Menu Planning

marie26August 21, 2007

When (if) you plan your meals in advance, how many days do you plan them for? Does it depend on how often you get paid? Do you plan them around the weekly sales?

Do you go shopping for the whole meal plan at one time or divide it up into several shopping trips? If you do it in one trip, do you then need to go out in between to buy dairy and produce items?

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We own a small business and work 65~70 hrs a week. The produce market is in the town where we work so I'll run by while doing errands and pick up enough for several days. There are also two grocery stores in town, I'll stop in and pickup what I need. I watch their flyer's on line to take advantage of the sales.

I try and buy extra and plan meals accordingly. It's DH and I so I package things like chix and steak in baggies and double zipperbag for the freezer. If there is a sale on hamburg I pickup extra and make up a small meatloaf, meatballs and patties. Fresh veggies and fruit I buy twice a week. I prep veggies in advance if I can depending on how they are to be served.

    Bookmark   August 22, 2007 at 7:26AM
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Marie, I'm not much for planning ahead. I want to eat what satisfies my taste and my budget, so I just go with what seems right that day. I am thrifty though, and fortunate enough to live within a mile of a number of grocers, one just a block away. So I can shop frequently without it being a driving event. Every couple months I'll do a 'big shop' for paper goods, cleaning supplies, toiletries and the like at a discount store. I try to keep a decent inventory of all that so if I don't like the prices I don't have to buy. My routine shopping is just produce and protein and dairy. We don't do much snacky stuff.

I do check the Sunday paper and make note (literally, in a small spiral notebook) of what are good prices and where for the week. That includes any great deals on paper goods, etc. I often decide to make something because a key ingredient is on sale somewhere. I also bike to or stop in at our fish market a couple times a week, and pick fish depending on the sales and what looks good and interests me. This time of year I go to the Farmers' Market 2 or three times a week and get what is in peak shape and work with that. And I garden a bit. Zucchini, anyone? And since I loathe wasting any food, using up what is on hand will often drive a meal plan.

I am willing to try anything, and cook a wide range of foods. I think that flexiblity helps with this sort of winging it.

One more thing: Starting Monday I am having milk and dairy delivered! I got a cold call from a local organic dairy starting a route here and I signed on. Pricing is comparable to the stores, and they claim the milk is just two days out of the cow. I am odddly excited about trying really fresh milk left at my doorstep!

    Bookmark   August 23, 2007 at 10:58PM
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Celtic -- you will love it!! I had milk delivery until the last truck in our area quit -- it was wonderful!

I too, never know what I am hungry for so I don't really plan meals ahead. But I have a HUGE pantry with lots of home-canned produce and two freezers full of beef, pork and frozen veggies. Today -- I'm canning corn relish and blueberry jam -- yesterday it was mixed veggie pickles (for antipasta trays) tomatoes and apricot-brandy jam.

I don't know how I would react without the "back-stock" -- we have estimated that I could go 6-9 monthes without going to the grocery store --except for bread and milk and butter.

And my meals are often based on excess -- this week (because of all the rain), I haven't sold any eggs so tonights meal will be a frittata (with zucchini and red-peppers!!) I'll do osso bucco for dinner on Sunday because of cooler weather and I have too many beef shanks in the freezer. So that's how I plan ......... if you call it that!!!!


    Bookmark   August 24, 2007 at 7:51AM
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I think the way people approach menu planning depends on the kind of cooking they do, and how experienced they are at cooking, and maybe how much they enjoy cooking.

I tend to be a creative and experimental cook. DH jokes that he never gets the same thing twice. I shop once a week at one supermarket. I have my standard grocery list with items checked that we need. I also look for what's on sale or what looks good, and take home those items if they are foods I know we'll use. Then I rough out five or six dinners and a few lunch ideas for the week on my-week-at-a-glance organizer sheet.

If I wanted to spend more time and more money, I'd also visit the fish market, the farmers' market, a Sam's Club, and the upscale grocery store. But I'm frugal, AND I'd rather be doing more fun things, like gardening.

My daughter cooks more from recipes. She does her menu plan before shopping. She buys what she needs to make what she's planned.

My way's better. Just kidding.

    Bookmark   August 26, 2007 at 1:10AM
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I guess I'm older than y'all, because I date back to when stores weren't convenient and we grew [and preserved] most of our food. An empty pantry shelf actually worries me. DH grew up in a small town, within walking distance of the grocery. He would be happiest if we shopped every few days! You can imagine the discussions we've had... which have settled into me keeping the canned and frozen foods in the quantity I'm comfortable with-and lets me buy when stuff is on sale, and he buys the perishables as often as he likes. So we might have fresh bananas for 3 days but I guarantee there are enough preserved vegs for a year :)

I don't do specific menus, except for special events. I follow a very general guideline of one protein, one green veg, one yellow or white veg, one grain or legume, and one fruit for each meal. To encourage variety, I rotate the primary protein: beef; vegetarian; chicken; fish; pork; seafood; egg or cheese; and bean-rice combo or veg stew. Turkey isn't listed because DH detests it; the fish and seafood are used in minimal quantities due to my concern with the mercury and other pollutants they contain. I cook so as to have at least two meals prepared, and perfer to never serve leftovers on consecutive days [I love my freezer]. The green veg has a similar rotating list, ditto the white/yellow veg; without the list I have a tendency to forget to use frozen things like the zucchini [grated and ready for a quiche] or I'd make a rice-based dish several times in a row. I sort of try to keep the recipes varied, but I find that just seeing certain foods in combination is usually enough to move me from American to Italian to Oriental to Mexican to Cajun to German recipes.

