu and the resulting grocery list I find I’m throwing out way less food. Leftovers are being eaten up, or I’m planning the portions well enough to be consumed in one meal if we don’t want the leftovers.
- Maximizes Space – I have complained often enough about my small kitchen but seriously, we have food stashed in the hall closet, preserves under the stairs, and our few cupboards only reach a reasonable level of emptyness about half way through the month. I really just don’t have space for all those things that we might feel like eating. That extra box of chicken breasts or flat of ground beef may literally not fit in my freezer.
- Minimizes Grocery Store Trips – I HATE going to the grocery store. I would rather clean the bathrooms. So I’ll do just about anything to avoid going. Fewer trips to the grocery store also means less impulse buying and more money saving. With a monthly menu plan I do one BIG shopping day a month and the rest are quick trips for milk and produce.
- Healthier for you – I find that with a clear plan we eat less quick processed junk. We’re not as tempted to order Pizza, or throw some chicken fingers on a pan because I know what’s on the schedule for the evening and I have everything I need to get it ready.
- Easier for others to help – This was a biggie while I was working, and I am lucky enough to have a man that works from home. My hubby would check the menu over lunch, pull out the recipe card and prep the veggies. Often he’d even have it started when I got home from work saving us all time and allowing for us to spend more quality time together as a family.
- Involves the whole family – Menu planning night is sometimes painful, however I find that over the month I’ll have the next planning sheets out and as we think of things we want I’ll write them in. Everyone gets a say so we all know that we’ll get to eat some of the things we like. Everyone is happy and it seems to work well.
- Makes Dinner More Enjoyable – When the stress of figuring out what we’re eating and whether or not I have all the ingredients on hand is taken out of the evening then I can actually enjoy the process of making it AND when I sit down to eat I’m much more relaxed.
A few more tips to help you get started:
If you’re really not sure of where to start look into a planning service. When I first got really serious about making an ORGANIZED menu I subscribed to eMeals. This is a Weekly planning service and for a very small fee (about 1.25/week) they email you a menu including the recipe’s and a shopping list. We only used dinner, and I still only plan our dinner meals but if you want to get really crazy you can use them for more meals in the day. They now offer a ton of options that will fit just about any lifestyle and family size.
I now plan a month at a time however when I started I was planning a two week period at once. If that feels like an overwhelming chunk of time then break it down into smaller pieces to make it less daunting. (You could even try 3 days at a time at first if you really aren’t sure).
I’ve also created a recipe box that has only dinner cards in it. As I plan my menu I pull all the cards out and list the ingredients I need on my list and the quantity of each item (i.e. 4 tomatoes, 3 green peppers, 1 dozen eggs etc.). Once the menu is done all the cards for the month go in the front of the box. On cooking day I pull out the card that morning to prep from and when we’re done it goes in the back of the box.
When I was working we often did dinner prep the night before if it was a more involved meal. Otherwise my Hubby would do it if he had spare time during the day. A few minutes the night before can save you a ton of time the day of. Even now being home full time I find it valuable to do some prep the night before because for some reason that span between 4 & 7 is usually the hardest time of day for E which can make getting dinner ready especially hard.
So now, what happens when we don’t “feel” like eating what’s on the menu? Truthfully I don’t find that to be much of a problem. Occasionally we switch meals around if we’re really not into the plan and eat something that’s planned for later leaving the intended meal to another day when it may fit our time/mood better. I also plan regular nights for leftovers to make sure that we aren’t throwing food out and we can always add something in then. Ultimately our menu’s are made of things that we like so not feeling like it doesn’t happen all that often.
For a few more tips on monthly planning and to get a good look at how I’ve been doing it lately check out my previous post: Small Freezer Big Plans