Making Menu Plans

Since my menu plans are a regular part of my blog, I thought I would delve into how I come up with recipes and other tidbits.

First off, I would like to start with saying that I don't think having a menu plan is the end-all-be-all of saving money in your grocery spending. I know lots of people who never plan a meal, but can keep their grocery spending in check. I, on the other hand, am not one of those people. I have a tendency, at the end of a long, day to just throw up my hands, give up and pack everyone in the car and beeline to the closest restaurant. Either I was frustrated with coming up with an idea on the spot or I was missing one ingredient or another. Menu planning really helped save our budget. So if you are like me and are frustrated with your grocery spending, maybe you can try it and see if you like it. Com'on, just try it once. You might like itAll the cool kids are doing it. <- Not really, but that is what menu plan pushers are supposed to say.

Alright, getting started now. The first thing I do is write the days of the week in a notebook. You can use whatever you like, of course. I figure out which days are supposed to be a little hectic. Like Mondays and Wednesdays are softball nights, so I know I want to do easy dinners and mark those days with stars. Again you can mark 'em any way you please, smiley face, frowny face or if you prefer something more elaborate you could draw a rainbow. Frankly, I don't care how you do it. Maybe you don't need to mark any hectic days. Just don't rub it in that your nights are relaxing, okay?

Our 'easy' meals are usually made in the crockpot or some sort of sandwich. It's nice to have meals waiting for us when we get home late or one that is conveniently put together.

Okay, now comes the fun part. Figuring out what you want to eat. If you're a cooking dork like me, you like finding new recipes. I have found my go to website for finding new and interesting things to eat. Foodgawker. It is definitely food pr0n. Look how pretty.
Foodgawker is amazing. Not only is it pages and pages of beautiful photos of scrumptious recipes, it also connects you to other lovely cooking/food blogs. It does have the power of making you feel like you're falling down a rabbit hole. Don't forget to breathe while you get lost in it's awesome power.

Two very useful tools on Foodgawker is it's search bar and it's tag cloud. This might help when trying to find what to do with your butternut squash or if you are trying to find a vegetarian meal. I actively try to do at least two vegetarian meals a week, if not more.

I find most our meals or get inspiration this way.

Once I have figured out what we will be eating that week, I look over all the recipes. Most of the places I find recipes have the ability to print out the recipes. If not, I can just copy and paste the entire recipe in a word document and print it. Don't forget the directions of the recipe like I have done. No fun flipping to your recipe only to see the ingredients. D'oh! I also keep my printouts and put them in a three ring binder.

After all the recipes are collected I make my grocery list for the week looking at all the ingredients. This is probably the easiest step and I like to cross reference it to our pantry and fridge supply. No need to buy another bag of rice if I have one in the pantry.

This is how I do our weekly menu plans. When I first started it would take me over an hour, but I frequently would get lost in the rabbit recipe hole. Now that I have been doing it for some time it takes me about thirty minutes, but I also have many recipes in my binder that I can refer to. It definitely saves money in our grocery spending and time. I only make one grocery trip a week and very rarely need to go back to get something we are out of.

Just some other notes:
  • On my weekly menu plans I add a Bonus Recipe. These recipes are from trying to use things up before they go bad. When I had leftover egg yolks I made chocolate lava cake, or limes to make raspberry limeade bars or leftover ricotta to make incredible brownies, you get the picture. For these ideas I used allrecipes.com's ingredient search to find recipes. This really helps us cut down on food waste. We hardly ever throw anything out.
  • It is a good idea to do meals in one week that have similar ingredients. Instead of using a whole pound of bacon in one meal I can split it up into two or three different meals that require it. 
  • Since we tend to buy whole foods we don't use a lot of coupons for food. There is not a lot of coupons offered for fresh produce, grains or meat. Coupons are great, don't get me wrong, because I do use them, but I will never use that coupon for $1 off three boxes of Hamburger or Chicken Helper. You will save money with buying ingredients and not ready made foods.
  • Lastly, our menu plan really is not regimented. Sometimes we switch it up. What is written down for Tuesday can often times end up being Saturday's meal. 
So are you ready to try it? Or are you already doing it and you have some tips to add?


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