    Bookmark   August 29, 2007 at 10:53AM
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I am interested to hear what other ideas other people have. I am not much of a cook myself and with both my dh and I working full-time and two young children (18 months and 3 years) for now I think I would like to follow a menu and cook for a few days in advance. I did take a How to be your own Personal Chef class thru my local Parks and Rec and it gave me a lot of good ideas. I don't think I would ever cook for 2 weeks in one day but if I could get a few meals a week done I would be thrilled. One of my things now is being on the hunt for meals that freeze and reheat well. The class including a reciple for mini-meatloaf and some other options. The teacher also showed us how to blanche vegetable to freeze them and keep them fresh. I've found the Rachael Ray "Good Fennels Pasta" to do very well freezing and reheating. When my husband is out of town and I have to come home and make dinner for myself and kids really in under 30 minutes - I make this ahead and reheat the sauce and boil the bucatini. Potroast in the slow cooker makes good leftovers also. I definitely go with what is on sale or going to a big box store for the meats. It would be too expensive otherwise.

    Bookmark   September 1, 2007 at 1:44PM
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my husband and i love to cook, and we both work full time. We used to cook all weekend - many different dishes and 8-10 portions of each dish - and package everything into two portions and then label and put everything in the freezer. We could then come home from work and have fresh homecooked meals every day. I went to the grocery store one a week for fruit/veg/ milk etc. this worked for us for many years. Was also good if we had unexpected visitors for lunch or dinner.

    Bookmark   September 2, 2007 at 7:10PM
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Like some other mentioned, we can, freeze and dry a lot of food. I shop for groceries once a month. DH has physical therapy once a week so he picks up fresh produce when we need and can afford it:-) Being vegan, we don't use eggs, milk, etc so we don't have to worry about running out of that. we bake our own bread too, once a week.

My method of planning is to have all the ingredients to make whatever I want at all times. In winter I have more time to cook so we often do big days of cooking several different entrees, breads, waffles, etc. to have for the busy summer season.

    Bookmark   September 4, 2007 at 7:07PM
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I read something recently that made sense, and it was about how Americans think their meals have to be too complicated in order to be nutritious, and that they used convenience foods and ingredients not so much to be convenient, but to create much more complicated menus than are really necessary. Not sure whether this was a 50's fantasy holdover, but my husband and I can really relate. We enjoy almost every type of food but, if just by ourselves, would not feel compelled to have a meat, starch, veg, salad etc in one meal. We'd fill in some items as snacks and eat lots of fruits and vegetables that way, or have only sweet corn for summer lunch and then have baked salmon and broccoli for supper, or have a bowl of beans and rice for supper and then a bunch of grapes later. Then would like to cook more complicated recipes on a lazy day. It's harder with small children (and we still have a teen at home who rejects all of our great Mediterranean cuisine) because you seem to be trying to get a little of everything into them, and harder to see how it all fits by the end of the day.

    Bookmark   September 5, 2007 at 12:50PM
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im a SAHM with 4 kids, i use a 3 week menu and i stick to it, i do it for 3 weeks so we are not eating the same thing every week, i leave saturdays open to either pizza, or take out of some sort with an option of a meal their that i can cook. i like it as i get up in the morning look at the menu and pull out what needs doing for that day. i am very busy with sports and school stuff so i try and have my menu with lots of stuff that can be put in the slow cooker for the days that i will be out and about, also makes it easy to shop when its all laid out for me.

    Bookmark   September 5, 2007 at 9:15PM
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I don't often make a menu plan, unless we're having company. If I want something really unusual or I'm trying to spend less than the normal budget, I'll make a list. My standard grocery run is for milk, eggs, cheese, meat, veggies, some fruit, and dry goods as needed. I figure as long as there's a good supply of basic ingredients, you have an almost unlimited number of dishes.

All the fresh food is purchased on Saturday from the local Amish market (plus whatever veggies I can grow). Once every few weeks I go to a regular grocery store and get frozen veggies and a few canned goods--mostly fish and canned tomatoes.

I tend to cook things during the week that can either be left alone for hours (soup, roasts) or that are fairly quick (stirfry, egg dishes) and leave the more twiddly dishes for the weekend.

I don't have enough freezer space to prepare entire dishes in advance, so I precook and freeze ingredients that can be used in a number of different dishes. I usually have precooked ground beef, diced chicken, and soup veggies in the freezer, along with chicken stock (reduced and frozen in an ice-cube tray, then the cubes are transferred to a freezer container so I can just grab a couple whenever needed).

    Bookmark   September 12, 2007 at 11:07PM
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I'm a very big menu planner. I'm a WOHM to 3 boys with 136 acre ranch with 12 horses to keep up with. 40+ hours of volunteering a week, every week, minimum. I literally plan everything.
I plan for a month at a time and try to buy for as much of that at a time as I can, usually I can afford about 3 weeks of it, sometimes more. I shop every two weeks. We're in the boonies and I don't like to drive an hour to the major stores. I try to plan for one new recipe every week and at least one crock pot recipe every week, sometimes two. Love the Slow Cooker bags. My biggest goal is to stay below our grocery budget.
I don't necessarily cook for the month, but do things to help me out for the month. I'll buy the family pack of ground beef and cook the whole thing. Then strain it, cool in and freeze it 2 cups at a time (about 1 lb) in freezer bags for taco's, sloppy joes, or cowboy beans. I'll slice my round steaks for my stroganoff and other dishes. I cook my italian sausage, slice it and store it in freezer bags in the right amount for my red beans and rice and spaghetti sauce. The amount of time it saves me is incredible. When you come in the door from work and have laundry and a house to clean, 4 hours of homework, dogs and horses to feed and still have dinner to cook it's nice to know you can throw a bag of precooked ground beef in the micro for 1 1/2 min , grate some cheese, chop tomatoes, onions, lettuce and cook some shells and you have homemade taco's. In less than 15 min. When I cut veggies for my roast (crockpot)I just keep on cutting. I set up 5 bags and 1 container. The container is for the morning and the bags go in the freezer. It only takes a couple extra mins to chop those veggies and saves a ton of time when running out the door in the morning.

The kids also like knowing that they can look at the menu on the fridge in the morning and know what's for dinner that night or the rest of the week. Something to look forward to if their favorite food is coming up.

    Bookmark   September 22, 2007 at 4:58PM
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I like to menu plan. I find that my family eats healthier and we can incorporate new recipes to try.

Right now I am trying to incorporate a way to menu plan that allows me to shop the sales better. (If I determine a system, I will let you know.)

Here is an old sample menu I had shared with another forum a few years ago: (I hope it is readable.)

The various acronyms tell me which cookbook contains the recipe for that evening's meal.

I plan the shopping trip in advance as well. That system consists of a clipboard magnet on the side of the refrigerator on which I keep a stack of blank shopping lists. I typically shop weekly. I date the shopping lists and add the groceries needed for the menu plan to the appropriate week's list. Here is a blank shopping list:

The shopping list is organized in the order in which I typically navigate the store. I can get in and out of the grocery store in 30 minutes or less this way. I have other lists for other stores, but I primarly shop at one grocery store, so its list is the one on the frig.


    Bookmark   October 28, 2007 at 11:21PM
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I live in a very rural area also. I try to do my "big" shopping once a month-- the grocery store in our town is what many would consider a glorified convienence store. They carry all the basics but not a lot of variety. I keep a running grocery list of needed things and buy all my staples when we go to the 'city'. I don't plan out my menus ahead of time though. I basically have all the ingredients on hand to make just about anything we want... about once a week, I buy perishables, etc. We have a large family and when I do our big shopping, I usually spend $250 - $300. I go through the sale ads on line before I leave to go shopping so have a good idea of what stores have what on sale. I usually go to 2 different grocery stores. One has better meat department and the other one has a better produce department(I don't do a garden) so I can take advantage of 2 different sale ads.

I used to try to have a monthly menu of some sort but it just didn't work for us-- it would seem like when I would plan Chili, it would get up to 90 that day... or I would plan to cook on the grill and we would have a freak snow storm LOL Now I just go with the flow, have all the ingredients on hand.

    Bookmark   October 29, 2007 at 12:01AM
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This is mostly for the busy stay at home moms.

My sister uses a company called 'dashing dinners'. She goes once a month. There are always a lot of people there doing it at the same time. They have all the foods you need, all the recipes and meal plans for nutritious and balanced meals.

Once you're there, you decide how many meals you want to make, and you get busy. My sister generally makes 7-14 meals, depending on how busy the month is. And she makes them all for 4 instead of two, so theres ample left overs to suffice the rest of the month.

So everynight that she doesn't have time to prep and cook, she just has to throw something in the oven, and some veggies on the stove and she's got a balanced, convineient meal. Some of the meals she makes only take as long as popping in a frozen pizza.

A meal that would take 1.5-2 hours to make and cook, only takes 30-40 mins at most.

It's slightly pricier than buying and making it all on your own, obviously. But for the help, and the recipes and having everything supplied at once, I think its worth it.

It'd be worth a search in your area, for anyone who would maybe be interested. I hear simmilar services are really starting up all over the place.

    Bookmark   October 29, 2007 at 1:47PM
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